Stealth remains a slightly controversial trope in the gaming world. While it certainly has more than its fair share of fans, it’s considerably trickier to pull off than all-out action, and many stealth games can be criticized for implementing it badly or unfairly. I’d make the argument that stealth generally works better in 2D or 3D, and before you come at me with pitchforks and torches, consider the little bundle of sneaky goodness that is Serial Cleaner.
The game casts you in the role of a “Cleaner”. Not the sort of chap who earns an honest day’s living by picking up trash, mind you, but someone hired to infiltrate a crime scene and get rid of evidence. And by “evidence”, we mean both clues and dead bodies. Yep, it’s a grizzly job full of dangers, but I guess he either gets paid well or is something of an adrenaline junkie. Besides, nobody can really say “no” to the mob.
Serial Cleaner is a top-down affair, resembling Hot Line Miami but with a less pixellated look. Our hyperactive Cleaner fellow visits various locales, often buildings and numerous rooms, and proceeds to do his duty. Problem is, the crime scenes have already drawn the attention of the cops, and you’ll need to conduct your task with the buzz breathing down your neck. And as Viscera Cleanup Detail taught us, it can be surprisingly fun to make a place of death look pretty again.
The Cleaner will need to pick up bodies and take them to your waiting car without detection. Or, he’ll need to whip out a vacuum cleaner and suck up pesky, incriminating blood. Whatever you choose to do, you’ll have to keep out of line of sight of law enforcement, who are understandably not too keen on wayward souls contaminating murder scenes. Often, the police will give chase, allowing you a slight chance to evade capture. A handy indication of the cops’ visual range will assist in your getaway. Often, though, being spotted spells certain defeat, so it’s best to remain undetected at all times. It’s also amusing how cops forget about you if you actually do manage to break their line of sight. It may sound like a criticism, but that’s part of the charm. And it’s perhaps an all too realistic comment on the incompetence and laziness that plagues assorted law enforcement agencies.
Dragging dead bodies around may sound like, well, a drag, but things move along at a surprisingly brisk pace. The locations of bodies and evidence also randomize, allowing for a slightly different experience upon multiple replays. Things start off fairly tame, but levels become quite large and demanding before too long, and law enforcement gets ever more vigilant. Still, I never found it particularly difficult, as later levels provide a decent challenge without ever feeling disjointed or unfair, though I feel things get a bit too drawn out at the end. Once you’ve beaten the main campaign, there’s a few challenges you can try out, including a mode which make the game’s visuals look “drunk”. There’s also a bunch of levels outside of the game’s continuity which are inspired by 1970’s movies. For example, one such bonus level is based on the cantina scene from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, whilst another bonus level directly references the first Alien film. These are all very amusing and go a long way to further cementing the game’s charm, which is already abundant.
One of Serial Cleaner‘s most striking aspects are the visuals. Employing a gritty, line-less, comic-book feel, it manages to encapsulate 1970’s sensibilities perfectly. Things are drenched in oranges and peaches, which seem to be the predominate color scheme for that time period. As a neat little touch, assorted events from that decade are referenced, making the experience all the more authentic. The visuals are suitably pulpy to look at and the music is appropriately groovy.
Serial Cleaner is a game that took a short while to grow on me, but once it did, I found myself returning to it over and over. The levels of addiction are insane, and it’s really one of the best examples of stealth that we’ve seen in quite a few years. It’s oozing with personality, yet manages to be fairly mild despite the seemingly harsh subject matter. It completely nails the groovy, disco-drenched 1970’s aesthetic, and you’ll find yourself constantly smiling at the utter craziness. It comes highly recommended, even if you’re not usually a stealth fan. Pop on over here to get your copy, and be sure to clean your browser history afterwards.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC (reviewed); Publisher: iFun4all S.A. ; Developer: iFun4all S.A. ; Players: single-player. ; Released: 14th of July, 2017.
Full disclosure: this review is based on a review key for Serial Cleaner given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.