You know, I have never really thought about this. In any game featuring violence, be it Ninja Gaiden, Hotline Miami or pretty much 80% of Suda 51’s projects, who cleans up the bloody slaughter left by the player? This is where Serial Cleaner comes in; a stealth game about cleaning up the mess after the murders that have been committed. It is a dirty job, but someone gotta do it. The question is, will you want to?
Just doing my job
Meet Bobby, a normal guy from the 70s who lives with his mom and makes a living by taking on jobs that involve cleaning up bloody crime scenes in secrecy. That is right, it is not the police that hires him, but rather those attached to the murders themselves. The overall story is minor, but well set up by portraying Bobby as an everyday man who does his job because that is what he is good at. It is nice to see someone doing a controversial work without it being because of a sick desire, a lifelong goal or that he is even uncomfortable with it. He is a simple human being trying to get by, nothing more.
Despite dealing with corpses and uncomfortable tasks, he still takes care of his mom and enjoys watching boxing matches while eating meatloaf. However, the story escalates midway due to Bobby’s gambling issues and more secrets start coming up. It is a decent attempt at providing more of a plot to this title, but it never goes far enough to become memorable. Rather, it stops at being a predictable storyline with little else to it.
What will keep you invested, is the style this world brings. References to commercials like old cereal mascots and noticeable B movies such as a stage being a cabin by a lake, makes this into a nice parody of its era. I just wish the underwhelming plot became interesting or that the developers went even further with the game’s style, as it is brimming with personality. Despite these setbacks, it is hard to not root for Bobby and be adored by how this man is a decent guy who never kills anyone. Just wants to clean up the mess and get healthy dough from doing that.
Story Score: 7/10
As a top-down stealth game, Serial Cleaner takes you through stage by stage where you must dispose of corpses, remove evidences, and clean up at least some of the bloody mess. This is far from a simple job though, as you must avoid any confrontation with the police and escape when the work is done. Bobby does not have many abilities at disposal, which is nice as this title is rather about you using the environments to your advantage. The only noteworthy skill Bob has, is that he can zoom out the camera and see everything that he has to avoid, his varied tasks, and if there are helpful objects in the area. By having the important elements colour coded, it makes it easy to take a quick look whenever you are safe from the cops and need to plan out a route.
Since the focus is on you using the environments to your benefits for finishing the jobs, there is a lot to take in for creating the best outcomes. Hiding spots that make enemies stop pursuing you, seeing both the fiends’ field of vision and how far the sound of your footsteps travel, helpful shortcuts, movable constructions, and sound creating objects to cause distractions, all are important aspects to be aware of. Everything you can do is shown to you progressively, so you are never overwhelmed with options, but the game expects you to use them cleverly once you have learned about their functionalities.
This also extends to minor details that must eventually be taken into consideration. For example, evidences are easy to grab and store in your pockets, but they are often placed where cops will keep an eye on them. Corpses can be taken through shortcuts, but not in hiding spots, will make you walk slower, and create more sounds, making them difficult to bring to the disposal area. What is the loudest tool you have, is your polisher for cleaning up blood, which can be quite the nuisance. These and more small elements combined with the levels’ structures, makes it so you will always have to plan ahead and be careful. With how Serial Cleaner offers wonderful difficulty curve to make sure you understand every aspect to be mindful of, this is luckily no problem.
Every stage is engaging by forcing you to plan out a route, with the improvisation of a plan B being regularly required. There is no timer to speak of, so you never have to rush in unless you are chased. Speaking of, the enemies vary slightly, such as cops that run without getting exhausted or those carrying a flute which can warn their colleagues. While a stronger diversity would have been appreciated, it is solid enough to keep you invested and on your toes.
However, you have to start a stage from scratch if you are ever caught, and while they can take about 10 minutes at max to finish, it is still a harsh punishment when one minor mistake can cost you your goal. The cops will stop pursuing you if you take a shortcut or enter a hiding spot, so you are given some breathing room, but being forced to start the level from the very beginning can be disheartening. Especially since the challenge is always at a high level.
A strange design-choice in this game, is how corpses will change their locations with every replay of a stage, which can either be in your favour or make a level brutal. It works to not make a failed stage feel repetitive, but adds nothing else to the gameplay. Thankfully, the levels themselves do a great job at mixing up their layouts, such as containing multiple floors, be houses with tight corridors or present a huge dance floor with much room to walk around on and be easily spotted in. In total, the game offers 20 stages in its main campaign that can be severely difficult, but always fair. Through this, Serial Cleaner knows how long it needs to be and what to do to be an engaging stealth-title.
Gameplay Score: 8/10
Red, Hot, and Chill
This game screams 70s parody in just about every way, and I love it for that. First that will hit you hard, is the catchy scores consisting of jazz and disco that comes in a huge variety and with fantastic structure through every beat. Be it the relaxing el-guitars and bass at your own home, the more action packed tracks with trumpets or the chill piano adding to the tension, it is quite the impressive soundtrack that makes each of the 20 stages memorable by the audio alone.
Then there are the visuals with blocky models, providing a simple art that still looks sharp and lets every colour shine strongly with a form of red to it all in order to make what you are doing more distinct. A fitting concept that is subtle, but also one that makes sure to never blend colours together in order to avoid making anything become obscure, such as the bright constructions, the cops’ visual fields, and of course the gory mess you need to clean up. It is quite the achievement to have similar use of colours be so well and carefully implemented and make everything look for the lack of a better word; cool.
Serial Cleaner continues its style with nice references like a murder in a barbershop, the commercial billboards advertising movies such as Jaws, and even nods to new elements entering the 70s like disco. Even the stages’ title cards and descriptions are different while fitting to this era and Bobby’s shelves are filled with “souvenirs” from his workdays, which are just wonderful attention to details! Maybe it could be argued that the 70s had more colours to it, but for an artistic choice about a man cleaning up the red stuff, it is a fantastic and stylistic one that truly works.
Presentation Score: 9/10
Something for the trouble
In every level, you can find either one of 10 hidden bonus reels or one of 10 hidden magazines, which are not highlighted on the overworld maps. This is a nice addition for adding in some exploration and you do not have to beat the stages in order for these items to stay collected, which is a nice touch. The magazines unlock neat costumes for Bobby, that comes with nods to even Kill Bill and Breaking Bad for good measure. However, the best part are the bonus reels as they unlock more stages, with all being challenging and engaging due to their more creative setups, such as one being inside a museum and another taking place at a medieval warfare.
All of these levels are just like those in the main game; clear parodies that fit the world perfectly. What is a strange drag though, is that every stage starts out with the midsection story time where you have to go through dialogues and maybe listen to the radio, TV or read the news. It is a weird hurdle, and I do wish the stages you got were more diverse in their mechanics than the ones in the main campaign. Still, more of the main experience is a great thing nonetheless.
Extra Score: 8/10
Serial Cleaner is brimming with style and plenty of attention to details everywhere, making it into an exciting stealth-title. The simplistic story has at least a nice setup, the tense stealth mechanics focuses on clever use of the environments, and the style the visuals and audio brings is phenomenal. If you have ever been curious about stealth games or just want to go on secret missions with a unique tone, it is hard to go wrong with this one. Just be aware that this work is no simple task.