Serial Cleaner is an interesting little indie developed by Polish team iFun4all. Essentially a 2D hide-and-seek stealth puzzler, Serial Cleaner channels a lot of the spirit of the runaway indie success story Hotline Miami. Just like that title it certainly has style to spare, and there’s an interesting Pulp Fiction style narrative in there too, but unfortunately the gameplay leans more on the side of tedious and frustrating than fun and rewarding.
Catch me if you can
Serial Cleaner takes place in the swinging 70s and thrusts you into the role of a cleaner for hire. Unlike most cleaners, he’s unlikely to shampoo your carpets or steam your drapes, but will gladly dispose of dead bodies and scrub an area of evidence for you if you’ve got the dosh to pay. An unlucky gambler who still lives with his mum, the cleaner is indebted to some unsavoury mob characters, forcing him to constantly accept jobs cleaning up the murderous mess they tend to leave in their wake when they do business. His work also puts him in contact with a deranged killer, and as our hapless protagonist begins to grow a conscience and starts to question his occupation and his employers, things start to unravel.
The gameplay premise is intriguing, and certainly unique (I can’t remember the last game that had me hoovering up blood and stealing evidence from crime scenes), but towards the end of the game’s twenty contracts I definitely felt some ennui setting in. The thrust of the gameplay is to comb crime scenes that are being patrolled by the local boys in blue. Your tasks are either to pick up a certain amount of bodies and dump them in your car or some other convenient spot (like a fish tank full of piranhas for instance), pick up bits of evidence or vacuum up a certain amount of blood. More often than not a contract will demand you fulfil all three grisly tasks before you are able to make a hasty getaway.
You have no offensive capabilities, and must rely on hiding and general sneakery to foil the cops and ruin their crime scenes. The 5-0 have eagle laser vision and will hunt you to the ends of Earth if you step inside their cone of vision while going about your business. They are also as dumb as a box of rocks, and as long as you can duck into a well-placed cardboard box or pot plant they’ll just assume it must have been the wind. That isn’t to say the game is easy though. Navigating each contract sometimes requires a saintly amount of patience and determination, and if you’re caught by the popo it’s goodnight Irene and you have to start it all again. It’s a gameplay premise that sounds like it might be captivating on paper, and will likely resonate with some, but there were quite a few times where I questioned whether or not I was actually having fun, or just slogging away to see what happened to our unlucky cleaner.
One aspect in which the game excels is in sound and visual design, which are simply superb. Going for a sharp cartoony style, the game perfectly captures that tacky vibe that the 70s were renowned for. Locales like gas stations and remote log cabins are apparently inspired by real-life crimes, and the game also apparently logs your IP address and modulates the in-game weather and time and day accordingly. I can’t say I noticed this latter feature heavily, and I live in hope that it wasn’t an elaborate ploy by the developers to steal my banking details. The original soundtrack is also funky enough to make you wonder if you’re wandering through the set of a low-rent porn film with exceptional production values, but it does get a bit repetitious if you’re stuck on a particular contract.
You’ll spend a lot of time hiding in the bushes
Finacial troubles, the worst kind
It’s a gameplay premise that sounds like it might be captivating on paper, and will likely resonate with some, but there were quite a few times where I questioned whether or not I was actually having fun, or just slogging away to see what happened to our unlucky cleaner.
Deaths at a metal concert
It bears mentioning that even though the art style is fairly simplistic and technically undemanding, the game tends to falter whenever you hold Shift to whip out the old Dyson to hoover up a few litres of claret. At this point the game stutters like a nervous child spelling tintinnabulation at an international spelling bee, and a few times these frustrating technical hiccups landed me on the wrong end of a night stick and forced me to restart a contract.
Serial Cleaner impresses with its funkedelic sound and visual design, and hits a few good notes with its offbeat narrative and premise, but the hide-and-seek gameplay never fully roped me in. There are sure to be a few indie fans who will find this quirky title enjoyable, but for me I was glad when the credits rolled and I could throw in the towel as a professional crime scene cleaner indefinitely.
Reviewed on PC