Serial Cleaner is a stealth game where you play a character whose sole purpose is to discretely clean up messes from murders and deals gone bad. And in doing so, must never get caught in the process. You wouldn’t think a stealth game where you have no offensive capabilities or weapons would work, but it totally does. And Serial Cleaner is a reverse Hotline Miami, which is an awesome thing to be.
I went into the game thinking that Serial Cleaner was going to be like a 2D Viscera Cleanup Detail, and in one way it is: cleaning up blood. But the similarities end there. Taking places over seasons and years of the 1970s, you play a pacifist that cleans up messes by vacuuming up blood (not mopping), disposing of bodies, steal evidence, and doing so while remaining undetected. Now, you can get spotted by the enemy and then hide until they give up. For the more daring, there’s an optional hard mode that makes it so if spotted and then hide, you will get pulled out of your hiding places, and have to restart the level.
The game takes place across 15 levels, known as “Story Contracts”. The first few levels can be completed in a minute or so, but after that levels will get progressively and exponentially more difficult and time consuming. Find a movie reel, and bonus contracts become available. There are interludes between levels where you go back to your house after each cleaning, and seasons pass by. You can also interact with the newspaper, TV, phone, radio, and even your mom whom you still live with. Each provide updates relating to your clean-up jobs and foreshadowing future events you’ll be a part of the clean up efforts for.
In probably one of the coolest things Serial Cleaner has to offer about its gameplay, is the inclusion of real-world data. While entirely optional, you can use your location (specifically your time of day) to influence the game. Playing the game before sunset will have a day level, playing after sunset will see more or less enemies, in a different pattern than you saw before sunset. There’s in-game achievements with playing all the levels before and after sunset, but it’s more than that. Seeing how these levels shift is really fascinating for a stealth game.
You have the ability to see everything in a level, zoomed out. This “cleaner view”, lets you see enemy positions, and highlights objects you can hide in, bodies to be picked up, and objects that can be moved to stay out of line-of-sight of enemies. You can even use the environment to trick enemies to get stuck in rooms, eliminating them from discovering you. This view happens in real-time, so you can still get caught if you’re out in the open. As levels progress, this becomes a tactical and strategic view more than anything else.
The game felt natural when using a controller to play, the keyboard in my experience felt clunky. It’s not a big deal, but just a shame the default controls for the platform feel the worst.
While you’ll be performing the same kind of tasks, between the time of day and slight alteration of placement with each retry, keep things fresh enough to see it though, and even work towards unlocking bonus movie levels or challenge mode to see how stealthy you can be. Serial Cleaner had been in Steam Early Access since late last year, and is now released in full. The result is a game that’s had time to find its focus and feel like it takes place in Anyplace, USA. The character you play as, is a guy really good at his job, but doesn’t want to be. Being the opposite of Hotline Miami really makes for Serial Cleaner to be a standout release, and the inclusion of real-world data increases the variety of when you play.
A pre-release Steam code was provided by the publisher for review purposes