I’ve always thought that the job of a cleaner is one that is under represented in the gaming world. Actually, that’s a lie, I’ve never thought that, but now that I’ve spent some time playing Serial Cleaner, I definitely think it is the case. The cleaning found in this game isn’t a little light dusting either – it’s cleaning up after a series of gruesome murders. The question is, can iFun4All and Curve Digital turn the grim subject matter into an enjoyable game?
First impressions of Serial Cleaner are very good, with a highly stylised, 1970s vibe to the game. The attract sequence features the hero, the Cleaner, in a variety of action poses with an awesome ‘70s haircut and a frankly amazing ‘70s moustache. These styling cues continue into the main game, with a super cool vibe and music. The graphics are suitably retro as well, and feature an almost top down perspective on the action. Action being the operative word, as before you can say “Do you like my moustache?” you’re thrown in to a murky world of Mafia hitmen, gambling and a serial killer. And guess who’s got to sort out the various crime scenes? That’s right, it’s you!
The game plays out as a stealth experience, as the only weapon in the Cleaner’s arsenal is the ability to hide in unlikely places. Pot plants, cardboard boxes, even low cupboards are all places that Bob Leaner, our hero, can fold himself into so to avoid the long arm of the law. It’s not just their arms you need to worry about either, as the vision cones of the law are the big enemy that you need to overcome. If the police see you, they will chase you down and introduce their truncheons to the back of your head. There is none of this namby pamby “Stop! Police!” malarkey here. Later in the game, more and more different police will be introduced, from the afro sporting cops who run like Usain Bolt, to the “Shoot first, ask questions never” Shooter cops that appear near the end. Being seen is a bad thing, as you could imagine for a stealth game, but if you manage to make it to a hiding place, or break line of sight for long enough, the cops will eventually resume their patrol patterns and you’ll be able to try again.
There are three elements to each level that the Cleaner has to tidy up. These are, in no particular order, bodies that need to be disposed of, blood that needs to be cleaned up, and evidence that needs to be collected. Bodies can either be picked up and hauled back to the Cleaners iconic 1970s wood panelled station wagon, or placed in specific areas. These vary from trucks full of toxic waste to alligators lying in ponds, so it’s always worthwhile checking the area you’re working in. The blood is much easier to clean up, as Bob packs a 70’s Hoover in his pocket that can be used to suck all the blood up. He never plugs it in mind, but with a bit of willing suspension of disbelief, it soon turns into a surprisingly fun diversion.
Obviously using a big old Hoover is noisy work, so if you use it too close to the 5-0 they will come running to see what the disturbance is. Noise is indicated by a diamond shape that radiates out from Bob’s feet, so you can keep a track of how noisy you are being. In an interesting touch, your footsteps make noise, but if you are carrying a body, they make more noise, leading to some tense cat and mouse games as you try to recover your last body before you can make your escape.
The last piece of the jigsaw, the evidence, has to be picked up, stuffed in your pocket and removed from the crime scene. As anyone who has ever seen an episode of CSI knows, evidence on the ground is marked by a little card that signifies where it was, what it was and so on. Well, when you pick up the evidence, if a police officer sees that the card is sat on the ground all on its lonesome, they will come barrelling over to see what happened… and if you are still in the neighbourhood, they will then see you and bring the pain. On the other side of the coin, if you need a diversion, swiping the evidence will make the cops go to see what is happening, which may allow you to slip deeper into the level.
With such a high emphasis placed on stealth, this is a game that rewards the patient player. Going off half cocked, charging in and just cleaning willy nilly will not not give a happy outcome, as seemingly the entire roster of the local PD seems to be on your tail! The police on each level have set patrol routes, which, with a bit of observation can be be taken into account to allow you to dance around them. Carrying a body makes you run slower and also makes it impossible to hide, so if you are spotted when carrying a corpse, my advice is to drop it and run away as fast as the Cleaner’s flare-clad legs will carry you. On the basic level, the cops can’t see you if you pop into a hiding spot even if they are treading on your heels. This has saved my bacon more times than I can count, especially with the faster varieties of cop that turn up in the later levels.
So, planning prevents poor performance in this game, and the Cleaner’s special super sense – Cleaner sense – will help with it. Holding down the left trigger will show you the entire map, with the locations of your objectives, and it will also show you the enemies and where their vision cones are. Hiding in a secure location and using this ability is a very helpful tool, and pretty much worth its weight in Hai Karate aftershave! If the Cleaner is seen and caught, the mission is a failure and has to be started again from the beginning, which is a bit gutting when you’re cleaning up the last few drops of blood. The levels are dynamic also, so the bodies, blood and evidence are in random places every time, making the game that little bit more challenging.
The story is told out through little scenes between missions, where the Cleaner interacts with his mother, and also reads the newspaper that is left on the doorstep. As the missions progress, the Echo Killer comes onto the scene, and the stage is set for a series of events that seems to draw the two characters closer and closer to each other. I’m not going to spoil what happens, but the story is compelling and really draws you in, despite being slow burning and not exactly action packed.
The main campaign is 20 missions in length, with a good amount of replayability in the shape of bonus missions to be unlocked by picking up film canisters that are secreted around the levels. There are also new outfits that can be found and unlocked, and some of these are fantastic, giving the Cleaner an amazing, disco styled new look. There are also various challenges that can be activated to make the game harder, ranging from no visible vision cones to a one shot mode, where, if the Cleaner is seen, the level has to be restarted.
I must also give special praise to the bonus levels, as they are based around cult films such as Alien, Taxi Driver and even Monty Python and the Holy Grail. They are given puntastic titles, such as Taxi Cleaner or In Space, No One Can Hear You Clean and are considerably harder than the main story missions. The Alien one in particular made me smile, as the blood that you are cleaning up is white, from the on-board android, which I thought was a nice touch. Also, to dispose of the bodies you have to feed them to the Xenomorph, and avoid hyper vigilant CCTV. These bonus missions really add a bit of value to the title.
At the end of the day, there aren’t any real issues with Serial Cleaner. Sometimes the cops seem to have been issued with those X-Ray specs that you could order from the back of comics in the ‘70s, seeing you easily through a sliver of a doorway when you’ve left only your big toe peeking out. Very rarely the wall seems to be “sticky”, so when you try to round a corner sharply the Cleaner seems to just get hung up for a second, which usually leads to an unfortunate truncheon/cranium interface. Other than that though, everything is pretty much hunky dory.
In conclusion, Serial Cleaner is a very good stealth game. It controls well, the levels are well thought out and a real challenge, and the level of difficulty is just short of pad biting. If you are spotted, it’s normally your fault, as you’ve got a bit too giddy and just tried to nip past a policeman when you know full well he’s about to turn around. With 20 missions in the main game and another ten to be found and unlocked, plus all the challenge modes, Serial Cleaner doesn’t ever suffer for a lack of content. But more to the point, it is fun to play. If you want a stealth game, or have ever hankered after the life of a cleaner, this is the game for you.