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Serial Cleaner

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, iOS
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Curve Digital
Developer: iFun4All
Release Date: July 11, 2017


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PS4 Review - 'Serial Cleaner'

by Cody Medellin on July 24, 2017 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Serial Cleaner is a story-driven, fast-paced stealth/action game, characterized by a 1970s theme and aesthetics.

Buy Serial Cleaner

A few years ago, the PC got an unusual game in the form of Viscera Cleanup Detail. It had a first-person viewpoint, but instead of being a shooter or a walking simulator, you were given a mop and tasked with cleaning up after an intense firefight in space. Its weirdness worked, and the game has since spawned several DLC packs and spin-offs that included one taking place in the revamped Shadow Warrior world. Few games, however, embraced the idea of being a virtual janitor, so the series never made it to consoles. However, Curve Digital and iFun4All have brought a game that's very loosely inspired by that title to consoles in the form of Serial Cleaner.

You play the role of Bob Leaner, a guy who lives with and takes care of his doting mom in the 1970s. He's also a big gambler who's been losing and has accrued a massive amount of debt. To offset that, he takes on the role of a cleaner. He's hired by the mob and other shady characters to clean crime scenes of blood, bodies and evidence before the cops can thoroughly investigate. However, one of his new clients has been acting strange, and with the scenes becoming similar to those carried out by a copycat murderer, Bob wonders what he's gotten into.

The story is told similar to Hotline Miami, so you only get the tale in very small snippets. Just about all of those snippets occur in your home via phone calls, radio broadcasts, the newspaper, and your TV. For the most part, the phone is your real tie to the story; everything else, including the conversations with your mom, ground the story in a historical timeline. The storytelling method works fine, as it gives the player the essentials without bogging them down.

The game's core conceit — cleaning — already makes it distinct. Your jobs usually consist of picking up leftover evidence and placing corpses in appropriate areas. Most of the time, that's the back of your station wagon, but there are other stages where you'll have access to things like meat grinders, lakes, and even alligators to dispose of the body. A number of those stages also ask you to clean up the blood on the scene, and you'll do that with a large upright vacuum. You aren't timed, so you can take as long as you want to get the job done, but you aren't finished until the quotas are met and you can safely make it to the exit.

The challenge is due to Serial Cleaner being a stealth title. Since you're not authorized to clean up each crime scene, a variety of cops are patrolling the area and willing to beat you down on sight. Some are more nervous than others, some will call in other cops once they spot you, and a few will simply shoot you. Unlike other stealth titles, though, you can't fight back. Instead, you can hide in designated areas, such as cabinets, dumpsters and plants. The best part is that the cops are befuddled, even if they see where you're hiding. It may be highly unrealistic, but it is a godsend in a pinch.

Aside from that, your arsenal is rather limited. You can move objects to trap cops in small spaces, obscure their view, or send them to patrol an alternate route. You can also take advantage of shortcuts that warp you from one designated part of the map to another. The moving of bodies and removal of evidence is an advantage, since you can use them to distract cops while you go somewhere else. That's all you can do, since you lack basic stealth elements, such as moving slowly enough to muffle your sounds.

In a way, those limitations create a puzzle of sorts, as you have to flawlessly clean things in one shot. Getting caught means that while the layouts of the levels remain the same, other elements change. Evidence and body locations will differ, as will some hiding spots. In a way, that randomization means you may want to get caught on purpose, so you have a chance of getting a better layout.

The good thing is that even though you'll do the same tasks for all but the final two levels, the randomization keeps things fresh, and the quick reloads after you're caught mean that the penalties for messing up aren't that severe. For those looking for more, a number of the stages also contain extras in the form of magazines for bonus costumes and film reels for bonus stages. Both are heavily influenced by the movies of the time, so you can come up with some wacky combinations, like wearing the "Taxi Driver" outfit while cleaning up in a stage inspired by "Enter the Dragon." If that weren't enough, you can also turn on modifiers for existing stages. Some are for fun, like a black-and-white mode, while others bump up the difficulty, like removing the enemy vision cones or ending the game the moment you're spotted.

The experience may be fresh, but it isn't flawless. For some reason, the walls are thin enough that cops will hear your sounds, so you can have them running toward you even if they're not supposed to know you're there. The layout of the viewpoint also means that you'll sometimes run into geometry. As for the final two levels, the change in focus can be both exciting and frustrating, as you have to suddenly throw out everything you've learned during the course of the game to solve some rather static puzzles.

With the game set in the 1970s, there are certain aspects of the soundtrack that have been met. The funk guitars are out in full force, but the slower score will remind you of the cop shows of the time. Other than that, expect the soundscape to be dominated by the score, as sound effects are minimal and voices are practically nonexistent.

Graphically, Serial Cleaner is stylish. The sharp angles for the characters are arresting, especially with the sharp animations, and the backgrounds continue with that style rather well. The brighter yet washed-out color scheme also fits the style perfectly, giving it the appearance of a pulp novel cover. Where that fails is in the vision cones for the cops, as the colors can sometimes hide parts of the cones. This is especially bad when you're trying to hide behind objects at night and the cone colors suddenly become dark enough to blend in with the surroundings.

In the end, Serial Cleaner is a fun stealth experience. The focus on non-violence is refreshing, and while there are some bits that don't play out so well, the entire experience is fun enough that you'll be motivated to retry it almost immediately. The '70s presentation is inspired, but the bonus levels and challenges give the game some replay value. Serial Cleaner is certainly worth checking out.

Score: 8.0/10

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