Hatchet and Shank
Game: Serial Cleaner
Publisher: Curve Digital
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch (Review code provided)
We all love a bit of the old ultraviolence, don’t we? A bit of the old red stuff being splashed hither and thither, both contract and serial killers painting rooms like some maniacal Bob Ross (happy little entrails). From Agent 47 to the loony from Hotline Miami, these are the videogame protagonists that we love to embody, the killing machines whose reprehensible actions we can’t replicate in real life unless we want to look forward to some prison funtime. But we never stop to ask one critical question – after the bullets have stopped filling the air, after the high octane Grand Guignol shows, who makes sure that the murder scenes are spick and span? Who makes sure that the fuzz can’t go after our plucky heroes? Enter the Serial Cleaner…
Yes, this game tasks you with just that – clearing up murder scenes. You play a cleaner for hire who has to sneak around buildings, parking lots and warehouses like Solid Snake with a J-Cloth, moving bodies, collecting evidence and mopping up bloody puddles. Each level plays out from a top down view like a micro-stealth experience; starting mainly from your parked car (some levels spice this up a bit, but the concept is generally the same) the general gameplay flow goes something like this: check out where your objectives are, watch out for the patrol paths of any cops on the scene and plan your route.
Bodies have to be carried back to your car and dumped in the boot, evidence is pocketed and (bizarrely) displayed in a collection room between levels, while blood is cleaned up with your vacuum cleaner. Cops are armed with torches which provide their cone of vision, while any lights in the level can give your position away. As you move about you also create noise, represented by sound waves – these can pass through walls and alert cops if you’re not careful, at which point you have to run and hide in a handy wardrobe or cardboard box. It’s equal parts fun and frustrating, the latter compounded by the fact that the objectives change positions in a level should you be caught, meaning that there is never a proscribed “best” path to take, but the small size of the stages and the ease of quick plays on the Switch means you can feel productive in small sessions, which is great as the central gameplay loop can get old quickly. The portability also makes it a handy “on the bus” game.
Aesthetically, its simplistic characters and dingy colour pallette suits its 1970s setting which also extends into its meta story, placing the unnamed cleaner in a home environment with his oblivious mother. It feels kind of like a tongue in cheek anti-Hotline Miami in a way but the story never really seems to be able to settle on a tone with some moments feeling just a little too dark and grimy for their own good.
Outside of the story missions, there are some challenges to take on as well as a number of collectibles to find hidden in the levels. These will help you unlock costumes for the cleaner influenced by classic grindhouse films (look! It’s Bruce Lee’s iconic black and yellow jumpsuit from Game of Death!). Given the short and sweet nature of the stages, there’s a lot here for score chasers to tackle.
A clever micro-stealth puzzle game with some neat aesthetics and a line in dry humour, Serial Cleaner unfortunately never seems to find a tone it’s 100% comfortable with and has a tendency to get boring quickly. The pick-up-and-play nature of the Switch certainly makes this a good fit, though, and worth of some bus journey distractions.