Serial Cleaners Review – Feel the 90s

Quite a few games let us play as badass killers. Serial Cleaners, however, wants to give us a glimpse of the life of the people who have to clean up the mess left behind by these killers.

Posted By | On 23rd, Sep. 2022

Serial Cleaners Review – Feel the 90s

Serial Cleaners is an incredibly interesting concept for a video game. While we’ve all had games where we’re gangsters or hitmen sent out on clandestine missions to take out targets, the stories typically tend to justify any mess you might have made along the way by offloading the clean-up work to “cleaning crews”. Think of characters like the fixer from Pulp Fiction or the cleaning company from John Wick, for example. Serial Cleaners puts you in the shoes of such cleaners and gives you a glimpse at their stories—stories which are seldom explored in games.

According to the Steam description, Serial Cleaners is supposed to be a stealth-action game, and looking at those words and reading the general description, I was prepared for a Deus Ex-styled immersive sim romp through intricate levels. While I was incredibly wrong on that front, I’m also pretty happy that I was wrong. Serial Cleaners offers a surprisingly unique experience that I doubt has really been done before aside from its own predecessor, the confusingly-titled Serial Cleaner.

serial cleaners

"Think of characters like the fixer from Pulp Fiction or the cleaning company from John Wick. Serial Cleaners puts you in the shoes of such cleaners and gives you a glimpse at their stories—stories which are seldom explored in games."

While Serial Cleaners is a sequel, it’s worth keeping in mind that it doesn’t really have much to do with its predecessor aside from the general gameplay. All of the characters, stories, and levels are completely divorced from the events of the first game, so you don’t really have to go out of your way to hunt down a copy of Serial Cleaner just to get the whole story.

Serial Cleaners focuses on four cleaners, and largely takes place over the 1990s in America. Each cleaner plays quite differently, since they all have their own area of expertise. Erin Reed, for example, is a hacker. As such, levels where you play as her revolve around using technology to distract and disorient guards as you skulk around in the shadows trying to dispose of evidence and dead bodies. Bob Leaner, on the other hand, can travel around his levels quickly by sliding on blood trails left by dead bodies being dragged around.

While the cleaners’ unique abilities are a far cry from being game changing, they offer just enough uniqueness to really make you consider how best to use these characters to their fullest. The levels aren’t particularly long, so replaying missions doesn’t really take much time, thanks especially to how deterministic just about everything in the core gameplay is.

Speaking of core gameplay, Serial Cleaners may not be a full-fledged immersive sim, but it definitely takes quite a few ideas from the genre. A surprising level of interactivity is available, from blood spills that you can create accidentally or on purpose, to the ability to distract guards by making sounds, turning off lights, or even just leaving a door open. And just about everything you do might end up having some unforeseen consequences.

Those blood spills that Leaner can slide around on? Part of the mission in just about every level is to also clean up those spills without being spotted. This means that you’ll have to use a loud vacuum cleaner that might attract guards thanks to its noise. Want to avoid making more of the spills? Better put those corpses you have to dispose of in body bags so that dragging them around doesn’t cause even more blood to spill out.

serial cleaners

"Serial Cleaners may not be a full-fledged immersive sim, but it definitely takes quite a few ideas from the genre. A surprising level of interactivity is available, from blood spills that you can create accidentally or on purpose, to the ability to distract guards by making sounds, turning off lights, or even just leaving a door open. And just about everything you do might end up having some unforeseen consequences."

Despite all of the interactivity, however, Serial Cleaners’ revolves around the stories of its four “protagonists”. The game is strictly divided into levels, with the tutorial involving the four meeting up for a job. After that, we get basically a backstory for all of the characters, each with their own level designed specially to show off their special abilities. Leaner’s level, for example, is just about covered in blood stains, letting him slide all over the place. Reed’s level takes place in a morgue, so there isn’t much to clean up, but the security is tight and the computers are hackable.

Serial Cleaners does an admirable job in tying its gameplay so close to the stories of its characters, and while not all of the writing is of the highest possible caliber, they’re all still quite likable. It’s worth noting that they’re also not the most original characters out there—you’ll notice quite a few archetypes on display if you’re a fan of 90s-era cult classic movies. The developers have been quite open about being inspired by that decade of cinema, so the character archetypes are an intentional part of the game.

Serial Cleaners’ biggest asset is its style. Owing to its 90s-era cinematic inspirations, the art style definitely feels like it’s evoking a very specific time and place in gaming. Its character models have low polygon counts, and textures in the environment are just the right amount of muddy and pixelated to evoke the look of classic PlayStation games. There’s an incredibly specific kind of nostalgia that’s being evoked in Serial Cleaners—one of a grimy city in the 90s filled to the brim with murders and other general crime.

Intentional or not, I do believe that this look manages to add to the game’s overall sense of style. Thankfully, the lo-fi graphics don’t get in the way of gameplay, owing largely to the fact that things that can be interacted with are visible through the Cleaner vision every character has. That’s right, Serial Cleaners has the murder-cleanup version of Detective Vision, which comes in quite handy for things like figuring out where all the evidence is, keeping an eye on guard patrols, and finding smaller things you might want to mess around with, like light switches for example.

serial cleaners

"Serial Cleaners’ biggest asset is its style."

The biggest gripes I’ve had with Serial Cleaners largely revolve around actually playing the game. Its control scheme feels quite ill-suited to the traditional PC gaming mouse and keyboard setup. Since it uses an isometric camera angle, moving around with the WASD key cluster feels quite awkward. You don’t ever want to take your hand off the mouse when playing a game on your PC, after all.

Even once you’ve gotten around that, the characters and UI feel quite clunky to control. Having played it largely with a controller since then, I can confidently say that using a controller is the way to play this game. Everything generally feels better when you’re moving around with an analogue stick and don’t have to stretch your fingers all over the keyboard for various shortcuts. And seriously, using a keyboard’s arrow keys to control the camera might just be one of the strangest design decisions I’ve seen from a game in the last decade.

Overall, Serial Cleaners is a pretty good time. It’s not a particularly long game, but it’s definitely one that rewards repeated playthroughs thanks to its surprising level of interactivity. Its story’s also pretty fun, and you will likely end up getting surprisingly attached to the four protagonists by the end of the game. I, however, find myself strangely attracted to the game thanks to its unique use of a setting we’ve taken for granted these days. Couple that with the interesting subject matter, and a great use of aesthetics to evoke a certain style, and Serial Cleaners definitely becomes a game to look out for. We play all sorts of gangsters and hitmen, so why not take a small break from committing murders to maybe look at the difficult job of cleaning up after murders for a change?

This game was reviewed on PC.


THE GOOD

Excellent style; Unique premise; Fun story and characters.

THE BAD

Clunky controls on keyboard and mouse.

Final Verdict:
GREAT
Serial Cleaners offers up an incredibly unique premise, some fun characters, and a lot of great levels with a surprising level of interactivity to tell us stories that aren’t really told too often. Couple that with a great sense of style to evoke the 90s and Serial Cleaners becomes a surprisingly interesting game.
A copy of this game was provided by Developer/Publisher/Distributor/PR Agency for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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