Clean up murder scenes, mop up the blood, hide dead bodies and weapons, and then head back home to look after your doting mom. That’s the life of the pixelated main protagonist of the latest stealth-action game on the block, Serial Cleaner, as you balance the dirty job of clearing up after crimes with a run-of-the-mill home life.
With an addiction to cold, hard cash and gambling debts spiralling out of control, you need to earn cash fast. Though the hero of the game seems like quite a nice bloke – putting the kettle on for his dear old mother, or reminding her she needs to take her meds – soon enough, the house phone rings, a mysterious voice tells you they need a job doing, and you’re speeding off again in your old car to help clear up other people’s murderous handy work.
Created by Polish developer iFunforAll and published by Curve Digital, Serial Cleaner undoubtedly takes some inspiration from Hotline Miami with its top-down viewpoint, retro art-style and 70’s beats, but instead of carrying out the carnage you’re cleaning up after it. As a cleaner for hire, you take out contracts from the neighbourhood’s criminals and are tasked with sneaking around various locations avoiding the cops and destroying the evidence.
Taking in locations such as a boxing gym, a farmer’s market and a nightclub, the level-based action is played out across fairly small maps. Each level has ‘X’ number of cops patrolling set routes, and the aim is to avoid their vision cones while making your way around corridors and rooms picking up bodies and disposing of them, vacuuming up gallons of the red stuff, and picking up any evidence that’s lying around.
The controls are as simple as they get with the option to move, clean, pick up and drop, but as you progress through the levels, the cops get cleverer, the level design becomes more elaborate and Serial Cleaner becomes quite a challenge; even introducing various modifiers to catch you out, such as the ability for cops to be able to hear you from behind walls, or the option for an enemy to raise an alarm and call his colleagues.
Luckily, you can plan your route ahead thanks to ‘Cleaner Vision’, which allows you to zoom out on each location while highlighting all the important areas, such as objects, bodies and hiding places. This allows you to monitor the patrol paths of the cops, and judge your movements, which soon becomes crucial to completing a successful mission.
There’s a lot to think about as you attempt to navigate rooms where cops appear to be everywhere, but the developer has done a decent job with level design ensuring that there’s multiple ways to tackle each level. There’s a good variety of different environments too that bring in new challenges to each level, such as the docks where you can press a switch to move crane arms out of the way to open up a new passage.
The action is quite slow-paced because you can’t really dash around each level until you’ve really worked out the correct path. You need to adopt a patient approach by observing, getting to know your surroundings and planning in advance. There’s hiding places where you can take cover and wait for a cop to walk past, for instance, and as you get past the first few levels you’re introduced to new mechanics, such as the ability to move objects to redirect a cop’s route, or block their field of view. There’s also the ability to create noise distractions, such as turning on speakers, which sends the cops running over while you nip in and do your cleaning.
What makes the challenge even more difficult is that once you’re caught, the level resets completely, so even if you’ve disposed of three dead bodies you have to start again and learn from each mistake you make as you slowly progress towards a perfect run through. Though this can be frustrating – when you might have spent 15 minutes getting to that point only to have to start again – it soon teaches you to take things slowly and there’s a real sense of satisfaction when you complete a level successfully.
Each level in Serial Cleaner consists of several tasks: finding and dropping off dead bodies, picking up any weapons or evidence lying around, and vacuuming up as much of the blood that’s needed to complete the level. There’s also the option to search for magazines that unlock new clothes for your character, and discover film reels that unlock special bonus levels loosely based on popular movies, such as Taxi Cleaner(Robert De Niro’s Taxi Driver) and Soiled Armour (Monty Python and the Holy Grail).
It’s clear there’s no official license to feature these film bonus levels (which takes away some of the impact). The names are changed as are the names of the locations – such as Pelmore Café rather than Belmore (Taxi Driver), but it’s a fun addition that adds some extra replay value with various modifiers that represent a new challenge. As if that wasn’t enough, Serial Cleaner also offers tons of challenges – from time trials to missions where vision cones are totally removed – so there’s plenty of content to get stuck into, and there’s a leaderboard which encourages competition with other players.
Despite all the positive points to praise about Serial Cleaner, its story and gameplay lack any real drama, tension or excitement – something that I expected for a game that deals with crime and murder. It felt like I was just going through the motions, plodding along at snail’s pace from one level to the next without feeling any emotional connection to the experience or anything that really made it memorable; especially as I neared the final challenging levels where a trial-and-error approach and frequent death just made me want to switch off.
Still, there’s plenty of challenge here to be had by fans of the stealth-genre. The eye-catching pastel-shaded art-style is superb, and there’s enough content to keep you going for a while, as well as decent replay value with the excellent addition of randomized items. Serial Cleaner doesn’t quite have that pick-up-and-play appeal and addictive qualities of some games of this ilk, but it’s a solid entry from iFunforAll and a clear indication that the studio has some real talent.