Serial Cleaners has an utterly brilliant concept, doesn't it? Rather than the killer, you're the clean-up crew. You're the ones tasked with making sure a massacre doesn't get clocked and, if it does, that there are no fingers left to point the blame (because they've been dropped in a woodchipper). It's not hard to sell the idea of Serial Cleaners, then, and with cathartic visual ASMR games like Unpacking, PowerWash Simulator, and House Flipper all the rage these days, it seems like something that taps into a seedy underbelly while ticking that impulsive thrill of vacuuming a house should be an easy win.
Serial Cleaners is an isometric stealth game, which is a good pairing considering you'll need such a vantage point to ensure you get around each level effectively. You're introduced early on to the crew: the gritty and experienced leader-like figure; the explosive psychopath; the feisty freerunner; and of course the spunky young hacker. It's New Year's Eve as the world shifts to the 2000s, and this particular clean-up crew are reminiscing about the jobs that made them. It's a curio that's surprisingly effective, and one that doesn't take itself too seriously and makes do with the obvious budgetary limitations.
Release date: 22 September 2022
Developer: Draw Distance
Publisher: 505 Games
As you probably gathered, each of the four characters comes with their own particulars when it comes to a job. However, these are just specific skills and whether you're hacking computers to switch off lights, leaping over chain-link fences to evade the cops, or slicing-and-dicing corpses, the purpose is still always the same: get rid of the mess.
Serial Cleaners is a very mechanical game, which is to say that it doesn't try to hide away from its gamified nature of an otherwise fairly gruesome aspect of professional crime. Each level works the same, by and large: go in, clean up a certain amount of blood, remove the bodies, and take the evidence. Once all of that is done, you're free to head to the getaway car and call it a job done. It's refreshing in its uncomplicated approach, and fans of stealth games will likely find some fun here – especially in the later stages where the challenge ramps up.
Crime doesn't pay
But much like the character tropes that its storyline is built upon, Serial Cleaners suffers heavily from those now-laughable tropes of the stealth genre – to a pretty startling degree. You'll start by playing on your tippy-toes, edging your way around the pools of blood and crouching around the corners of every room as you plan out your strategy in real-time while trying to evade the cops that patrol unerringly back and forth. Yep, this is the sort of stealth where you'll need to time your route through a space by matching it up with the moment that a guard just happens to be staring at a blank wall.
The fact is, though, that all this precarious play is completely unnecessary. You learn far too quickly that trepidation isn't the name of the game, here. You can jog past any guards barely a metre away without even a twitching of an eardrum. Worse still, interacting with the environment will naturally cause some suspicion among the patrols, but there's no scaling sense of intrigue, no real investigation of any kind, and if you break line of sight for just a second then you're as good as invisible.
This is obviously open to abuse, but special mention should go to the vacuum cleaner. It's an all-important tool for the cleaner and an essential part of every mission. But its problem isn't its curious ability to suck-up blood from snow or dirt, we can suspend our belief just enough to accept that this is a video game and so video game rules apply. The issue is that you're able to use this thing not only in the next room, but practically within reaching distance of an officer. So long as you keep any guards outside of the tiny zone of influence while using the vacuum, then you're as good as silent.
And that's really the main problem with Serial Cleaners. It's not about trying to be deft or smart or quick, but instead it's about simply waiting until the patrol routes create a window of opportunity for you to rush in and complete the clean-up work. No skill or foreplanning necessary, just patience. You can be clocked vacuuming or dragging a corpse from just the other side of the room, and no guard will consider it important until they've (very) slowly walked over to check out what's going on. They will go and scrutinise the same door opening and closing ad infinitum, they'll investigate bodies being mysteriously packaged up or vanishing, they'll find it odd that blood simply disappears from the floor, but they'll never start to question that something is up and that maybe, just maybe, they should actually do some work to hunt you down.
Serial Cleaners was reviewed on PC, with a code provided by the publisher.