You'll love it if:
- Sneaking mechanics are your cup of tea.
- You enjoy a unique asthetic from your games.
- You look forward to a puzzle element in your experience.
Not for you if:
- Being precise and patient is not your forte.
- You enjoy realy fast-paced gameplay.
The protagonist stands there. All these hardships he had to go through finally paid off. In a building full of smoke, bodies, and gunpowder he looks down on the body of the man that wronged him and after saying his last words, puts a bullet in the man’s forehead. The story is done, he walks quietly into the night, content or even remorseful for the path he took. Thankfully not your story though. You see, killing is easy. It doesn’t require the finesse or the attention to detail that your job does. You, my friend, are a crime scene cleaner. You are the person that appears after all the gunfire and the explosions have stopped to make sure that the world keeps on spinning and that the powers that be don’t have to deal with the consequences. In a world full of chaos and death, you are the one that brings back order and normalcy. Grab the body bags, your industrial-strength vacuum cleaner, and the chainsaw. We have a big mess to take care of.
Serial Cleaners – A sweeping Review TL;DR
Serial Cleaner manages to capture the heart of the player with aesthetics and sound design that have no right to be this good. The music is incredible and really sinks you into the crime scene that you’re gonna have to clean. The gameplay loop is engaging even though I can see a player with a smaller attention span being frustrated. Its biggest problem is also its biggest strength, being that I need more. For a 10-hour experience though I would say that the price is a bit excessive standing at almost 25 euros. Would still recommend it as I have never played anything like this before.
First things first though, let’s talk about this game’s predecessor “Serial Cleaner”. The 2D Isometric title that was released in 2017 by the same studio. Unlike the successor, in this game, you can only play as Bob in a setting that takes place in the 70s. Now your question would be: “But Jason, shouldn’t I play the first game to understand the story?”. And my answer would be: “Of course not…wait…What are you doing in my house???”. You need to have no knowledge of the first game in any shape or form to enjoy the second one. Please get out…I want to sleep.
A very weird new year’s eve
The snow is thick in the evening weather, but the funeral home is warm enough for Bob to relax a bit while waiting for the coming of the new year. This is where our story begins. New York 1999, New Year’s Eve. Your crew is all gathered together to celebrate the change of the millennium in the funeral home your cleaning company uses as a front. Bob the leader, feeling sentimental, makes conversation with the other members about decades past, jobs done, and close calls. This is the game. Top professionals in their field remembering how they started and taking pride in their skills. You as the player experience their memories to play as them and see how they became the people they are today.
If you are interested in thematically unique games, make sure to also check out the Steelrising review from the wonderful Kostas Nikolaou.
Like a painting
This game looks amazing, no doubt about it. It is beautiful and atmospheric in a way I haven’t seen since Super Giant games. The reason I said it’s gonna be a labor, is that there is no literal way to describe it. But I think there is a metaphorical one. What if, and bear with me here, we made the 90’s into an alloy? And then, what if, we melted and condensed it into metal that an artist would use to make a sculpture decorated with graffiti, “DO NOT CROSS” yellow tape, and blood? If we did that then maybe we could get the aesthetic equivalent of Serial Cleaners.
Professionals have standards
The core gameplay loop centers around you cleaning up a crime scene after the police have arrived. You will need to employ sneak tactics, misdirection, and distraction, all of that while carrying a body bag (or body part in some cases) to your car. So to be more concise: You appear at the crime scene, fulfill the cleaning objectives while hiding from the police, and you have fun doing it. I will admit that there are some problems with the AI of the game though. Namely the fact that it, honestly, is not that smart sometimes. All the different ways that you can complete the mission really circumvent that though.
Every crime scene will be different. Starting from a cabin in which a drug deal with the Serbian mafia went wrong, all the way to an Arcade store and even an actual yacht. Can you see where the game is very sneakily going? A lot of the crime scenes are based on movies in one way or another. Each environment has something new to offer and brings enough changes to the gameplay loop to keep things fresh and interesting. Let’s get you in form though.
All images were taken from in-game screenshots or from the game’s Steam page.
So you arrive in the mess that these savages have made. First things first should be to identify your environment. Patrol routes through the crime scenes, body and evidence locations, shortcuts, escape routes, and blood stains…all done. Now that you have a general plan in mind it’s time to execute it. What guards are gonna be the most bothersome and how can you distract them? Your tools make a lot of noise so how are you supposed to work with the long hand of the law breathing down your neck? Isn’t a normal person carrying the body of a 90kg man from a crime scene into a trunk a bit suspicious to the local authorities? You efficiently answering these questions is what separates amateurs from professionals after all.
On that fact and also on the fact that the game left such a unique impression on me, I decided that this review structure is gonna be different. Normally we talk about the story and the plot, then we move to art and visuals, gameplay and mechanics, and last but not least sound and music. This review is gonna be different though. Instead of sectioning the information that way…I’m gonna separate it into 4 sections corresponding to the 4 playable characters. I will also equate every character with a way of artistic expression. That is, after all, what they are meant to be. Let me introduce you to the team.
The pragmatic Realist
Bob C. Leaner is the team’s head but more importantly leader figure. After decades of experience in this field, his knowledge and collected attitude are what make him one of the best cleaners in town. A cynic at the begging of his career, now he finds himself enjoying the company of his team as age has mellowed him out. He is also the man that gathered them all together when they were, for a lack of a better word, fucked. A man recognized for his talent, intuition, and ability to survive in a field of work where customer dissatisfaction doesn’t end with a complaint but a bullet in the back of the head.
Now in what way could I describe Bob in the game?
Jazz. Bob’s aesthetic is simply Jazz. His theme is that of an older man with a bit of gray that has aged like fine wine. A person in an extremely stressful job that works with the steady hands of a veteran surgeon. Brown overcoat, Hawaiian shirts, and a pair of red-tinted glasses. An “I’m too old for this shit.” attitude, faintly smelling of cigarettes and a hint of cleaning fluid. What can I say? The man’s a legend. In the game, he represents the pragmatist in his line of work. Seen it all, done it all…now the only god he prays to is the satisfying feeling of a job well done.
The radical street Contemporary
Latisha Thomas was an up-and-coming artist living in a bad part of New York. Unfortunately trying to stop a friend of hers from robbing a store left her with blood on her hands and a not-big-enough carpet to sweep her problem under. That’s when Bob appeared to give her a hand. Seeing that the girl truly had a gift for this line of work he extended a business proposal that she very reluctantly accepted. Now she is one of the best when shit has hit the fan.
Her aesthetic is hip-hop and graffiti. Latisha feels like Harlem during the ’90s, hard places raise survivors after all. Overalls, braids, a white t-shirt, and cans of spray paint for someone that lived through a rough time but learned to take pride in their work. Gameplay wise she is agile, fast, and can jump over obstacles before the police can yell “Identified African American female in her mid-20s!”. Her cleaning skills, almost like a dance, will provide a great experience for any up-and-coming player.
The innocent Expressionist
Haldor “Hal” Boen also named “the Psycho” is a man of few words. But being saved by Bob after he lost control and killed everyone in a drug deal, gave him a bit of a different life perspective. Gruff, gritty, and loud may not have been what Bob was looking for in an associate, but Hal’s chaos seemed to have an order when it came to crime scene cleaning…no one can argue with results after all.
Hal is Rock. Hard, bloody, deafening Rock. He follows his instincts and feelings very faithfully but even he, after some time and effort, has managed to rein in his emotions and channel them into something productive…and also very lucrative. He has trouble expressing himself with words even though the meanings are clear in his head. That can happen to a man when his primary cleaning tool is a chainsaw I suppose. If I would equate Bob to an office vacuum, and Latisha to a precision broom, then Hal would be a loud industrial-size factory cleaner. Not too subtle but always gets the job done.
Last but not least we have Vip3r Erin Reed. She, interestingly enough, is the only person that got into trouble because of Bob. Erin was a big fan of Bob’s work but also had some ideas about the modernization of the whole operation. After rushing to a scene and doing Bob’s job before he even arrived, she was scouted to the team and also took the role of digital evidence scrabbing along the physical. Her being so young has managed to give Bob a different perspective on life…even though, for the life of him, sometimes he can’t understand what the hell she’s saying.
Erin is Cyber-Techno. Neon, bombastic LVL-up noises, and abbreviations of which Bob maybe understands a quarter of. She is the youngest in the group and it shows. Oh boy, it shows. Erin represents early 2000 thousand aesthetically. Pizza, the arcade, Pac-Man, and a handful of coins for the machines. She is small compared to her coworkers but also gets the ability to hack electrical systems in crime scenes for distractions or shortcuts. I will admit, sometimes she may get a bit annoying because of her contrast to the somber mood of the game but she is still fun.
My final opinion is that this is more of a time machine than a game. Submerged in a period you may not even have experienced as an adult but still feel nostalgic towards. A painting of a time gone with music that will make you appreciate the small things in life is, I think, a good way to put it. Loved the characters, settings, and voice acting as they bring uniqueness to an otherwise very black line of work. At its current price, it is a bit of a stretch of a recommendation for just under 10 hours of gameplay. I would still recommend it though for the interesting vision that the studio has managed to pull off. Buy it, play it, and take comfort in the fact that your cleaning skills are what keep the world spinning. After all, restoring something to its previous state is way more difficult than destroying it in the first place.