There’s something quite satisfying about using your trademark vacuum cleaner to meticulously clean a rug that’s absolutely covered in blood, especially when there’s a cop just two feet away. Fortunately for you, you’ve turned the music up, and the cop is distracted by the beats it emits, while another cop half way across the room is confused as to where the body that was there a few minutes ago, has disappeared.
This is however just all in a days work for Bob Leaner, the protagonist in Serial Cleaner, a 70s inspired puzzle game in which you clean up crime scenes as they’re being investigated by the police.
Serial Cleaner is a lovingly stylised puzzle game where patience is a virtue. It’s about biding your time, ensuring the coast is clear, and learning patterns. This isn’t one of those games where you can rush through level after level like some speed-running genius, this is a game where one mistake can destroy 15 minutes of hard work.
As Bob Leaner, the game’s boxing-loving, crime scene-cleaning protagonist, you’ll be tasked with visiting crime scenes and ensuring there’s no evidence left behind. Through a series of ominous cryptic phone calls, you’ll find yourself in among active crime scenes with cops patrolling the joint. At first, you’re given smaller jobs, dispose of one body and the murder weapon, but as time gets on the task gets more complex, as does the scenarios they’re presented.
It’s this slow progression of levels which makes Serial Cleaner so enjoyable. While you might be able to breeze through the previous level, the next scenario might throw a curve ball your way or a new mechanic which you’ve got to learn and incorporate in your mission. Serial Cleaner does however do a fantastic job of giving you that “AHA!” moment, over and over again.
You see, as I mentioned, patience is a virtue and if you have none of it, you’re going to have a bad time with Serial Cleaner. While a lot of puzzle games nowadays rewards players for being fast, Serial Cleaner is a much more rewarding experience when you take your time. Sure, you can blast through levels if you want to, but it’s so much easier to make a mistake, and when mistakes are made, you can’t just attempt the same thing again, because this time things are different.
While each level remains the same in terms of the scenario layout, the location of the bodies, murder weapon, and even blood, can change. A path which you relied on previously will most likely be void. The game does a fantastic job of making sure that you can’t just bodge your way through a level, you really have to think about what you’re doing each time you fail, and that makes Serial Cleaner an incredibly refreshing puzzle game.
Visually, Serial Cleaner is presented in a very stylised way that works perfectly for the game. For the most part, the game is from a sort of isometric-ish top-down perspective and at times you’ll be moving in and out of rooms, behind walls and other objects, as well as jumping in and out of hiding spots. Despite this forced perspective there was never a moment of frustration when moving in or around parts of each level. There were times where perspectives were a little off, but through trial and error it was easy enough to get a lay of the land.
One thing I can applaud Serial Cleaner on is its loading times. While each level takes a few seconds to load, that’s all you’ll experience. When being caught you won’t be thrown back to a loading screen, instead the screen goes black for a split second only to come back with a reset level. It’s this snappy level reset that allows you to continue your cleaning escapades without being thrown by long wait times.
My only real frustration with Serial Cleaner is more of a personal one. You see, as you progress through the game you’re introduced to new mechanics, whether it’s the ability to move objects, make noise, or use shortcuts, which means later in the game, levels can become incredibly intimidating.
Not only do you have to then pay attention to each cop patrolling the area, you’ve also got to figure out which shortcut to use, what you achieve by moving a certain object, when noise-making can be best used, as well as your routes to and from the body drop. Often I found myself reeling from finishing a level, only to be immediately put-off by the sheer complexity of the next level.
Like I said, this is more about personal drive than anything because once you really commit to a level and persevere, you’ll usually hit that “AHA!” moment once again. Though given how actually tough some of the later levels can be, the drive to push through can sometimes be hard.
Brushing that aside, Serial Cleaner is a pretty fantastic puzzle game that makes you think about your moves before you’ve even made them. It’s also a pretty grim setting, which can at times be pretty hilarious. I mean, there’s nothing quite like running into a room, bagging up a body, only to rush to the nearest hiding spot, ditching the bag, and waiting for the cop to walk by, question why there’s a bin bag next to a bush, and go about his business.
Aside from the obvious, Serial Cleaner also offers the chance to grab hidden items which unlock bonus missions and outfits for Bob. These bonus missions are all based around cult movies like Star Wars, Taxi Driver, and Alien, and have Bob entering familiar locations to do some cleaning. It’s definitely a nice touch, and has you looking for these hidden reels in each level so that you can unlock more.
Overall, Serial Cleaner has exceeded my expectations for this game. From the premise of the game I hoped it was going to be good, and it’s not just good, it’s a great puzzle game. Despite my frustrations, Serial Cleaner gives you that “just one more go” mentality where one go turns into fifty until you manage to figure out how to complete the level.