A Pared-Down Follow-Up

HIGH Knocking out cops by dismembering corpses in front of them.

LOW Trying to figure out how to disable someone standing on a crane.

WTF That was a pretty deep cut Friends reference!

Picking up after the first game left off, Serial Cleaners finds Bob, mob janitor extraordinaire, fleeing the West Coast. After a brief stint tidying up after drug cartels in Miami, he settles in New York and gets back to work disappearing evidence of gruesome crimes. The stealth-based gameplay of the first title has returned intact, with the only major shift being the jump from pixel-based art to 3D models.

Each level starts out with huge splashes of gore spread around, telling the story of the brutal murders which took place there hours earlier. Players will have to cart away bodies, track down evidence and vacuum up most of the blood that’s been left behind. Choosing what order to perform these actions is important, as dragging or dismembering corpses can create new bloodstains that need to be sucked up. The blood vacuum is also extremely loud, so the player must be aware of how close any investigators are, although onscreen noise range markers do a great job of assisting on that front.

It’s a fairly basic loop, but Cleaners manages to keep things interesting by offering enough variety in level design that each new area requires a new approach. Where one scene might have the player zipping through vents to reach locked rooms, another may ask the player to sneak across catwalks high above a TV studio. From a morgue to a prison to a superyacht, the frequent changes of setting ensure that no two levels feel entirely similar.

It’s not just cleaning, though — every one of the crime scenes in Serial Cleaners is crawling with police officers. Fortunately, they’re inattentive and easily distracted.

Whenever the player gets within their line of sight, a helpful meter appears to offer a warning about exactly when they’ll have been officially ‘spotted’ and the chase begins. The game takes distance, lighting, and whether the character is crouching or not into account when calculating how long the player has to get out of view. The system winds up being extremely forgiving. As long as players don’t wander directly into the middle of an open room, they’ll have a good chance of avoiding police attention — and even if they do, levels are rich with with hiding spaces and distractions to help them disappear.

Apart from level variety and dodging the cops, narrative in Serial Cleaners helps keep it interesting.

The game starts on the evening of December 31st, 1999, with Bob and his three protégées cleaning up after a particularly iffy job. The rest of the night has them hanging out and telling stories, taking the player back and forth in time, gradually showing how each of the characters met Bob, and how working for him in the grim world of mafia body disposal has impacted their lives.

Every crew member has specific skills that mix up the gameplay in intriguing ways. The artist can create distractions with spray paint, the hacker can use her tech savvy to trigger objects all over the map, and the psycho has the most troublingly effective ability of all – chopping bodies to pieces so that they’re easier (if messier) to move around the level.

Serial Cleaners‘ structure is built around each of these characters telling their own stories, and while the campaign is broken up into five chapters that have to be played in order, the player can try the missions that make up each chapter in whatever order they choose. This winds up leading to some interesting story twists, as the missions sometimes reference each other, giving the player a chance to uncover the plot’s secrets at their own pace. This isn’t always for the best, however, since this structure prevents the story from developing a strong forward drive.

In the first game, Bob’s jobs kept escalating as the crimes he was erasing grew more theatrical and public. Serial Cleaners, on the other hand, waits so long to introduce the threat at the core of the story that it’s resolved almost as suddenly as it appears. I appreciated getting a chance to check out slices of each character’s life since it lets the player start to understand (if not identify with) the characters they’re controlling, but the overall pacing and lack of a satisfying conclusion kept me from enjoying things on anything but a mechanical level.

Also holding the game back is a notable lack of any bonus content, extra objectives or collectibles. Where the first Serial Cleaner had the player revisiting levels to search out soundtracks, art, and unlocking strange movie-inspired bonus levels, this installment won’t even let the player try a level again without restarting the entire game. There are also no unlockable skills, items or anything that might add new twists to the gameplay to encourage players to come back and replay the game.

Sadly, when everything’s take into account, Serial Cleaners doesn’t live up to its predecessor. The cleaning/stealth gameplay is solid and there are some great level concepts, but the story doesn’t offer much motivation and there’s plenty of potential here that goes untapped.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Draw Distance and published by 505 Games. It is currently available on PC, PS, SW and XB. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 8 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Violence, Blood and Gore, Use of Drugs, and Strong Language. Keep children as far as you can from this one. It’s about cleaning up after mobsters and serial killers. There are brutally murdered corpses everywhere, and a central game mechanic is cutting them up with a chainsaw. Also, plenty of drinking and drug use.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There are no important audio cues that don’t have accompanying visual cues. I played most of the game without audio and encountered no issues. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

Jason Ricardo
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