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Cleanup on Crime Scene 4

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Serial Cleaners is a top-down stealth-action game from Draw Distance and 505 Games. Similar to the first entry in the series, Serial Cleaners is all about getting rid of bodies and evidence from a crime scene, but there’s more to it than your typical stealth title. In our Serial Cleaners review, we’ll take a look at one of the most interesting titles of the year, which uses its gory premise to create a compelling gameplay experience.

Story and Characters

Unlike the first title, where you had control of one character, the sequel introduces four distinct characters, each with their unique motivations as to why they’ve chosen this line of work. Bob is the common link, and his interactions with each character serve as the basis for their instructions.

Serial Cleaner has four playable charactersSerial Cleaners cast of playable characters

The story is told in a non-linear fashion, and there are light dialogue options here and there. The overall crux of the plot is to complement the different levels you’ll be taking part in. This insistence on contextualizing different crime scenes is a neat way to tell a story about different characters and how they approach things. Each character talks about one of their jobs, and you alternate between them.

Throughout the story, the characters discuss their various jobsThe cast reminiscing their past exploits

There are cutscenes as well, and while this is a more gameplay-oriented title, you’ll have enough for each character to relate to them on some level. I enjoyed some of the gameplay sections that weren’t about cleaning a crime scene. These shed some light on the characters themselves and their background.

A more story sequence that still has the base gameplayStory sequence that still has the base gameplay

The story, despite not being the main draw for the title, is actually quite heartwarming. By the end, I was attached to most of the cast, especially Bob. The writing isn’t going to blow you away or anything, but it’s trying to emulate that 90s movie crime feel and works for the most part.

Cutscene featuring one of the main charactersCutscenes are mostly between jobs

Given the nature of this title, any throwaway plot could’ve worked, but I appreciate the effort put into the narrative and characters.

Gameplay

If you’ve seen any trailer of the title, you have a pretty good idea of your objective in Serial Cleaners. There’s a crime scene with bodies lying around, blood on the floor, and important evidence. Your job is simple, get rid of the bodies, dispose of the evidence, and clean a decent amount of blood.

One of the earlier levels with Bob sneaking past guards

Each character plays a bit differently and has its strengths and weaknesses. Lati, for example, can vault over different things, which introduces a bit more verticality to her playstyle. VIP3R is a hacker that can mess around with lights, doors, and other electronics after accessing a terminal.

VIP3R can access terminals to hack her way through

The levels are tailored around their skills, but functionally, the characters possess similar base abilities. This means that while you can use their strengths to some degree, you’ll still have to rely on basic moves to clean up. VIP3R can go through vents, while Psycho can basically turn anything into a weapon. He can also cut up bodies using his chainsaw and then use those limbs to knock out guards, which is handy.

Lati in the middle of a crime scene with cops around

Levels have tons of entrances and exits, and depending on the character you’re currently assigned, there are a lot of ways you can manipulate your surroundings. The variety of levels and how your characters operate is one of the best parts of the game. I liked being able to play as a slightly different character and adapt to the level design.

Psycho can chop up the limbs of dead bodies

There’s also a “Cleaner Sense” that zooms out the screen and shows you what’s going on in the level above and below you. While this is a neat addition, I think some level of obscurity would’ve made the situation a bit more unpredictable.

Enemy AI

Despite the variety in characters, I think what stuck out to me was definitely the enemy AI and how they behave. Compared to something like Shadow Tactics, the guards in Serial Cleaners aren’t that mechanically complex. You can practically dump a body in front of them, and they’ll go about their day like it’s completely normal. This is a bit weird because you can simply abuse their lack of awareness to go through levels fairly quickly.

“Excuse me, Miss, but do you not see the dead body there?”

I wish some difficulty sliders were available to tailor their responses a bit. While I think the game is balanced, it’s not exactly going to please stealth fans that are used to more reactive enemies and AI. If a guard manages to get close to you for them to touch you, you’ll be sent back to the last checkpoint. This is one of those games where you won’t be quick-saving much but rather reacting more to the situation, which I appreciate.

Controls

I played the game using my controller and felt right at home. Despite the top-down view, this actually worked very well with the controller. Crouching, sprinting, and cleaning are the actions you’ll be performing the most, and it’s just comfortable to do so with a pad. I tried it with a mouse and keyboard as well, and I think this one is more suited for the controller since you have direct control of your character.

VI3R dragging a body

You can also throw items, which was a big help. I threw most of the disposable evidence out to a safer location and handled it then.

Presentation

Serial Cleaners is a beautiful game and one that captures the colors, style, and tone of your favorite 90s crime thrillers. Its dense atmosphere, stylistic user interface, and wonderful lighting make it one of the best looking games of the year.

Excellent art direction of Serial Cleaners

This game has some very strong art direction and makes a case for why working around your budget is the better approach for smaller studios. You could compare it to similar titles like Disco Elysium because of its brush-stroke-styled textures, but I think it looks distinct enough. Levels are hand-crafted with tons of detail on every corner and street art plastered around. The presentation is certainly a highlight of our Serial Cleaners review.

The “Arcade” level

With a jazz soundtrack to keep you engaged at all times. There are plenty of sound effects for various actions, and audio does play a part in gameplay as well. I think the overall sound design was stellar. Voice acting is also decent, though the mix wasn’t always great regarding dialogue.

Verdict

Serial Cleaners is a fun stealth action game that pairs varied gameplay with excellent art direction. It doesn’t have the best enemy AI in the world but makes up for it with its smart level design, great pacing, and engaging narrative. It manages to do a lot with its premise and makes cleaning crime scenes a cleansing experience.

The artwork of all four main characters of Serial CleanersSerial Cleaners Cast

What did you think of our Serial Cleaners Review? Share what you think about it in the comments below.

This review is based on the PC version of Serial Cleaners. The key was provided by 505 Games.

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