If you want to get away with murder, you either need to plan the perfect crime, leaving little to no evidence behind, covering yourself with a solid alibi and so on, or you need a cleaner to come in and wipe the crime scene of incriminating evidence. As you might have guessed, Serial Cleaner is about this kind of cleaner, and not an obsessive compulsive germaphobe.
One thing that won’t make your life easy as you clean up others’ crimes, is the fact that the fuzz is almost always there before you are. This could easily have been a game about making a crime scene truly spotless, but instead it’s a fast paced, arcade stealth game as you dodge the patrolling coppers, grab key pieces of evidence, lug bodies back to your car or one of the more morbid disposal spots, and try to hoover up as much blood as possible – yes, you heard me, you run around with a vacuum cleaner sucking blood spatter off the ground.
Its stealth play is pretty light and accessible as well. The Bill all have clear 90º cones of vision that you need to avoid, and if you get too close while hoovering or carrying a body, they might hear you and come running. Keeping things nice and speedy, there are a number of hiding spots on each level which you can dive into, and even if the bobbies see you dive into a potted plant, they’ll just take a few seconds of standing nearby and head back on patrol – the game explains this away as laziness and/or corruption.
Each time you play the level, the bodies, evidence and blood can be in different places, meaning you might have to try to avoid patrols in a slightly different way. In addition to this randomisation, the game can use your location data to alter the in-game lighting depending on your time of day. It’s a small thing, but a nice touch.
After a fairly pedestrian first few levels ease you into the game, the difficulty and complexity start to ramp up. The Old Bill start to come in faster or more attentive forms, the levels get bigger with movable objects that let you alter their layout – the po-po will alter their patrol patterns slightly as you do so – shortcuts, and noise makers to midlead the patrols. Some of the levels get really quite challenging, and with the changing objective placement combined with stupid little slip ups, had me restarting time and time again.
What I found quite delightful about all of this is how iFun4all have really gone the extra mile with the game’s period and setting. There’s a great, pulpy art style to the game, with the dulled oranges and browns, the chunky cars and the huge sunglasses going a long way to evoke the game’s mid-70s timeframe. However, it goes beyond that with a story that draws upon real world events.
Returning home between jobs, our protagonist will chat with his mum who he lives with, and checking the TV and radio will reference real world events, from the Watergate scandal to the Rumble in the Jungle. You can let it wash over you, but I really liked having them in the game. The underlying story has the player pulling jobs for a shady character with a crackly phone line to help pay off his gambling debts to the mob. It grows from there, though, and before long there’s as many references to world events as there are to the serial killer on the loose and the way evidence keeps on disappearing.
It’s easy to see where the story is heading, but sadly the climax is perhaps a little too drawn out, introducing cops with guns and CCTV cameras that mean it’s game over if you’re spotted. On top of that, the grand finale is a little too vague in what it wants you to do, as it diverges from the standard clean up job to something a little different.
As gorgeous as the art style is, it can be a little hard to read sometimes with a very flat look as opposed to an isometric view. I’ve been caught out on more than a few occasions by not knowing where a tall building or vehicle actually ends, and one level in particular had me scratching my head trying to figure out how I could get from one area to the next. Maps with more complex geometry can be a little tricky to navigate as you catch on corners, which makes getting away from the rozzers a real pain at times.
Once you and your trusty vacuum cleaner have given crime scenes a nice spring clean, you can revisit them and fiddle with custom difficulty modifiers that do things like turn vision cones off or challenge you to play without hiding places, and so on. Additionally, where the story’s levels are based on real crimes, some of them have movie reels hidden away to discover, which unlock a handful of movie inspired levels to play through as well, from Monty Python to Alien.
Cleaning up someone else’s mess has never been this much fun, and that’s saying something when said mess includes pieces of evidence, corpses and more than a little bit of blood spatter. Serial Cleaner is easy to recommend as a quirky and fun stealth ’em up with a somewhat macabre sense of humour.
Version tested: PlayStation 4