31st December 1999 was a New Year’s Eve like no other. The birth of a new millennium and the panic of the fabled Millennium Bug meant that parties were on a biblical level. For the members of the Serial Cleaners, it was a chance to look back and reminisce on some of their more memorable jobs from the years gone by.
The sequel to 2017 indie hit Serial Cleaner, primary protagonist Bob C. Leaner has been joined by other cleaners to form a bit of a crew. There is Vip3r, Psycho and Lati, who each have their own very particular set of skills; skills they have acquired over a long career.
Vip3r is the group’s techie and predominantly talks in leet speak; something that was all the rage. Psycho is – as the name suggests – a bit of a hot head who carries a chainsaw with him wherever he goes. Lastly, there is Lati, the dependable mother figure of the group.
Serial Cleaners has you once again cleaning up crime scenes, but this isn’t a PowerWash Simulator type of clean-up job. Instead, you need to hoover up bloodstains, pick up bodies and evidence to ensure your employees aren’t going to be named as suspects. All whilst avoiding the patrolling police in this unique stealth game.
Bob and his crew all have unique abilities when completing a clean-up. Bob can wrap bodies up to save them leaving a trail of blood when moving them, Vip3r can hack electrics from a computer, Lati leaves stray tags that can distract the police. And then there is Psycho; his chainsaw can be used to cut up bodies making them easier for transportation. But perhaps more usefully, he can throw limbs to knock out police and then drag them into wardrobes and bins to remove them from the level altogether.
Aside from the increase in the number of bodies and evidence to pick up, and more aggressive cops, the gameplay found here is the same throughout. The only real variation comes from the character abilities really, and you unfortunately don’t get to choose which one you want to play a level. Each crime scene is specifically tailored for their abilities, and there are only a couple of levels where members team up.
Whilst they reminisce on New Year’s Eve, they regale the group with the most memorable jobs. This includes their best, worst and most infamous cases. You will then need to re-enact these cases as little vignettes in time. A digital clock and short description will tell you when that particular case is from, and it very much follows a non-linear narrative.
In between these blood-stained memories are more painful memories. You will experience the backstories of each of the characters throughout the larger story, and these will give a lot of explanation into how these characters ended up under the wing of Bob and into his line of work. If the gameplay didn’t make it obvious, this is a very mature game.
However, even these less bloodied moments devolve into little more than pressing a button on highlighted objects or listening to lengthy chatter between characters. And the stories they tell attempt to humanise these characters with emotional backstories, but they tend to just come off as unnecessary padding of the game.
In fact, many of the crime scenes are inspired by 90’s pop culture. Crime classics like Reservoir Dogs and The Usual Suspects are clear inspirations but there are some not so crime heavy as well. One standout level had you sneaking around a sitcom set that is like a carbon copy of the Friends flats. Obviously for legal reasons it isn’t, but it looks an awful lot like it.
Serial Cleaners’ unique art style comes from just before the ‘90s. Heavily inspired by the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat it offers a very striking look. The base game looks quite pulpy but then there is this frequent overlay of drawings and annotations. These can be humorous, dramatic, or used to indicate a milestone in-game eg. Removing all the blood in the level. At first, they will look like little more than cheap street art and scribblings, but as you play on you will begin to appreciate them more. Aesthetic wise it is an incredibly unique looking game.
This is extended to the soundtrack too, which covers many genres as you are playing. It is dependent on the character you are using: Vip3r has an electro/trance inspired soundtrack and – much like her persona – is the least appealing. Psycho’s music is a bit rockier, but it is the jazz portion that sounds the best. Right from the main menu you get this late-night jazz piece that really helps to set the tone of what is to come.
Serial Cleaners is incredibly stylish, darkly humorous and a unique concept. It is however, repetitive and grating. Certain characters *cough* Vip3r *cough* I couldn’t give two hoots about, and the story that works in between missions fleshes out the characters, but not in a positive way. And due to the nature of playing though missions non-linearly, there is no progression system. Your first clean-up job is the same as your final one in terms of abilities. Aside from some well-designed levels full of easter eggs, there is little else to propel you through to the end.
Do the dirty work and grab Serial Cleaners from the Xbox Store