In Serial Cleaner, your job isn't to run around shooting villains or being a gangster. Instead, it's your job to clean up the mess after various scenes of carnage have already unfolded.
Working for various shady characters, Bob "The Cleaner" Leaner travels from hit to hit, steam cleaner in hand, removing evidence, mopping up blood, and disposing of dead bodies. Serial Cleaner is certainly among the most unique games I've played so far on Xbox One, but is this stealth 'em up worth $15, or is it taking you to the cleaners?
Serial Cleaner: What you'll love
Serial Cleaner takes place in the 1970s, and it draws more inspiration from movies than video games. Indeed, you can even discover hidden film reels and unlock new crime scenes inspired by some of Hollywood's most iconic films. For $15, it contains a decent amount of story levels, bonus missions, and costume unlocks, and the achievements are fairly easy going.
Serial Cleaner leverages a minimalist art style that almost reminisces of paper cutouts or with a hint of cubism. Expect plenty of 1970s cars, mustaches, and big collars. To complete the style, Serial Cleaner has a great soundtrack of inspired 70s music, from disco to prog rock and everything in between. Serial Cleaner does a great job of entertaining through its audio and visuals.
The story missions are a little rudimentary but provide some funny dialogue and references throughout as Bob Leaner attempts to pay off his gambling debts to the mob. Inspired by "Mr. Wolf" from Pulp Fiction, you will take up a career of cleaning up after various gang hits and assorted murders. Each mission is connected with a brief home scene, where Bob Leaner makes small talk with his mama and can check out news stories of the crimes he's helping to keep under wraps. The story is text-based and a little thin, but it adds some nice context to keep the missions (and blood) flowing.
It's the gameplay concept that really shines in Serial Cleaner. The concept is similar to Hitman, without the assassinations themselves. You'll arrive at each crime scene with a slightly different goal, whether it's cleaning up two bodies, or several, wiping up no blood, or lots of blood, in addition to removing key evidence.
In your path are various types of police officers, who have different capabilities. All of them will mercilessly hunt you down if you enter their fields of view, however, represented by an orange cone Metal Gear Solid-style. Some cops are overweight, donut in hand, and are quite easily to outrun. Normal cops run slightly faster than you, and other cops will simply stand still and whistle to alert others to your location.
You can pre-plan your stealth strategy using "Cleaner sense," by holding the left trigger. This gives you an overview of each map, and various opportunities to gain an advantage. Whether it's distracting patrolling police using noisy objects, sneaking past them using hiding spots, or luring them away by temporarily revealing yourself, each mission presents a relatively unique set of challenges that will test your reaction speed, your forethought, and planning skills.
There's a lot to love about Serial Cleaner, the concept is intriguing, and the artwork and soundtrack really elevate the game as a whole. But cleaning up dead bodies is a messy business, a bit like the game's execution.
Serial Cleaner: What you won't love
As great as Serial Cleaner's concept and art are, a lot of its execution is a little lackluster. For example, selecting objects such as lifting dead bodies or jumping into hiding spots, can be a bit inconsistent on Xbox, and sometimes when you think you're in the right position to select something, you might not be at a crucial moment. That wouldn't be a particularly big deal, if death didn't mean starting the mission over again.
The difficulty is what gives Serial Cleaner its risk versus reward ratio, but all too often I felt like I failed due to the games controls or unclear maps. Several times I assumed from the game's isometric viewpoint that something was a wall or inaccessible area when in reality it was simply a change of color or new "floor" texture. It can be hard to differentiate between objects at times, meaning you might find yourself doing a lot of trial and error.
As clever as the mechanics are, I feel as though Serial Cleaner almost plays a little more like a proof of concept rather than a fully fleshed out game. The "hiding" mechanic feels incredibly cheap because you can simply climb into a box right in a guard's face, only for them to become totally confused and forget all inkling of your existence. It feels more like a quick-fix solution than a fun game mechanic, and it does the game's concept a disservice.
As enjoyable as I found the game overall, part of me wishes there was just more gameplay mechanics. While the way you'll complete each mission varies, you never do much more than lift evidence, move bodies, and clean up blood. The bare bones nature of Serial Cleaner makes it feel a little more like a slick mobile game than a full-fledged console game, considering that the characters also have very few animations and the backdrops are incredibly minimalistic.
Serial Cleaner: Final thoughts
Overall, Serial Cleaner represents a fun and original take on the action stealth genre, allowing you to take up a role rarely explored in media. The levels are varied, the soundtrack and art are great, and the game never crashes or hangs.
Some of the mechanics feel a little weak, or lacking in general, but perhaps that's simply because I wanted more out of the awesome idea of being a crime scene cleaner.
- Solid value at $15.
- Unique premise.
- Great style and music.
- Stealth mechanics are a little weak.
- Map layouts can be hard to visualize.
- Failure often feels related to issues with the game, rather than skill.
One thing is for certain, developer iFun4All's Serial Cleaner concept is on point, and it certainly seems like something that could spawn into a franchise in its own right. At $15, Serial Cleaner is a worthwhile purchase if you're looking for a light puzzle game to play in short bursts, because trust me, you will get mad at it here and there.
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