Since the beginnings of the shooter genre, blood and gore have been a staple of gaming. Let’s face it, there’s just something satisfying about the visceral carnage of blowing an undead husk to smithereens. I mean, it’s half of the fun! The problem is, we’ve never gotten to see the true aftermath of an instantaneous crimson repainting. Who’s the poor sucker who gets stuck cleaning entrails off of the pavement? In an interesting twist, where most games transition onto the next killing field, the newest PSN release Serial Cleaner actually picks up. Amazingly enough, cleaning up after manslaughter can almost be as fun as causing it!
Cleaning Up Loose Ends
It’s the early ’70s and the business of the mob is at its peak. Hits are happening right and left. So with all of the blood being shed, how do the bosses manage keep themselves out of the hoosegow? All of the families and their assorted associates have one secret weapon: The Cleaner. This mystery man is controlled by the player and tasked with mopping up after some of the most careless criminals in the history of unlawfulness. These morons leave behind murder weapons, corpses and enough stray DNA to generate a small army of clones.
Whoever came up with the name “Organized Crime,” never met these negligent ne’er do wells. What starts out as a simple game of corpse grab-and-dash quickly evolves into one of the most entertaining stealth/puzzle/action hybrids that I’ve played in recent memory. As the stakes begin to rise, the objectives also climb in difficulty. Before long, each job includes cleaning up small tributaries of non-voluntarily donated plasma, along with bagging stiffs and recovering items of interest. And like any good criminal worth their salt, even The Cleaner has to take a memento or two. These items he proudly displays on a shelf in his bedroom, for all of the world to see. Hey, they never said he was cleanly and intelligent.
Personally, the idea of cleaning up after a grisly murder sounds about as fun as a trip to the proctologist. Now just imagine attempting to do that while also avoiding the watchful eye of what can only be described as the most inept police force in the history of law enforcement. Seriously, these guys make Barney Fife look like Andy Sipowicz. Not only do they walk the same path continuously, but they also lack any form of depth perception. This ineptitude is only further compounded by their terrible tracking skills once a suspect has been spotted. It’s hilarious to see these bumbling doofuses lose track of someone hiding in a cardboard box that’s no more than a foot away. They can’t even be troubled enough to put down their doughnut, while actively in pursuit! I can only assume that the police academy that the entire force attended also specialized in frontal lobotomies.
Dumb and Dumber
This complete disconnect between logic and gameplay is actually what makes Serial Cleaner so much fun. It’s obvious that the game doesn’t take itself too seriously, while also initially presenting a decent amount of challenge. It doesn’t take long to observe the patrol path of all of the cops, and understand how all of their paths intertwine. At this point players can begin to plan their cleanup. As the campaign progresses, each stage becomes more expansive. Additionally, there are numerous interactive environmental elements that begin to come into play.
As alluded to a bit earlier, there are several hiding places that are scattered throughout each stage. These designated safe zones can be used to both avoid the watchful eye of the 5-0, or gain a reprieve from a pursuing cop. All it takes is a little time spent laying low and things will soon return to normal; even if there happens to be a body missing from the crime scene and human shaped garbage bag is suspiciously located next to a closed wardrobe. Remember that lobotomy that I mentioned earlier?
The locations of hideouts, as well as every item that needs to be either cleaned, gathered or stashed, randomly regenerates after every capture. What doesn’t change are the position of interactive elements, such as a car lift in a body shop, cranes carrying boxes at the docks or even idling police cruisers. All of these items are movable, which will in turn shift the flow of a patrolling officer’s path. Players can then use these distractions or obstructions in order to make way for the next step in the mission. Eventually there are more than just chasing cops that need to be avoided, which adds a further wrinkle to the gameplay.
Preconceived Notions Be Damned
Each stage provides an interesting sandbox to explore. Despite not being a huge fan of stealth games in general, the introduction of puzzle elements through the use of interactive environmental objects, proved to be a pivotal turning point in my experience with Serial Cleaner. This is where the game somewhat opened up and allowed for me to be more experimental. With that in mind it’s also important to note that this isn’t an experience that will be enjoyed by the impatient majority. Be prepared to get busted — a LOT! It’s only through these failures that eventual success can be attained.
Another element that I enjoyed was the ’70s inspired art aesthetic. There’s just something about a game that looks like it could’ve been made four decades ago that appeals to me. That said, this minimalist art style does have its downfalls. Due to the limited palette and lack of visual variety, there does tend to be some stages where it’s unclear what something actually is. For example, is that a tree that can be hidden behind, or a solid rock that doesn’t allow any sort of passage? The only way to find this out is by trial and error. Sure, exploration is a key mechanic, but it still can prove to be rather frustrating when seemingly unclear design results in an untimely demise.
When it comes to pleasant surprises, Serial Cleaner ranks among my favorite indie releases of 2017. The simple to grasp mechanics yet surprisingly deep execution managed to take a genre that I traditionally loathe, and somehow deliver an immensely gratifying experience. Don’t get me wrong, this will most likely not be winning any end-of-year awards, but it’s a mess that’s worth tidying up after. Who knew that obstruction of justice could be so much fun?
Review code for Serial Cleaner provided by the publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.