Serial Cleaner is a puzzle adventure game that puts a unique twist on the room clear genre. Previous games of the genre so often focus on ‘killing anything that moves’, but Serial Cleaner take a bold new approach and replaces the all-out combat with thought-provoking puzzle elements. This boldness to take the genre in a new direction not only feels like a breath of fresh air but combine it with the gritty 70’s setting and brilliant funk soundtrack and Serial Cleaner is a game you’ll remember for years to come.
The norm for most action/adventure games is to put you as the hero, or occasionally you’ll get to play a power-hungry antagonist looking to take over the world, but not in Serial Cleaner. Instead, you’ll play as a gambling addicted cleaner called Bobby who lives at home with his Mom. Although Bobby may not sound as the most exciting player you’ll ever control, he is by far one of the most grounded. It’s this real-life atmosphere that really immerses you in the game and the every-day life of a mob cleaner.
The gameplay of Serial Cleaner is broken up into levels, or contracts as the game refer to them. Each contract challenges you to complete several tasks, which include; removing bodies from the crime scene, collecting evidence and cleaning up blood, all while staying undetected from the roaming officers. Serial Cleaner goes all in on the stealth aspect of its gameplay, with you have no way to defend yourself, other maybe diving into cover to hide from a suspicious officer.
This all-out stealth approach adds another layer to its grounded feel. The puzzle element of the gameplay comes through the planning of your routes throughout the levels. The only ability Bobby has other than hoovering up blood is his very useful cleaner vision. This offers a zoomed out perspective of the whole area, allowing you to watch the officers move in real-time and plan how you are going to get to that body without being seen. All the movement of the officers stays same, meaning when you put a foot wrong and walk into an officers field of vision this is probably down to your ignorance rather than an unexpected change of direction from officers.
The later levels bring a new depth to the levels, allowing you to move parts of the environment, and in turn adjusting the patrol route an officer take. This logistical asset of Serial Cleaner is vital to give you just an extra couple of seconds to clean up that last drop of blood. It’s also in these later levels where the tension really starts to crank up – successfully taking a gambling to grab a body and dispose of it when you were sure you’d get caught is always worthy of a little fist pump.
I could talk about how much I enjoyed Serial Cleaner gameplay all day, but there are some points the game started to drop off. This mostly comes in the form of repetitiveness. There are 14 contracts to complete in the main story quest, but after the seventh contract, you’ve seen all the game really has to offer. There is one contract that mixes up the gameplay, requiring you to first find the button to move a boat, only then can you access the boat to collect the body and clear the blood. I would’ve loved to have seen more contacts that utilised this multi-mechanic approach to a level, rather than going from point-to-point and then going home.
Serial Cleaner doesn’t feature a narrative or story line that is spoon fed to you. Instead, it provides you with little snippets into Bobby’s current life-situation, and why he started working for the mob in the first place. The grounded and gritty story of Bobby really come to life through the brilliant 70’s style of Serial Cleaner; the artwork features bold straight lines, with washed out pastel colours; the funky soundtrack sounds like something straight out of an episode of Shaft; and the little nods to real world event that happened around the same time the game was set – some of which even link in with Bobby’s story.
Serial Cleaner really does feel like a breath of fresh air; it’s unique take on the room clear genre, grounded narrative around an everyday character, gritty 70’s setting, and a soundtrack you’ll be humming hours after the game stops all help create a challenging and fun puzzle game. As the contracts roll-on some repetitiveness can slip in, but no matter how you look at it, Serial Cleaner is 70’s classic that I recommend anyone plays.