I got the opportunity to sit down and play Serial Cleaner, developed by Digital Fun and iFun4all, at PAX East. I didn’t know what to expect when I was told the concept by the developers, which is, “Fargo meets Hotline Miami,” but I did know that was enough to intrigue me. Serial Cleaner is a stealth action title in the veins of games like Party Hard, and yes, Hotline Miami. Judging by the title, you’d be right in assuming this game also deals with murder. While a game like Party Hard lets you commit the murders, in Serial Cleaner you spend your time cleaning up the murders.3
The developers were right in calling this “stealth action” because while the entire game revolves around stealth, it’s very fast paced. I discovered that while patience is key, being aggressive and fast was also needed. The initial setup of each map is that there are multiple bodies and certain items that need to swept up and put into your car. At the same time you’re trying to avoid bumbling doughnut eating police officers. Yes, make no mistake, Serial Cleaner is super silly and does not take itself seriously whatsoever. The 70s style aesthetic and stylish graphics enhance the tone even more.
While playing Serial Cleaner, I came to realize how tough but fair it is. Every time I alerted a cop and eventually got caught, I knew it was my fault. There is a huge emphasis on planning and strategy. All cops have a cone of vision that is easily seen, and the brilliance of the AI is how random it feels. Cops don’t take the same two routes each time. At times when I thought the AI would turn a certain way based on past actions, I would end up being dead wrong. So it doesn’t necessarily rely on memorization and routine, rather taking advantages of opportunities when they appear. There isn’t a real punishment for getting caught in the game that has an effect on your gameplay, but what the game does however, is reset the entire map and puts the bodies in different places. So that strategy I used in my previous attempt is now thrown out the window, forcing me to come up with a new approach.
When it comes to the actual disposing of evidence, Serial Cleaner doesn’t make this easy for you. When I picked up a body, I could feel how noticeably slower I was. I also made the stupid mistake of thinking I could hide with the body when I alerted a cop. Didn’t end very well as I just looked foolish trying to press the hide button near a box, eventually leading the cop to catch me and start over. In this specific encounter, I discovered another mechanic in the AI that I should’ve realized. When I picked up the body without getting caught, I felt confident and ready to carry it back for the win, but then I had noticed the cop was now running, helping him to eventually set his sights on me. It then came to me, he noticed the body was gone…duh! This does exist in many stealth games today, but the cliché is eventually they give up looking for you sometimes, even though you just killed four of his friends, “it must’ve been nothing.” The AI in Serial Cleaner doesn’t give up on you, so that adds more the intensity of each encounter.
While Serial Cleaner isn’t anything necessarily new or groundbreaking in the genre, it’s the stylish setting and quirky tone that makes it a treat to play. The premise is so simple that it makes the game feel casual, no matter how tough it can actually be. The randomized set-up of each map also helps the game not feel repetitive. One question I was curious about after playing is how diverse each map would feel, as I only got to play on a select few. While looking at the current game out for Steam Early Access, I could see the maps do change it up quite a bit, adding more verticality to some. There was also a map I watched gameplay for where instead of hiding the bodies in the car, the player would throw them out the window from a skyscraper, which I’ll admit made me chuckle quite a bit. That’s the beauty of Serial Cleaner, it’s always intense, but yet you’re always smiling at how quirky and humorous it’s tone is. Serial Cleaner will be out later this summer for PC, Xbox One and PS4.