Publisher: Curve Digital
Platform: Windows 10
A mashup of stealth and the swinging Seventies, Serial Cleaner has you sneaking around murder scenes trying to cleanse them of incriminating evidence. You follow a specialized janitor, of sorts, named Bobby as he trundles around collecting bodies while cleaning up blood from an assortment of different murders. Along the way there are a number of bonus missions, and outfits that can be obtained through finding special pickups, both of which make reference to popular movies from, or framed in the Seventies. To keep things interesting though, as mentioned, you’ll be creeping your way around because the police are patrolling throughout, and would prefer if you didn’t ruin the crime scene. How will you fare as you juke, and weave to flush the scene bare without being spotted?
Serial Cleaner really nails the aesthetic tone of the Seventies throughout the entire game. From the opening credits through to the end of the game, several different tunes reminiscent of a bygone era play. The score very prominently features bass guitar, keyboard, trumpets, and saxophone with light inclusion of some guitar, and various percussion to tie things together. The result is a soundtrack that isn’t just great to listen to, but also fits the theme of the game. I found this such a positive element of the game because it helped to further the motif of Serial Cleaner, while further investing me into the game’s world.
I am a known hater of collectibles that exist simply to exist. I don’t mind going through the effort of gathering everything in a game, but I require some motivation to do so because I don’t find the act of amassing a random garbage pile fun in itself. Serial Cleaner gets its collectibles right containing only a slim, but meaningful array of items to obtain. Each story mission has a new outfit, or a bonus level to unlock via finding a fashion magazine, or movie reel respectively. Additionally, each piece of unlocked content is a reference to cinema from, or around the Seventies making discovering each one highly entertaining. I really liked this as I had an incentive to replay Serial Cleaner to find all of the hidden objects to get the rewards. What is awarded for finding the collectibles felt substantial enough, to me, to not only justify the inclusion of them, but to allow me to actively enjoy searching for each one.
One thing Serial Cleaner does extremely well is its stealth gameplay. Because you’re a janitor trying to clean up a murder scene you do not possess the ability to incapacitate anyone, which necessitates thinking about movement around problems rather than through them. As a result, a much greater emphasis is put on not being seen, and using misdirection as you traverse a level. Baiting guards with sound, moving bodies around, and changing the orientation of certain objects throughout a level all create opportunities for movement out of sight. There is also a sense of heightened tension because you only have a limited window to clean up the scene of the crime before guards return to their regular schedules. The cumulative result of all of these combined elements is a game that contains really well crafted stealth gameplay thanks largely to how enjoyable it makes skirting around each level.
Across the twenty main story missions within Serial Cleaner there is a new mechanic introduced every few levels. The opening few give you the opportunity to practice the basics and come to grips with the game. From that point forward, new ways to misdirect law enforcement, and a selection of new officers are introduced every few levels. These new mechanics stick around long enough for the player to become comfortable with them before new ones are introduced. By doing this, Serial Cleaner feels like it has an excellent sense of pace because it constantly introduces a new challenge to players as soon as they become acclimatized to the older challenges.
The biggest criticism I will levy against Serial Cleaner is towards its controls because Bobby can feel a little spastic. A lot of the time when I was trying to clean up blood stains I’d have to run over a stain repeatedly before I’d finally get it completely scrubbed up. In addition to this, there were other times when I’d try to run by a body while trying to pick it up, but I wasn’t able to unless I came to a full stop. Even if I did come to a full stop, sometimes the game would decide I hadn’t aligned myself at the exact correct angle to pick something up and then I’d be stuck there fidgeting back and forth trying desperately to grab the object. Most levels are designed around the control scheme not being incredibly precise, but the longer I was exposed to some of the flimsy elements of it the more annoyed I became with it. As it stands, I found Serial Cleaner’s controls ultimately frustrating even if it didn’t really get on my nerves until the later missions.
**Minor spoilers regarding mechanics in the following paragraph – nothing story relevant
Despite having a relatively novel concept for a stealth game, Serial Cleaner opts out of that and becomes a paint by numbers stealth game for a few of the final missions in the game. Instead of collecting bodies, and cleaning blood, you’re made to walk around avoiding vision cones as you work towards an objective. What was so disappointing about this is that it takes all of what made Serial Cleaner special and throws it out the window creating a mundane experience for the player. Luckily, the additional bonus contracts that follow the story mode bring back the elements that make Serial Cleaner entertaining, but the lack of the game’s cleaning mechanics within a subset of the final missions feels like a huge misstep.
Each of Serial Cleaner’s levels have a bit of randomization in as far as where blood stains, evidence, and bodies will be placed. It’s only random in so far as there will be two, or three locations that any given object will appear at while the geometry of the stage remains identical. Though this adds a tiny bit of variety to the missions, it also adds some inconsistency to how each plays out. When doing the timed challenge modes you’re score is derived from how quickly you can complete the challenge and this can come down entirely to where everything happens to be, which I found frustrating as the placement of everything could substantially increase or decrease my score simply down to where stuff was located. Randomly placing the various objectives around the map doesn’t have a huge impact on the story mode, but it does make the challenge mode discouraging, especially if you’re competing for a high score.
Serial Cleaner is a game I would recommend, but only to fans of its motif, or stealth games. It really sells the Seventies aesthetic with the various nods, and musical pieces that make up the game while also providing a compelling, if short, stealth based game thanks to a focus on its mechanics. The controls and decision to include random elements to each stage left me wanting, but I still enjoyed the bulk of the time I spent playing Serial Cleaner. If a stealth game where the emphasis is on stealth has you intrigued then you may want to consider giving Serial Cleaner a look.