*DISCLAIMER: ALL VIEWS IN THIS REVIEW ARE MY OWN AND DO NOT COME FROM THE COMPANY THAT HAS KINDLY PROVIDED THE GAME.*
In Serial Cleaner you, "Sneak around crime scenes avoiding detection from the guarding cops as you vacuum up blood, hide bodies and remove evidence in this 70's styled, fast paced, 2D action/stealth game." - Steam Page
Serial Cleaner is the third game created by iFun4all and it is probably their first major title for the company. Their first two games were the series red/green game. These were touched based games and I'll actually be reviewing both titles for Switch in the near future so I won't really talk much about them. However, after looking at trailers and screenshots for Serial Cleaner, it was apparent that it was nothing like the other two games that were initially released onto phones. From what I saw, Serial Cleaner, looked like a cross between an Monaco and Viscera Cleanup Detail; and that was basically what it turned out to be...in an extremely surprising way.
The story follows a "30-ish man with a sharp sense of style" as he tries and makes his living cleaning crimes up after the mob. This includes cleaning up all of the blood left on the floors and dispose of the bodies. All of this along with picking up all of the evidence that the mob left behind; the protagonist seems to really enjoy collecting this evidence and storing these "souvenirs" on his wall. Although that he is clearly in the wrong, he is doing all of this to support his older mother, who he lives with. This "blood" money also seems to support his very apparent gambling addiction.
However, even though things seem to be going rather smoothly, he ends up owing money to the wrong people, and he starts to work with a rather suspicious client.
All of this leads to a, quite short, but thoroughly entertaining story that keeps you hooked into the game. It does seem to all happen really quickly and sometimes the pacing can ground to a halt when you have to walk around your house, talking to your Mother, watching TV, listening to the radio, and looking at the daily newspaper, all whilst waiting for a phone call to the next contract. However, when the contracts do happen, they are rather good, adding to the story and making me care a tiny bit more for my quirky protagonist.
Like I mentioned above, the gameplay is a lot like Monaco mixed with the gameplay of Viscera Cleanup detail. In each level you have to clean up all of the mess that your "associates" leave behind.
Contracts are the different levels in the game and is where the majority of the game takes place. Most (All except 2) of the contracts have the same objectives. Clean up the place without being caught by cameras or guards. As far as mechanics go, you have a "Cleaner Sense" that allows you to see the entire map and the relevant location information. There are also 7 types of guards that all have their unique style:
- Regular Guard: Have a set patrol and default walking speed/running speed
- Large Guard: Once being spotted this guard has increased movement speed
- Fast Guard: This guard has increased movement speed all the time
- Alert Guard: Can't "catch" you, but being seen will alert all the other guards
- Gun Guard: If seen, you will instantly be shot, restarting the level
- Radio Guard: Patrols the scene, but can't catch you. Instead summoning extra guards to spawn and making your life a lot harder.
The guards aren't the only mechanics that change in the game, extra movement abilities for yourself are also revealed as you progress in the game. Some of these include:
- Access to various shortcuts around the map
- Moving various cupboards and objects to block guard paths
- Playing sounds from different objects to distract guards
All of these mechanics are introduced at a perfect pace and are a great way of fleshing out the game and keeping it entertaining as you play through all 20 contracts. Above I mentioned that 2 of the contracts didn't follow this pattern, but I won't be spoiling that for you as it was quite a nice surprise and change of style...
Other than the various different mechanics, you also have to clean up blood with your COMPLETELY FICTITIOUS hoover; I mean what hoover can clean up blood without breaking...not that I've tried. Whilst cleaning up the blood, your movement area increases meaning a guard can detect you from further away. This can lead to frustrating moments where you have to keep cleaning for 1 second and then running away, but if you study the contract before rushing in, you can predict the guard movements and really use the environment against them.
At the end of each level, if it included blood, your "score" will be what percent of the blood you managed to clean up. Although each contract requires a minimum percentage to complete, 100% is completely optional, but something I managed to do for every single contract.
There are two kinds of collectables in this game:
- Film Reels
- Glamour Magazines
These are hidden around all of the story contracts. The Glamour Magazines allow you to change your costume into something that resembles the costume from a famous film. I went with the Kill Bill outfit as my persona of the character best suited it. The costumes don't change any of your abilities or movement speed, but it does make for some rather stylish moments.
The Film Reels are probably the hardest collectables to find as they can be hidden in the worst of places and won't stick out at all resulting in many hours of hunting around contracts I had already completed, because I refused to look at a manual. One of the most annoying parts about this way that it didn't tell you what contract you related to each collectable so as each contract had 1 collectable, I couldn't remember which ones I had already collected from...
However, after collecting the Film Reels, you unlock bonus contracts that are not tied to the story and basically offer 10 more levels in unique environments that are influenced by popular films. An example of this, is that you are sent to clean up the mess in the Mos Eisley Cantina Bar from Star Wars after Han shot Greedo. It is a rather entertaining contract with a lot of nice references that are clearly trying to avoid copyright from Disney.
Each contract also includes 20 challenge modes to test your skills. Some of these include:
- Drunk Mode
- Black and White Mode
- Super Hardcore Mode
The Super Hardcore mode is basically impossible with Vision Cones, Cleaner Sense and Sound Range being turned off. A more simple version of this hardcore mode that I quite enjoyed was "One Shot" which means you can't be seen at all.
The problem with these extra modes is that you're not doing them to complete them and get a tick or something, it just times them. What's confusing about that is that there is a challenge mode called Time Trial so why bother timing the other ones. Why can't we just take our time and if we did complete a Super Hardcore Mode, just give us a nice satisfying tick. At least then, we would have something to work towards (getting all the ticks), instead of just times.
Another feature that is advertised quite prominently in the game is the Real-World data feature; it sounds a lot more intense than it actually is. This feature basically just checks the time on your system and toggles 1 of 2 time settings (light or dark). This doesn't really effect gameplay as the guards are exactly the same so it isn't really a purchase depending feature.
When I first heard about this game and looked at some screenshots, I was rather intrigued by the 70s style and when I finally started playing it, I was blown away.
As this is a Switch game, I should probably talk about the performance whilst playing handheld. As I spent the majority of my time in handheld, I can tell you wholeheartedly that it runs beautifully. There have been absolutely 0 instances of frame drops and it looks to be run at the native 720p with 1080p in docked mode.
GAME BREAKING BUG:
I would like to first say, that I have addressed this with the developers and as of the 30th November, a path has apparently been submitted. That being said, there currently is a consistent game crashing bug. For this to happen you must first be playing the game (any point, even menus), go to the dashboard, and then dock to your TV. After being docked, if you try and play the game, it'll instantly crash. Just make sure that if you are switching from handheld to docked to always save and quit before hand. Like I said, this is currently on the 1.0.0 Nintendo Switch release and the developers apparently have a patch submitted to Nintendo.
Overall though, the presentation and optimisation is still there and it makes for one stunning looking game. It is wonderfully animated and the colour pallet really matches the 70s style.
The music accompanies the 70s theme well with a jazzy feel to every unique piece. The soundtrack is actually so fleshed out that it is available for purchase with a total of 23 tracks, one for each of the story contracts and more. Each track does have a sort of heist feel to it making to larger comparison to Monaco: What's Mine is Yours.
All sound effects are high quality and also accompany the games 70s theme well. All in all a fantastic and sometimes overlooked part of the game.
However, there are, near the end, sections of the soundtrack that do seem a little out of place and do take a little tension out of the drama, but the game doesn't seem to be taking itself to seriously, so this isn't really a problem.
I went through 3 stages of interest with Serial Cleaner.
First I was really intrigued by the game, it looked beautiful and the mechanics were fun and inviting. Each level was a little hard, but clearing each one was rewarding.
Second, after a couple of contracts, I started to get rather frustrated as the levels seemed overly complicated and some of the extra collectables to find in the game were near invisible.
And then I realised that the levels weren't overly complicated and I really started to understand how each one worked and started to associate each type of guard with their own personality. This is when the game went from okay at first, absolute rubbish second and then "this game is probably one of my favourite stealth games ever". The art style is absolutely stunning and the fleshed out mechanics make for a wonderfully entertaining stealth game that when given time, can be really fun. I employ anyone, who is feeling a little frustrated, to be patient and really put a little more time before each level thinking about what you are going to do before you do it. After doing this, you'll find levels to be smooth, fun and well worth your time and money.
|Story||It's slightly unnecessary, but it is quite entertaining and provides structure.||The "in-between contracts" can ground the pacing to a halt...sometimes.|
|Gameplay||Solutions and mechanics and incredibly satisfying to perform and complete.||Can feel unfair when a guard sees you even though it's he clearly can't.|
|Quality||The 70s style and overall design of the game is stunning.||The collectables can be awful to find, but that isn't really a problem.|
|Music/Sound||Unique tracks for every level. All are very jazzy and accompany the game well.||Sometimes the track can take away from the tension of the story, sometimes.|
Review by Sam Elliott
Serial Cleaner is available now for Xbox One, PS4, PC and Nintendo Switch, £14.99/$14.99. Thank you to iFun4all S.A and Curve Digital for supplying the game and assets used in this review. Be sure to let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.