Did you ever wonder how in movies, murderers always seem to clean up their tracks perfectly without leaving anything behind? If they’re not scrubbing the crime scene clean themselves, then how are the police never able to find the evidence there? Serial Cleaners reveals the answer: there’s professional “cleaners” wiping every murder scene from top to bottom.
The follow-up to the 2017 indie game Serial Cleaner, the 2022 game Serial Cleaners (note the “s”) lets you control four professional crime scene cleaners. Veteran cleaner Bob, psychopath Hal, street artist Lati, and hacker Vip3r all have their own methods of making a murder scene look like nothing happened.
It’s a great idea for a game. Yet it doesn’t fully translate into a fun title, with a poor plot, irritating characters, and downright annoying AI putting a damper on the otherwise okay gameplay.
A clean alibi for these serial cleaners
Given that this is a game where your main tool for cleaning up crime scenes is a super-powerful-but-only-for-blood vacuum, it obviously doesn’t take itself too seriously. The problem is, Serial Cleaners tries to have its cake and eat it too.
The characters and dialogue have a cynical attitude that quickly becomes annoying, like a bunch of 90s tropes suddenly gained a voice but no sense of subtlety. I don’t want to be too critical as the game’s developers are Polish, but the writing instantly turned me off of these characters because of how irritating they are. (Special shoutouts to Vip3r the cliched hacker girl.)
But towards the end, Serial Cleaners switches from comedy that doesn’t land to drama that seriously doesn’t land. Without spoilers, the final chapter introduces a twist that changes nothing about the events we’ve witnessed. It’s only there to give us an “and also, this was happening!” moment, with no satisfying payoff whatsoever.
Some things need to be tidied up
While I didn’t enjoy the story, I at least knew to write it off pretty quickly. For me, it was all about sneakily gathering up bodies, collecting evidence, wiping up the blood, and keeping out of sight of the police.
That’s the aim of the game, and the foundation of the gameplay is solid enough. Getting around each area is pretty easy even with the less-than-ideal controls, with a number of shortcuts at your disposal. Each character’s special ability like Hal’s chainsaw or Lati’s acrobatics gives you different opportunities to solve the game’s problems.
Yet as with any criminal, the police are there to get in your way.
The worst thing about the game is the inconsistent AI. Sometimes, the police seem to have no recollection of things that just happened and let you squeeze by. Sometimes, they seem to ignore their limitations and snipe you no matter what. It makes the stealth mechanics more infuriating then they should be.
Style over substance
If nothing else, Serial Cleaners knows how to clean in style. Inspired by 90s cult movies like Reservoir Dogs and The Usual Suspects, the art looks like something out of an urban street.
It’s a great visual style, and makes up for the otherwise simply graphics. But just like the characters, the repeated flashing images and text became incredibly distracting. The assets themselves are drawn very well, yet I don’t need them popping onto the screen every single second.
These touches would be fine if they were occasional or they just happened in cutscenes. When they start propping up during the levels themselves, it becomes an issue. And needless to say, photosensitive players should probably avoid this one, especially if your sensitivity to flashing images is very high.
Serial Cleaners needed more polish
The most disappointing thing is that Serial Cleaners takes a fantastic idea and ruins it with a bunch of issues. It has a great concept and solid enough gameplay, but the story, characters, and AI muddy up the whole thing. It might be worth a play on sale, but otherwise, it’s got too much grime on the surface.
Serial Cleaners is developed by Draw Distance and published by 505 Games. It is available now for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC via Steam, Epic Games Store, and GOG.com.
Review key provided by 505 Games.