Developer: iFun4All – Publisher: Curve Digital – Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC – Release Date: July 13, 2017
At A Glance
Based on all of that blood, some kind top-down murderfest?
Upon Further Inspection
Actually, the complete opposite: a stealth-action game about cleaning up messes instead of making them (for once).
What’s The Story?
Serial Cleaner centers around Bob, a “cleaner”, the criminal title for the people professional murderers hire to mop up their crime scenes. This is definitely a game you won’t play for the story, but visits to the Cleaner’s home between missions do a respectable job of fleshing out his motivations; he’s a gambling addict struggling to pay off a mounting debt.
Despite basically being a scumbag, the Cleaner has a soft spot: his elderly mother, who lives with him, oblivious to her son’s morbid profession. Again, I don’t need to care about the protagonist in this type of game, but I appreciate the effort to add some meat to his bare narrative bones.
How Does It Look?
The flat, polygonal look and appealing color palette provide a distinct flair. Certain environmental elements (walls, doorways) are sometimes tough to discern, leading to moments of gameplay frustration.
How Does It Sound?
An upbeat 70’s funk soundtrack adds a groovy vibe to the gruesome job of handling slaughtered corpses.
How Fun Is It?
Featuring elements like vision cones and a top-down perspective, this an old-school stealth game through–and a pretty good one at that. Virtually every stage presents the same assignment: clean up the scene and avoid detection. Goals include removing a certain amount of blood, collecting evidence, and getting rid of bodies (either by disposing them elsewhere or lugging them to your car at the starting point). Serial Cleaner does a respectable job of giving players a degree of flexibility in completing those tasks, demanding only that they plan accordingly.
Scoping out a scene and determining my approach is one of my favorite aspects. Taking into account factors like multiple enemy types and shortcuts to sneak body after body made me feel as smart as I did slick. The steep price of failure, restarting a level from the beginning, makes for a tense experience as well. Grabbing that last body after 15 minutes of methodical cleaning only to collide with an unaccounted enemy can be maddening. Thankfully, failure almost always result from being too hasty or unobservant. Restarts are eased by the fact that I got faster with each run, eventually running through stages fairly quickly once I figured out their quirks.
Another penalty for failing is that levels get reshuffled with each restart. A safe spot might disappear or a body changes locations. This helps keep missions from becoming too repetitive during successive retries. It also attempts to keep players from relying on the same strategies. I say “attempt” because I figured out that levels only have a handful of different loadouts, so to speak. Thus, if I had the most success on a certain layout, I’d intentionally die until that version of the map reappeared. It’s a lame (but valid) exploit I wish the game nullified with increased variance.
Serial Cleaner does a great job of gradually introducing new environmental elements to help pull off a job, even more than halfway into its story. Examples include noise-making devices to attract guards or movable objects that open/close paths. Using these options to their fullest leads to great “aha!” moments like discovering ways to funnel enemies out of crucial areas. At the same time, gameplay manages to maintain a nice simplicity without getting bogged down with too many mechanics. That said, Serial Cleaner’s overall formula remains largely the same and can lose steam during longer play sessions. The final couple of contracts, though, feature cool, dramatic shake-ups, the likes of which I would have loved to have seen sprinkled across the adventure.
Unlockable missions themed after classic films extend the experience after the credits roll. They don’t differ much from Story contracts, but modifiers such as a drunken, disorienting filter spice things up a bit. While I walked away from the story content with not playing any more it, the diversions offer fine extras for those who want to keep on cleaning.
Serial Cleaner doesn’t try reinvent the wheel of stealth, instead providing a neat spin on the classic experience. iFun4All made a fun little game packed with a stylish presentation, a fair amount of substance, and a savory challenge. Though it probably peaks about halfway through, you won’t feel much remorse about cleaning up this adventure.