There’s never been anything quite as satisfying as killing someone in a game, and I’m not talking about any genre specifically, I say that in the broadest sense possible. It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing an RPG, a first person shooter, or anything else that enables you to take a gun and let loose a slug into the face of the unsuspecting. What if, however, there was a game in which you play as the cleaner? You know, that guy that never gets any credit? The one who cleans up your mess? That’s exactly what you get with iFun4all’s new game Serial Cleaner, in which the cleaner is compared to those from the John Wick series, to give you a better idea as to what to expect.
The game is set in the early 70’s and throws you into the role of Bob Leaner, a man that can turn a murder scene into a show home. Need a body disposing of? Need buckets of blood cleaning up? Need evidence to disappear? Bob’s your guy! First up, we’re going to address the elephant in the room. I have no doubt at all that this game is going to be compared to Hotline Miami, but that wouldn’t do either game any justice, seeing as they’re practically the exact opposite as far as gameplay is concerned. Whilst Hotline Miami is more chaotic and fast paced, Serial Cleaner is much more dialled down and chilled, and it’s far less taxing and much more forgiving. That’s not to say that Serial Cleaner is easy, hell, it’s far from it, but you’re given more breathing space and room for error.
The aim of the game is as straight forward as can be. You’re tasked with sneaking into a crime scene, stealing the bodies of the victims, and cleaning up whatever mess has been left behind. Each level comes with hiding spots that help you evade the perception fields of the cops that patrol the environment. You’ll be (loudly) mopping up blood, nabbing incriminating weapons, and seeking out collectables. The cops that patrol each area can only be described to be as competent as a wet paper bag trying to hold a bowling ball. They patrol the exact same pathways, they don’t see you stood in the open unless you’re in their vision cone, and even when they chase you, their tracking skills are less than desirable. This alone makes the game predictable to some degree, so it’s a shame the devs didn’t shed more focus onto this aspect.
The difficulty curve in Serial Cleaner is one that rests on the level design, being that as you progress through the game, the levels become larger and more intricate to manoeuvre around undetected. You can indeed use your ‘Cleaner Sense’ which will give you a view of the entire map, something that comes in handy when your laying in wait and trying to work out your best path forward. You can also utilise map items such as radios that will emit noises to distract nearby police, as well as manipulate movable objects to force police patrols onto a different path. The game may not come with a great deal of mechanics, but the ones that are present are more than useful and well thought up.
The police vary as you get deeper into the experience, such as the whistle-blowing cops that will attract their buddies in an attempt to surround and capture you. If that happens you’ll notice that bodies, evidence, and hideouts will randomly generate following each failed attempt. This not only throws a layer of replay value into the mix but it prevents you from mimicking your last attempt, which indirectly makes it somewhat harder due to the fact that you cant often follow in your own footsteps and then avoid doing whatever it is that got you caught on your last try.
My biggest gripe with the game is that it never really takes it up a notch. You would expect (in 2017) that a developer would know that it’s important to keep people engaged by slowly adding in new features and twisting the dynamics of play ever so slightly as they make their way through the game. In Serial Cleaner however, that’s not the case. Your tools in the first few levels, as well as how the game plays out, are almost exactly the same towards the end of the game. It just doesn’t evolve, and as a result, the replay value that is present in the game will only call to those that thoroughly enjoy the few overly simplistic mechanics that they’ve witnessed throughout the game so far.
One neat addition to the game is the inclusion of movie reels, which offer up new levels that are based on hit films from the 70’s time period, such as Raging Bull, Monty Python, and more. Along with new outfits, these can be unlocked via the previously mentioned collectables. These levels in particular I found quite challenging, but they’re definitely one of the highlights of Serial Cleaner. The visuals and design are both well suited for the theme of the game and allows Serial Cleaner to stand out as a unique looking title, with a catchy soundtrack to boot. It’s important to note that although I’ve nitpicked at some features (and the lack of) the game can be a heap of fun, especially when you’re tossing bodies into an alligator, or worse, a piranha tank. It just unfortunate doesn’t give off that extra oomph, overall.
Serial Cleaner is a good stealth game that offers up some interesting twists in comparison to other titles from the genre, but the simplistic nature of play does eventually turn stale. There’s a fair portion of replay value to soak up, but this will solely depend on whether players will be willing to revisit a game that never really evolved on the first run-through. Everything you’re given to work with in the first few levels are the same (and only) tools that you’ll work with near the end of the game. It doesn’t help that the AI don’t put up much of a challenge, being that they walk the exact same path, don’t recognise missing evidence, and fail to give a decent chase. With that to the side there’s enough content here to justify a purchase, add to that the bonus movie levels and outfits you can work to unlock and you’ll find few reasons to scoff at what’s in the proverbial box. Serial Cleaner is indeed a unique and enjoyable game that looks the part and plays the part, it just sadly doesn’t have much staying power.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.