Serial Cleaner may be all about huge, messy murders, but it’s a surprisingly neat and polished game. Developer iFun4All’s top-down action stealth game is a fun and sometimes frustrating trip, with more than enough flair to keep you playing level after level.
You play a contract crime scene cleaner working for organized crime syndicates. For whatever reason, these criminals never think about calling you before the murders actually happen. By the time you arrive, the police are already canvassing the scene. You have to sneak around, collect the bodies, and clean up any evidence they may have left behind without getting caught.
Though the concept is simple, the game goes deeper than I expected into the life of The Cleaner. He does not live the life he wanted, stuck in a cycle he can’t walk away from. It’s a fitting backstory for someone who is contracted by the mob, trapped by his need for money in the same way I’m sure many of his clients’ victims were. As you progress in the game, you also discover that your bosses won’t let you make a spotless getaway. They pose a real threat to you too, making The Cleaner slightly more than just a nameless avatar, and enhances the stakes for your survival.
There’s a respectable amount of variety in the game’s levels, especially as they get more complex and grand. You’ll be cleaning up in forests, parking lots, office buildings, and other places where the mob might do its grim work. While the backgrounds and set pieces change, the object of the game stays the same: Clean everything, and don’t get caught. The map layouts don’t change how enemies move around it – they mainly skulk, only running when they think they see you out of the corners of their eyes.
Serial Cleaner is not as much about outwitting your enemies as as it is about outmaneuvering them. In the 20 levels or “contracts” in the main game, your strategy will mainly be to run around and hide for a few seconds until your opponents pass you or look in the opposite direction. You can hide anywhere from inside cabinets to behind plants and zoom past police and others who are trying to track you down. Conquering levels may not make you feel like a genius, but as the maps become denser, grander, and more populated with each level, you will feel pretty satisfied about your skill at avoiding detection.
That being said, Serial Cleaner can be ruthless. Enemies never walk a set path and their movements are pretty random, so forget about trying to find patterns. Your best weapon is patience, and be prepared to use it. After all, if you are caught, you have to start the level over again, so running around with mops blazing is likely to make you fail quickly. There are no checkpoints, so the threat of instant failure is always on your mind, and it can make the longer, more complex levels tense.
That tension will sometimes give way to frustration and irritation. Every time you fail, the game randomizes the placement of bodies and items to collect. So, you can never anticipate where enemies will be patrolling or the path you have to take to clean everything up. This sounds like a nice idea to break up the inevitable monotony of repeating levels, but it also means you can never learn from your failures. Every level attempt basically places you back at square one.
Still, the triumphs of every victory are generally worth the frustration. Serial Cleaner is demanding, and sometimes I had to walk away from the game for a few minutes after some epic failures. However, the wave of relief after picking up the last body in a level was its own reward. Serial Cleaner may get annoying, but it never completely loses its sense of entertainment nor its engaging aesthetic.
Speaking of aesthetics, Serial Cleaner’s 1970s art style and production design is perfect for this humorously bloody game. It fits the gameplay so well that it makes you feel like a character in Pulp Fiction. You could imagine a more contemporary and realistic style for a game about a contract murder scene cleaner, but the flashy color scheme and twangy music gives an already fun concept the perfect setting. If you’re a fan of 1970s culture, this game will give you excellent nostalgia points in its 10 bonus contracts, all of which are based on classic ‘70s films.
If you are looking for a challenging and creative few hours, Serial Cleaner is a solid choice. There are certainly more complex and less frustrating action-stealth games on the market, but Serial Cleaner’s charm, level design, and delightful aesthetic make it worth sweeping out of your backlog.
- Fun concept
- Excellent art style and design
- Tense gameplay
- No opportunity to learn from mistakes
- Re-attempting levels can be frustrating