Thanks to games such as the Hotline Miami series and Party Hard, gamers across the land have had the opportunity of creating a huge big murderous mess from battering and shooting thugs and innocent party goers alike. We never once stopped to appreciate what it would take to tidy up such a mess and why would we. Well now the good folks over at Curve Digital have decided to flip the switch on the chaos and give players the opportunity to basically tidy up the mess with ‘Serial Cleaner’ and it is actually way more fun than it sounds!
Set in the 1970s we see a normal guy living in a pretty nice house wearing his ray bans and sporting a rather fetching Tom Selleck mustache. This guy lives with his mum and they enjoy having dinner together whilst watching TV shows or sports such as boxing. The paper is delivered every day and news and sounds of the 70s play on the radio and it all appears to be a very typical and normal home and family. That is until the phone rings and then it is time to get to work.
At its core, Serial Cleaner is a stealth game which sees our main hero receives a phone call asking for his services as a Cleaner. After a little dialogue exchange where the caller acknowledges the Cleaner’s specific requirements of payment, the contract is accepted and you head off to the location given. The task is pretty simple, to remove all evidence of a crime from a murder scene and make your getaway. One small issue however, each of the crime scenes is already under investigation and populated with a number of cops all patrolling the area. Now you must remove all evidence which can include weapons or key pieces of evidence along with any bodies without being spotted using a combination of cunning, stealth and planning.
The patrolling cops have a Metal Gear Solid style vision cone view and should you venture into one they will instantly spot you and give chase. Scenery can be used to hide you from view and to be fair; the Cops are not exactly…detective material. Despite them noticing when evidence or bodies are removed making them investigate that area and having the visual instincts of a shark smelling blood in water, they will give up the chase fairly quickly should you break line of sight or find a cheeky hiding place, even if you ducked into a locker right in front of them. But if they do spot you and catch you, a swift bonk on the head from their trusty nightstick will force you to restart the whole contract again.
Sadly the intelligence of the cops never evolves over the course of the game but it does ramp up the difficulty by increasing the number of cops on scene and the tasks the cleaner will need to complete in order to finish the job. Soon you will also be asked to clean up a certain percentage of blood on scene adding the risk of getting really close to the cops increasing the chance of being spotted. The contracts and locations start off with a nice simplicity that eases the player into the mechanics of the game and basic planning of routes thanks to the handy “cleaner sense” map will help plot a route from the car to the bodies and back again. Soon though the locations become more complicated and the increased number of cops will force you to use more than just route planning and some improvisation will be required to get out with all the evidence.
It certainly does get trickier and frustratingly so at times but that is the strength to Serial Cleaner, it does keep everything rather straightforward and does away with gimmicky tricks and instead puts the emphasis of success or failure firmly on the skill of the player. The geometric design of each location offers challenges in navigation and some tasty little secrets can be found which if collected and contract completed will open new bonus contracts with very unique references to film inspired locations such as a Star Wars themed map. The Cleaner will also nab a trophy as a keepsake to keep back at home, giving an extra reason to go exploring on top of the job at hand. Though the AI never increases in actual intelligence and relies on trying to overwhelm the player into panicking and making mistakes to get caught, there is certainly enough here for fans of stealth games to sink their teeth into.
Serial Cleaner is indeed a nice little twist on the usual carnage such games normally asks of the player and as a stealth puzzler it certainly delivers a healthy challenge. But it can get repetitive with the gameplay not really changing as you progress through with only the numbers game providing the real challenge. But the price point of this game makes this a forgivable issue for me and it certainly gives value for the £11.99 price tag. Visually the art style is fun along with the audio and 70s settings gives Serial Cleaner a cool vibe to a genre that is usually given a cold and dark setting.
Challenging and fun, this is a nice little pallet cleanser from all the big blockbuster titles around and about to be released and Serial Cleaner has a nice dip in and out of feeling as well if long gameplay sessions are not for you.