Serial Cleaners Review (Xbox Series X)

Serial Cleaners Review: Dirty Deeds Done Cheap

 

Serial Cleaner made a grisly splash when it arrived in 2017. Developed by Polish indie game studio Draw Distance, the morbid, stealth-based mop-’em-up tasked players with visiting various crime scenes and disposing of bodies, evidence, and pools of blood like a macabre Mr. Clean. It was messy fun, combining the one-hit deaths and gory retro aesthetic of Hotline Miami with a pacifistic gameplay style to create a unique and exciting experience.

The follow-up, aptly titled Serial Cleaners, does a solid job of evolving the formula established by its predecessor. With some excellent writing, more inventive level designs, and four different cleaners to control, each with unique talents to master, this sequel can be a gruesome good time in short bursts. Unfortunately, much like a nagging set-in bloodstain that you can’t get out of your carpet no matter how much you scrub, Serial Cleaners’ repetitive gameplay loop could keep all but the most persistent masters of the custodial arts from seeing this job through to completion.

 

Taking ‘Em To The Cleaners

 

 

Serial Cleaners is, first and foremost, an isometric stealth game. To ensure your employers successfully pull off a clean hit, you’ll need to sneak through the environment, memorize guard patrols, and utilize hiding spots as you dispose of all evidence peppered throughout each crime scene. Sometimes that means tossing a pair of severed limbs into a wood chipper or other menacing piece of industrial machinery. Other times, you’ll be dumping murder weapons, or other incriminating evidence down storm drains or off the blood-soaked promenade of a drug lord’s bullet-riddled yacht.

While each of the game’s four playable protagonists shares basic abilities such as being able to duck into hiding spots, Hoover up blood with their seemingly magical vacuum that they conjure out of thin air, and drag corpses around the environment, it’s their special abilities that keep things interesting.

For example, Hal, the psychopath, can use his chainsaw to dice corpses to bits. The benefit of this is twofold: not only can the limbs he lobs from stiffs be used as weapons to incapacitate cops briefly, but anyone who witnesses this grisly act will pass out in terror, leaving you free to stuff their unconscious bodies into a dumpster or other conveniently placed hiding spot. Meanwhile, Vip3r, the group’s ace hacker, can use her electric drill to travel through air vents, giving her plenty of ways to get around the environment. She can also breach computer systems to disable lights and cameras or steal critical intel. Bob, the aging group leader, is decidedly old school. He may not be too handy with a keyboard, but he’s a consummate professional cleaner who comes in clutch when it comes to keeping things tidy. He can stow corpses in body bags, which keeps them from leaving a blood trail you’ll need to go back and clean up after transporting a body. This sounds like a little thing, but it can make all the difference in some missions where nosy cops lurk around every corner, making it too risky to return to the scene of a crime.

While I enjoyed playing as as each of the game’s protagonists, my favorite of the bunch was Lati. A talented graffiti artist and parkour master, she can distract police with colorfully worded tags that would make N.W.A. proud. Not only that, but she can also clamber up obstacles and jump over gaps that other cleaners cannot, making her by far the most mobile member of the gang.

 

Messy Execution

 

 

Serial Cleaners makes a strong first impression. This is thanks in no small part to the considerable visual overhaul the game’s received when compared to its 2017 predecessor, which was a strictly 2D affair. The environments in Serial Cleaners are now fully 3D and lushly rendered with tons of little details that help bring each crime scene to life. In fact, they almost seem a little too detailed at times, as it’s easy to find yourself getting stuck on objects in the environment while you’re cleaning up other people’s dirty work. This nagging issue resulted in quite a few billy clubs to the head as a nearby guard caught me trying to maneuver through an awkwardly placed vent, only to get snagged on a desk or vending machine.

Still, aside from the perils of cluttered environs, there’s an undeniable thrill that comes from gliding across a trail of blood like a grim figure skater to avoid a patrol. And I still smile every time I lob a severed fist into the face of a detective just before they can eyeball me, cold-clocking them with a long-distance right hook and leaving them in an unconscious heap. It’s just a shame that, once you figure out how the enemy AI works, these moments become much less exciting. The long arm of the law is in desperate need of eyeglasses, as they tend to need to be right up on you to notice you – even if you’re out in the open. And if they do see you, there’s a more than generous window of time that has to pass before they’ll react to your presence. Then again, once you’re spotted, it’s not usually the end of the world. You’ll need to attract the attention of 3 guards before they’ll bother pulling guns on you. And if you manage to shake your pursuers, they’ll forget all about the body they saw you chop to bits or severed leg you walloped them with just moments ago.

The lackluster enemy AI it’s disappointing to be sure. However, it’s just how much time you spend doing nothing that hurts Serial Cleaners the most. For every stealthy disposal or narrow escape I experienced during my review playthrough, I spent twice as long simply waiting; Waiting under a table for a dim-witted guard to patrol to the other side of a room so I can make my escape; Waiting for a detective to stop staring at the spot I just nabbed a corpse from so that I can drag it behind him and stuff it into the trunk of my waiting getaway car; Waiting for the world’s slowest moving security cameras to lazily pivot to the other side of a corridor so I can slink by.

Now, I like to think of myself as a pretty patient gamer, and I’ve always enjoyed the stealth genre. But even still, Serial Cleaners’ molasses-slow pacing really started to wear me out toward the tail end of the game. If there were more interesting enemies with less predictable patrol patterns, or more variety as far as mission objectives go, Serial Cleaner could have been a lot of fun. But its plodding, rinse-and-repeat design makes the roughly nine-hour campaign feel twice as long as it should, and that’s a shame.

 

Conclusion

 

While Serial Cleaners isn’t without its issues, this macabre mop-’em-up has its moments, but only the most patient custodians of carnage will likely want to see it through to the end. The writing is fantastic and the characters all bring something new and exciting to the table with their various talents. If you enjoyed the original game and can look beyond the grime and viscera that occasionally gunk up the experience, you might just find Serial Cleaners to be a dirty job worth undertaking. It’s not much, but it’s honest work.


Final Verdict: 3/5

Available on: Xbox Series X (Reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Switch, PC; Publisher: 505 Games; Developer: Draw Distance; Players: 1; Released: September 22, 2022; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $24.99

Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Serial Cleaners provided by the publisher.

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Frank has been the caffeine-fueled evil overlord of HeyPoorPlayer since 2008. He speaks loudly and carries a big stick to keep the staff of the HPP madhouse in check. A collector of all things that blip and beep, he has an extensive collection of retro consoles and arcade machines crammed into his house. Currently playing: Chorus (XSX), Battlefield 2042 (XSX), Xeno Crisis (Neo Geo)

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