They say crime doesn’t pay but the clean-up bill afterwards is worth a fortune.
Serial Cleaners welcomes you to New York in 1999. New Year’s Eve to be exact. Hours away from the world welcoming a new millennium, near year kisses, every computer malfunctioning and causing permanent chaos, new year resolutions, aeroplanes dropping from the sky, Y2K and parties.
One party, in particular, takes place in a funeral home of which only four people are present. Well, five are but one of them is dead. You’d best get that one out of sight. These are The Cleaners, a diverse gang of personalities and skill sets that the criminal network of New York contact to avail of their services. What are those services? Cleaning. Crime scene cleaning.
Not the official way now, that would be a sanctioned contract by the law, to hire a cleaning company to clean a crime scene after a thorough investigation is complete. No, The Cleaners sneak in and remove bodies, collect evidence and clean up trails of blood all while the NYPD’s boys in blue are patrolling the scene.
Our crew of criminal custodians consists of four people:
BOB: The leader of the crew, responsible for scouting and recruiting each cleaner to the gang. Fond of sliding along trails of blood.
PSYCHO: The muscle of the crew. Mentally unstable but balances that out with his chainsaw. Loves to dismember bodies into smaller easier to manage pieces.
LATI: An artist who speaks her mind and takes no shit. Never leaves home without her spray paint.
VIP3R: The youngest of the crew who sought to join The Cleaners. Her hacking skills can leave anyone distracted and in a world of their own.
As touched on, each member all have the same set of basic skills. A hoover and the ability to move bodies and collect evidence. After that, each member brings their own skill to the scene. Bob can bag up a body so it can be carried in public without arousing suspicion. Psycho can throw items at officers (like everyone else) but his throws knockout instead of knockdown. Allowing him to pick up and lock away patrolling guards.
Lati can spray “Fuck The Police” on the ground causing a visual distraction. This pulls guards off of their patrol route. She can also sprint faster and vault over objects. Vip3r can hack into electronics and use them to cause distractions, and disable cameras or knock-off lights. Due to her small frame, she can unscrew ventilation covers and use the vents as a means of sneaking around the map unnoticed.
Let’s party like it’s 1999
Back to the party. As Bob is told the final sense of the body to go is hearing, he shouts down to the freshly moved cadaver downstairs and begins to tell tales of the old days. This is how each mission is led up to, twenty tales split into five chapters recounting the events of a crime scene over the past decade. The order of each level is up to you, Bob will kick off each chapter but after that, it’s up to you to choose who’s next to reminisce about the days gone.
Each level is a self-contained puzzle that is viewed top-down and paired with stealth gameplay. The game isn’t unfair and each map can be figured out with time and patience. Most of the time you are tasked with a number of bodies to remove. You also have evidence to collect. That’s it really, the odd time you’ll get something else to do but it’s usually finding a computer in the level to interact with or finding a VIP to escort out of the crime scene. The levels are all different from each other and no two are the same. Ranging from the NYPD HQ, A cruise ship, A maximum security prison or a movie and television studio to name a few standouts.
Getting busted isn’t unfair either. Getting caught just brings you back to the last body you disposed of, no game over screen, and no need to sit through a loading screen as the level resets. You get a smack off the Garda and it’s an instant restart. You are kept engaged and the game is always on.
One nitpick I have with this is the game can softlock you at times. Placing your respawn half a second away from the line of sight from a patrolling copper. Leading to a coin toss of if you can get out of the line of fire in time or get shot into another spawn trap. This thankfully only happened twice in my playthrough and wasn’t too head wrecking.
Smells like the ’90s
The art direction and sound design in Serial Cleaners is nothing short of gorgeous. It fits the feel of the 90s, flashing a flickering imagery and words on screen as the dialogue just needs to be seen. Not just in cinematics, but during gameplay, images will flash on screen when certain points of the room are reached or objects interacted with.
Graphics on the other hand do look rough at first. A polished PS1 game is the best way to explain character models and environments but to the game’s credit the voice direction mixed with the previously mentioned art style, embraces you into the world of The Cleaners and you start to hear them more than see them. The fact this game is fully voice acted with the cast turning in some solid performances took me by surprise, greatly welcomed and helped me get into the game much easier.
Today was a good day
Serial Cleaners was a joy to playthrough for this review. The game knew how far to take itself and never outstayed its welcome. The easter eggs sprinkled throughout were class to notice. The softlocking, graphics and messy ending honestly don’t knock this title too hard at all. Even now after finishing the game, I’m still replaying each level to get a ‘perfect clean’. All so I can grab the final trophy for the platinum. If you’re looking for some light stealth gameplay while equipped with a Henry the Hoover, Serial Cleaners is for you.
Words by Lewis Magee.