Stealth titles are a very careful and cautious genre in gaming. Time is spent meticulously watching for enemy movement, measuring how far enemies can see, and trying to map out the best routes to secure objectives. iFun4all’s fast-paced action game Serial Cleaner has these common stealth tropes and uses them to good effect, at least until the game shows it’s frustrating side.
Serial Cleaner: Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch [Reviewed]
Publisher: Curve Digital
Release Date: 30 November 2017
Price: £14.99 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Serial Cleaner is about a man in 1970’s America who is tasked by different clients to come in and clean up their dirty work. Namely, this means removing bodies, evidence and blood from crime scenes before police can take them away. The problem is that his job requires absolute discretion and he can’t be caught by the police at all. With no way to fight back, players will need to hide, outmaneuver, and distract in order to escape in one piece. The story itself doesn’t take any risks or surprises but takes great effort to show remorse in the cleaner’s arc.
The greatest thing about Serial Cleaner is undeniably the setting and groove of the music. Taking inspiration from the 70’s setting, the music drips with funk-inspired music that is a pleasure to listen to even when not playing. The setting itself is used to great effect as some major events of the decade are referenced in the home environment that is visited between levels. The setting also serves the levels themselves well as they are based on actual murders that happened in the 70’s.
Graphically, Serial Cleaner is bright, using an earth-tone color palette, not unlike ’70s decor. The blood splatter that players must clean is bright and clear on the map and the game is presented from a bird’s eye view, with characters and environments looking like smoothly animated paper cutouts. It is effective and lends itself well to the 70’s aesthetic band and though it won’t blow anyone away, it serves the game well with the games art direction the star of the presentation.
The greatest problem with Serial Cleaner is the unforgiving way failure is treated. You can try levels over and over and not see a traditional “game over” screen. However, with each failure comes a level reset. Not only are the bodies, evidence, and blood back, but they are not always placed in the same spot. Placement of your objectives may be randomized, but the placement of police is not. It’s still possible to plan how to tackle objectives with multiple attempts, but the rearranging complicates the task. It’s like playing the same maze over and over, but the way out keeps moving with each dead end you come to.
With failures requiring resets and repositioning, Serial Cleaner quickly feels repetitive. There were a few times during my playthrough where I would be caught over and over and truly lose count of how many times I had attempted the level. Because it took me so many tries, I inadvertently learned about a feature of the game. Serial Cleaner can use the internal clock of your console or PC to affect the time of day as well as visual cones of the police. This ends up making the game easier at night with the feature on since the cones are smaller than in the daytime.
However, strewn about story levels are collectibles which are not reset should player’s fail. These collectibles, magazines and film reels, unlock new costumes for the Cleaner and new levels based off of films like Taxi Driver, Alien, and even Monty Python and the Holy Grail. These use unique environments and challenges but still rely on the same gameplay mechanics and the bonus missions are fun and inventive homages.
Serial Cleaner‘s problem could be solved with at least one autosave feature, and that may be the most frustrating thing of all. I enjoyed the gameplay and the cat-and-mouse-like nature of it. Yet the repetitive nature brought on by failure kills what good will the game built for me. There is a good game underneath in Serial Cleaner, but you have to brush away the frustration of failing to find it.