Joining the not-so-crowded sub-genre of post-mayhem caretaking sims, Serial Cleaner puts you in the shoes (sneakers?) of a crook hired to clean crime scenes before the cops find any clues. This includes removing bodies, clearing up blood spatter with your trusty hoover, and pocketing evidence for yourself along the way. The kicker is that the boys in blue are on the scene with you and you'll have to avoid capture while toting those corpses.
iFun4all’s indie curio recalls the 70s cop show theme of last year's This Is The Police and the twitchy immediacy of the Hotline Miami games. It’s retro art style and dark brand of humour is immediately charming. Our sardonic cleaner ("riddled full of holes, sloppy kill" he quips as he throws another cadaver in the trunk) vacuums pools of blood before returning home and complimenting his mother on her delicious meatloaf. The game certainly has character, which balances out its punishing difficulty.
There are no bloody shootouts or car chases set to a funky soundtrack here - all the action takes place after the fact. Our protagonist arrives at the scene in his beat up station wagon and sneaks around ever more elaborate and expansive environments while avoiding patrolling fuzz. Enemies (technically the good guys) have a number of set paths and their cone of vision is large and initially unpredictable as it splits across bits of the scenery. Much like in the aforementioned Hotline Miami games, it’s easy to think you have someone’s line of sight nailed down, only to catch the thinnest sliver of vision and then it's lights out for our intrepid cleaner.
The general flow of gameplay comprises of back and forth trips to the car with bodies - the position of which can change between failed attempts - clearing evidence, and reaching a percentage quota of blood removal before fleeing the scene. ‘Cleaner vision’ allows you the ability to zoom out at any time and survey the environment for the location of bodies, police, and hiding spots.
Early levels keep things small, making it much easier to get to grips with the game's mechanics. There are usually two ways to tackle a level: fast and messy, navigating patrols and cleaning on the fly, or slowly monitoring routes and ducking in and out of cover accordingly. The latter is usually easier but can be a more frustrating option when one miscalculation triggers a nightstick to the face right near the end of a level. Soaking up those blood pools adds an extra dimension of challenge, especially given that sliding through them with your vacuum offers a speed boost that rewards careful route planning in a pinch.
The life of a criminal cleaner can be tough going for the most part, but rewards patience. The levels are built to be tackled in a number of different ways and each one comes with a generous series of challenge modes that will keep you coming back for one more try. Challenges range from the sublime (drunk vision!) to the ridiculous (super hardcore mode takes away vision cones, cleaner sense, and sound cues), and most are split into night and day variants. On top of the normal levels and challenge modifiers, there are unlockable movie-themed bonus stages that riff on the era the game is set in, complete with tongue-in-cheek titles like 'In Space, No One Can Hear You Clean'.
Serial Cleaner is a fun little game which offers something that’s both similar to other indie titles on the market and thematically unique for the stealth genre. Its difficulty and slight release content are offset by a
number of options, a great premise, and some uniquely engaging gameplay.