Developer Draw Distance, and 505 Games presents the rather unusual Serial Cleaners, a stealth/action game set in 90s New York. The premise behind the game is to clean-up the mess left behind at mob crime scenes without being busted by the cops. It’s an interesting and unique game, but is it any good?
Players assume the role of four characters, who each possess their own set of skills which range from hacking, athleticism, psycho and composed. Yes, those last two are skills of sorts in a game where you can play stealthily or simply kill everyone that gets in your way. That’s right, you can kill cops and put them in the trunk of your getaway vehicle.
The story follows the paths of the four characters looking retrospectively at past glories. However, the story is largely forgettable to be honest, and at times feels sluggish and somewhat uninspiring. The gameplay is where Serial Cleaners shines with its deft combination of free-form play using stealth and action. What’s great about the gameplay is that each character does play very differently, making the samey missions feel somewhat fresh. Take the character Psycho for example, he can chop up limbs and throw them around to KO patrolling cops. Chopping limbs is an optional feature for him, but should players feel the need, then any limbs need to be cleaned-up as well.
As you can imagine, players hoover blood stains, collect evidence and generally make sure no stone is left unturned that will incriminate anyone. The character Bob, can wrap up bodies to prevent blood trails which is handy considering you have to drag, or carry bodies to your escape vehicle or to specific points to dispose of them. The character Lati, has a distinct traversal advantage, whereby her athleticism provides far more options to move around the levels than the other characters. Vip3r is quite unique in that she is a “L337” hacker who can access 90s PCs and control things like surveillance cameras, locked doors and create distractions.
Let’s talk about the stealth play as this is a preferred method and seems to suit the game’s theme better. Sure, you can be aggressive, but should the cops get a bead on you then not only will backup arrive, they will also shoot to kill pretty quickly. The checkpoints aren’t that forgiving here, forcing players to think strategically rather than rely on trial-and-error. That said, if busted, there is a brief moment where you can knock over cops or in the case of Psycho, KO them pretty easily. The stealth feels somewhat competent until you figure out how to mess with the cop AI (knocking them over to escape) which makes the game a little too easy. Sneaking around undetected then is fun and much more challenging.
Serial Cleaners neat visuals offer a deliberate old school flavour, with a film grain option and all the trimmings of times past. There are some nice nods to the 90s when looking at computer screens with Vip3r for example. The game runs very smoothly and won’t test most competent systems which is a plus, but it’s not a fast-paced game. Audio is unusual because the voice overs sound muffled, but the accompanying soundtrack offers a jazzy vibe which suits the style well. It’s possible the voice over levels are deliberate as a hark back to times past, but sound more like 1950s than the 90s.
Serial Cleaners offers around 8 hours playtime for the first play depending on your skill, but provides different endings based on your actions and choices. Players are encouraged to replay, especially in the absence of a much needed level select which should have been added for those who want to replay specific missions once they beat the story. Hopefully, this will be included in an update in the future.
Serial Cleaners whilst unique, holds on to its premise well and should keep players entertained for the duration. You can live out your Harvey Keitel (Pulp Fiction) fantasies here and then some, with its range of characters and diverse scenarios. The game will appeal more to those who like slower paced gameplay and stealth. Given its relative cheap pricing at £20, it’s a steal.