I’ve got a lot of digital blood on my hands. I’ve run down crowds of Liberty City pedestrians, tea-bagged noob corpses and squashed the life out of thousands of hapless, unarmed goombas. In most games, horrifically fun acts of violence are the solution to most problems. In iFun4All’s new title, Serial Cleaner, violence is only the beginning.
Set in a hyper-stylized, geometrically askew version of the 1970s, Serial Cleaner put you in the role of Bob Leaner, a down on his luck gambler that lives with his mother and is just trying to make ends meet. Although Bob doesn’t exactly seem to be the murderous type, his social connections, discretion and knack for sneakiness has led him to a life of cleaning up murder scenes for well-paying clients. Unlike Pulp Fiction’s The Wolf, Bob must clean up these scenes well after they’ve been discovered by the cops, forcing him to dispose of bodies, vacuum up blood stains and steal evidence right out from under the cops’ comedically mustachioed noses.
Other than Serial Cleaner’s unique “post-murder” concept, the game doesn’t really break any new ground as far as stealth gameplay goes. For the most part, near-sighted enemies, complete with visible “vision cones,” repeatedly patrol an area unless interrupted. The sound of Bob’s footsteps, which alert the police to his presence even through walls, is visually represented by a white diamond pulsating out from his feet. Bob’s relationship to violence is only tangential as he will not “take down” officers. Instead, players must evade the cops by way of audible distractions or moving around certain pieces of the environment. The most notably unique mechanic of Serial Cleaner is the game’s claim that, by reading your IP address (with your permission), it uses real time data and “modifies levels accordingly.” This initially sounds like a nifty idea, but other than levels being nighttime when it was actually nighttime in the real world, I didn’t notice much of an influence on gameplay.
If you’re looking for realistic stealth situations, this is not the game for you. Enemies in Serial Cleaner instantly forget about your existence the moment you jump into one of many hiding spots scattered across each level, no matter how many times they’ve spotted and chased after you. Silly as it seems to jump behind a potted plant and baffle pursuing enemies, without the ability to exploit these safe hiding spaces, Serial Cleaner would be impossibly difficult, so this sacrifice of realism for gameplay was the right choice by the developers.
Serial Cleaner balances out it’s macabre subject matter with self-aware, dark humor and its delightful art-style ripped from the pages of 1970s pulp comics. In combination with the game’s top down, classic Zelda perspective, the angular artwork does occasionally make it tough to tell where you can and can’t walk. Like the setting, the soundtrack spans the majority of the 1970s, including original disco, pop, and early hair metal.
Scattered throughout Serial Cleaner’s campaign are collectibles that unlock 70s-inspired character skins and bonus movie-based contracts, which are pretty neat. If you’re looking for more of a challenge after completing the 20 contracts of the campaign, any contract can be replayed with a number of “challenges” that dramatically crank up the difficulty, such as no hiding spaces, no vision cones, time trial and drunk mode.
While Serial Cleaner’s stealth mechanics aren’t anything new, their familiarity and the game’s learning curve is accessible and instantly entertaining. Disposing of bodies, stealing evidence and cleaning up blood are the same goals of every contract, but the increasingly complex stages keep things from feeling too repetitive. With its bite-sized missions, unique look, dark sense of humor and uncommonly grizzly subject matter, Serial Cleaner is well worth a look, especially for those who enjoy classic stealth mechanics and puzzle games.
Serial Cleaner is available now for digital download now on PlayStation 4 for $14.99 and launches on Xbox One and Steam (PC, Mac and Linux) on July 14th.
A PS4 review copy of Serial Cleaner was provided by Curve Digital for the purpose of this review