Serial Cleaners Review
Published by 505 Games and developed by Draw Distance, Serial Cleaners places you in the role of an underworld cleaner who makes the murders of the mob go away. Bob from Serial Cleaner, the first game, makes a return in this sequel, and hot on his heels are three of his associates who he recruited throughout the ’90s.
As a follow-up to the equally enjoyable Serial Cleaner that focused on Bob’s career in the ’70s, Serial Cleaners pivots into a more story-driven game, and while many of the gameplay features have been improved upon, it feels a lot less like an arcade game and more like a sweeping crime epic along the lines of Grand Theft Auto and Disco Elysium.
Bring Your Own Vacuum
Serial Cleaners is an upgrade from the first game in almost every way possible, amping up much of the presentation while keeping what gave the original title its unique charm. The visuals appear much closer to that of Disco Elysium, which appears to be a stylized representation of the ’90s. Instead of killing opponents like in Hotline Miami, you clean up after them.
You don’t need to have played the original game to enjoy Serial Cleaners. If you have, it will help you get a grasp of the basic concept of its gameplay loop, which is fairly simple in any case: You dispose of the bodies, blood, and evidence in a location, without being caught by the police or other powers that be. After that, you can make your getaway to the next level.
Each of the cleaners are unique and are designed well enough to stand on their own. Bob is the default of the four cleaners: he can bag a corpse, carry said corpse, and perform all the basic moves. Hal, or Psycho, is the heavy who has his trusty chainsaw, which allows him to cut up corpses and obstacles. Lati is a freerunner who can jump across areas around the location, allowing her access to other areas. Viper or Erin is the group’s hacker who can manipulate tech and sneak into vents.
There’s a massive stealth component in the game where you can throw the police off-guard, as well as use your environment and your special skills to your advantage to evade capture. You can throw evidence or even limbs to knock a cop unconscious, and you can even hide their bodies while cleaning up the mess. They are actually enjoyable, and the more the levels got difficult, the more I felt challenged to figure things out and see things through.
These gameplay components ran their course pretty quickly in the original game as the story component was sorely lacking. Pivoting into a story-based progression rather than an arcade level-by-level progression gives you the motivation to go through each level without the pressure of achieving a certain score to proceed.
You can take your time with each level and maximize the unique skill set of each of the four cleaners, which eases you into the game, and then you can test your skills later with the more free-run mode after the main campaign is finished. Restarting the game after I’ve completed the story mode proved to be something that was quite hard to do, so mileage may vary.
Cleaning up the Narrative
Serial Cleaners‘ best aspect is its story. From what felt like a tacked-on part in the first game, the story for Serial Cleaners is front and center. The recorded voices actually give each cleaner the well-deserved character that was missing from the less-than-detailed visuals. As a creative choice, I felt that the audio and presentation complemented the dated graphics. It also helped that it was set in the ’90s because the 32-bit graphics felt reminiscent of the era.
It’s a creative choice to tell the story in flashbacks and separate it into acts. As we revisit each cleaners’ adventures in the past, we see how they evolved as cleaners and as people. We go through the backstories, both comic and tragic, that tell well-rounded tales that work so well. I did enjoy how Serial Cleaners in the later acts start to employ character switching to tackle more complex locations that require different skill sets to clear.
Presentation-wise, I feel that a zoom-in option could’ve been introduced especially during the early parts of the game when we’re being oriented into the interface. After a while, you get used to the interface, but it still would’ve helped. It’s a minor nitpick, but otherwise, Serial Cleaners is a straightforward action stealth crime thriller that’s easy to pick up and go.
What We Liked:
- Focus on the story-based aspects of the game.
- Arcade option is an added feature you can return to after completing the story.
- Introduction of the new characters and their unique skills is a plus.
- Improved gameplay options and challenges.
What We Didn’t Like:
- A zoom-in option would’ve been convenient.
- Visuals could’ve been punched up better.
- Little replayability after you’re done with the main campaign.
Verdict: Buy It!
Serial Cleaners improves a lot of components from the original especially when it pivoted towards a more story-driven interface. The voice acting and the overall creative choices make it an indie game worth trying out for the story and also for its unique way of telling a crime story from a different perspective.
The best part of the game is interacting with the unique cleaners that give Serial Cleaners so much character by utilizing creative ways to tell the story through different eyes. Above all, there’s the enjoyable stealth action that takes you from start to finish allowing you to tackle each level at your own pace.
*Serial Cleaners was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with a review code provided by the publisher.