Let’s say you are playing a game where you have to murder tons of people in various grisly ways. After you’ve stabbed your fifteenth henchman in the head, you finally get to leave, fully unthinking of the colossal mess you’ve left behind. But who cares how much brain matter is left in the carpet or how many pools of blood you’ve stepped through on the nice white carpet? While Viscera Cleanup Detail attempted to take this on in 3D, Serial Cleaner does so with a top down 2D perspective and ends up being a lot more fun, and somewhat more frustrating, in the process.
The obvious comparison with Serial Cleaner is to Hotline Miami. It shares a similar plot, a similar camera angle, and even acts as a flashback to an earlier time in history (while Hotline is more 1980’s, Serial Cleaner takes place in the 1970’s). That’s not a bad comparison, either. While Hotline has its emphasis on killing, Serial Cleaner emphasizes cleaning up murders.
Serial Cleaner puts you in the role of a crime-scene cleaner, who’s acting for various shady individuals. You get calls to help clean up crime scenes, while avoiding being seen by the police who are usually swarming the building. As you become more and more involved in the criminal underworld, the more you learn that the people you are working for have bigger things on their mind for you. It’s a serviceable plot, and while the scenes between levels don’t usually last too long, they do help to build out a much darker picture of who you are working for. Obviously, these aren’t good people but eventually you get a glimpse of just what they are willing to do.
When you first start playing, you’ll just need to grab bodies and put them in the back of your wagon in order to dispose of them. Eventually, though, you’ll be tasked with getting rid of evidence and cleaning up blood, all while avoiding cops. The cops all have vision cones, ala Metal Gear, as well as pre-planned routes, allowing you to move around them after you’ve studied them a bit.
The cops are not exactly the smartest people in the world, however, as if you are seen you have the chance to run away and find a hiding spot before you are caught. If you are in a hiding spot, even if a cop sees you enter it, they won’t be able to do anything about it. Later levels change up police behavior so that some might alert other cops or they may be frantic after they spot you once, leading to them moving faster on their patrols. Also, if police notice that a body or evidence is missing, they will come over and inspect the area, so it’s always best to have a pre-planned hiding spot.
Hiding really is your only defense in this game, as you do not get the option to go out killing police or anything. Which makes the fact that all of the hiding spots, evidence, bodies, and pools of blood are randomized each play a real pain at times. There will be times when one hiding spot works out perfectly and puts cops in the perfect spot for you to move and there will be other times where it will seem impossible to reach an area just to get one thing. Some levels, however, allow you to avoid police interactions by having alternative body drop locations. Things like vats of acid, alligators, or lakes allow you to drop a body without having to move it as far as your car.
The actual movement and hiding can be stressful (but in a fun way) when you are being chased while carrying a body to your car. But there is a bit of jank in Serial Cleaner that makes it feel like the player is at a disadvantage. For instance, some levels require you to hide behind trees in order to avoid being spotted. But, if you are too close to a tree, even if the vision cone is not on you, you can get seen. There’s also the odd choice to make the pick up evidence and pick up bodies buttons different. On an Xbox One controller, picking up evidence is done with the A button and bodies are picked up with the X button. However, you can’t pick up evidence when you have a body in your hands, so why change the buttons like this? It can lead to times when you want to pick up a piece of evidence just as a cop is about to spot you, only to hit the wrong button and be spotted.
The presentation of Serial Cleaner, while not as stark as Hotline Miami, still looks really nice. The art style works well for the purposes of avoiding detection and the music is really well done. You can buy the soundtrack separately, and honestly, after playing a few hours, you might decide to buy it because it’s really well made.
There are also a series of bonus missions you can unlock, some of which are based on movies. For example, cleaning up a set of murders from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest has you going through a hospital, avoiding the police while trying to get rid of Nurse Ratchet’s body. It would be nice, however, if there was a little more context given as to why you are cleaning these scenes up, as the game literally just starts you in these levels with no context after you select them.
Serial Cleaner takes a really dark premise and makes it decently fun. While there are definitely some issues to be worked out, it’s still fun to clean up bodies and avoid the police. The presentation is slick and there’s enough content to keep you coming back.
SCORE: 8.0 out of 10
A code for Serial Cleaner was provided to Pixel Related for review.