Ever since watching the movie ‘Cleaner’ a few years ago, I’ve been intrigued by the whole ‘crime scene cleaning’ process. There was something neat about the way Samuel L. Jackson scoured each crime scene to make sure he’d rid it of any evidence that something went down and it was something I wanted to see more of. Now I actually get to try it out myself – not by actually visiting crime scenes of course, but by playing crime scene cleaning simulator Serial Cleaner. It might sound like an odd concept for a video game, but it actually works incredibly well and offers plenty of entertainingly tense challenges to overcome as you rid bloody locations of any wrongdoing.
Serial Cleaner puts you into the shoes of ‘The Cleaner’; the game’s protagonist who lives a seemingly normal life with his Mother. His life is far from normal though – every so often his phone rings and the voice on the other end sends him to a crime scene that needs taking care of.
The narrative is all incredibly simplistic in design and doesn’t seem to offer too much depth at first glance, though it actually embraces its 70s setting in some really clever ways. You’ll interact with your Mother a lot who’ll talk about recent events, whilst the daily newspaper and TV broadcasts make a plethora of references to real life events as well as those that take place in the game. It’s easy to think that Serial Cleaner dismisses an in depth narrative for a more thorough gameplay experience, but there’s plenty of neat details there for those willing to look for them.
Each of the game’s levels are made up of a different gruesome crime that has gone down, with it typically boiling down to a mass murder with multiple victims. It’s up to you to clear out the bodies, get rid of any evidence, and clean up the crime scene of any blood with your trusty vacuum cleaner. Sounds easy, right? It would be if it wasn’t for the Police presence that are carefully examining each location, meaning you’ve got to be quick, careful, and silent in your approach.
Most of your time in each level will be spent working out the patrol routes of each officer and figuring out how you can sneak past them. They all have a cone of vision that makes it clear to see how far they can view ahead though, so it’s easy to figure out whether you’re going to end up in their line of sight or not. Of course, there are going to be times when you’ll be caught out, but there are a couple of ways to evade this. You can either try out-running the Police (which is rarely successful in the later levels) or you can hide in some of the conveniently placed hiding spots that are littered across each level. Get into one of these and the Police will stop looking for you and quickly get back to what they were doing – Serial Cleaner doesn’t really pride itself on realism, but it makes for a more entertaining experience so it’s easy to excuse.
The game’s earlier levels start out fairly easy, with not too many bodies to collect, evidence to find, or much blood to clean up. It doesn’t take long for the difficulty to take things up a notch though and for some incredibly tough crime scenes to come your way. I was actually finding it to be quite the cakewalk to begin with, but it quickly became clear that I was lulled into a false sense of security; the later stages don’t only have more Police officers to evade across larger environments, but they’ll also throw more complicated objectives your way that can prove really punishing to complete.
Whilst the extra challenge made for a more satisfying experience, it could make it a bit frustrating each time you’d fail and have to start a level all over again. Each level of Serial Cleaner follows a ton of different steps, so to carefully sneak through them only to see all your hard work go to waste when you’re caught disposing of the last body could be frustrating. The positions of these bodies and evidence can change between attempts too, so you never get a chance to really learn a clear path to complete a level. Don’t get me wrong, it never felt unfair, but it did cause me to utter the occasional obscenity. Thankfully, it never stopped the game being a lot of fun to play; whilst it’s certainly challenging, Serial Cleaner’s clever cleaning mechanics will keep you entertained throughout.
An area in which the game really excels is within its art style, with the simplistic yet stylish visuals taking you across plenty of well designed environments throughout the game. The aesthetic certainly lives up to its 70s setting, whilst the minor details to be found in each locale ensures that each crime scene feels distinctly unique. Serial Cleaner can be a little guilty of having the gameplay feel a little samey at times, but the fact that each location looks so different to the last ensures there’s a sense of variety to be felt.
It shouldn’t take you too long to complete the game, though thankfully there are some extras on offer for players to plough through. The best of these are the unlockable levels based upon iconic movies, with famous flicks such as Star Wars, Taxi Driver, Enter the Dragon, and even Alien getting in on the ‘crime scene’ action. They’re a lot of fun to play through, especially if you’re a fan of the movies – best of all they each unlock a new outfit for your character, giving you the chance to play through again with snazzy new threads.
Whilst Serial Cleaner could feel overly challenging and lacking in variety at times, it certainly won’t stop you having a hell of a lot of fun scouring through each crime scene – clearing out evidence and bodies makes for a surprisingly charming experience that’ll hook you in from start to end. The snazzy art style and countless references to real life events and pop culture just compliment the package as a whole, making it something that’s easy to recommend to just about anyone. Who would’ve though that cleaning up a mess would work so well as video game?!
Publisher: Curve Digital
Release Date: 11/07/2017 (Playstation 4), 14/07/2017 (Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux)
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC, Mac, Linux