Ever wondered what it would be like to clean up crime scenes? How about cleaning them up for murderers and mobsters, before the police have finished investigating? Well, if that’s the case then you should probably seek help. But that’s your job in Serial Cleaner, as you’re tasked with sneaking around murder scenes, snatching up key evidence and bodies from underneath the noses of hilariously inept police officers.
Set in the 1970s, the whole aesthetic is like a Genndy Tartakovsky cartoon (he made Samurai Jack), only with a darker twist that reminded me of the Summer of Sam movie to some degree. Only the spate of murders in Serial Cleaner aren’t restricted to a single killer. You’re the Harvey Keitel of this game’s setting, summoned with a phone call in order to clean up the mess left by sloppy hitmen or overzealous psychopaths. There’s no selling insurance afterward, though. Thank god.
The cartoon visuals do mean that Serial Cleaner isn’t as gruesome as its subject matter would lead you to believe, despite the bloody scenes depicted in each stage and the era in which it’s set. Bodies aren’t overly detailed, rather they’re simply posed atop a splash of red and usually placed at random within the levels. At most, your character, Bob Leaner, will sometimes comment on the state of the body, leaving your imagination to do the rest of the work.
Each level is a simple scene, with a few bodies strewn about the environment and one or two pieces of evidence dotted around too. Your objectives are to pick up the evidence (usually the murder weapon, but sometimes other incriminating items have been left behind), dispose of the bodies by lugging them to a body drop area, and sometimes to clean up a specified amount of blood. This all sounds simple enough, but you have to steer clear of several roaming police officers that are guarding each scene. Viewed from an almost top-down perspective, you can also use your “cleaner sense” that zooms out to see the entire area, allowing you to map out guard routes, and it highlights hiding places, drop points and objectives.
Each guard has a light orange vision cone that shows what he can see, allowing you to move by without him noticing. If he does spot you, the cone will turn red and he’ll chase you down. Regardless of whether you’re in his sights or not, jumping into a hiding spot will stop the pursuit and he’ll eventually return to his patrol. That might seem daft but this isn’t exactly a game that depends on realism, unlike Hitman for example, and so it keeps things flowing more smoothly. There are some realistic traits however, as making too much noise will alert nearby policemen, and sound is even used later on as a distraction method to lure officers away from their route.
Due to the randomised locations of your objectives, sometimes levels can be made unfairly difficult. A body might be placed in the middle of a converging spot for several officers, and when you’re inevitably spotted, making it to a hiding spot isn’t always guaranteed to save you. This is down to the button prompt not working as intended from time-to-time, and once you’re caught it will restart the whole level. If that happens while cleaning up that final body, after quite a difficult run, it can be incredibly frustrating.
Missions do become quite repetitive after a while too, as there really isn’t much variety. It does attempt to change things up a bit by introducing things like moveable objects to open new paths or block off guard routes; setting off context-sensitive sound generators (such as a washing machine) to cause a distraction; and even new enemy types like the whistle-blowing captains that call all units in to your location when spotted. There are even secrets to collect, unlocking new outfits and bonus missions, but nothing that really offers anything of substance to the game.
That’s not to say that the game doesn’t have anything going for it, of course. It may be a bit one-note, but that note is quite fun and for those wanting a bit more of a challenge, there are modifiers that can be added to spice things up a bit. You can switch off vision cones or cleaner sense, or you can simply turn it into a timed affair to compete for the top spot in online leaderboards by finishing levels in the fastest time. The bonus missions see you cleaning up themed murder scenes, with my favourite being feeding bodies to the killer Rabbit of Caerbannog in a Monty Python’s Holy Grail themed level. They don’t offer anything different, but Bob’s comments usually offer some comedic relief.
While not exactly overflowing with varied gameplay options, Serial Cleaner is a solid and entertaining game with a great art style. It tackles a tricky subject without resorting to overly gory methods and it even manages to throw in a nice dose of humour to boot, all playing out to a soundtrack filled with funky little tunes that never get old.
Nice art style
Fun bonus missions
Button prompts sometimes don’t work
Gets very samey