Se­rial Cleaner

Avoid the filth, clean up the filth—make up your mind!

XBox: The Official Magazine (US) - - REVIEW - Robert Dou­glas

Stealth is a tricky genre for de­vel­op­ers to get right, as it re­quires a deft and sub­tle balance be­tween tak­ing power away from the player, but still en­sur­ing that they feel em­pow­ered.

Think of the best stealth heroes: Bat­man, Snake, Sam Fisher, or Agent 47. In their most core stealth­fla­vored ad­ven­tures, they wouldn’t last sec­onds in a straight fight. Out­num­bered, out-gunned/knifed, and with the con­sti­tu­tion of a wet nap­kin when it comes to a straight-up ruckus, th­ese heroes nev­er­the­less felt pow­er­ful. The trick is that great stealth games en­sure that the player is given the right tools for the job. It’s not just about stay­ing out of sight, but about mak­ing de­lib­er­ate de­ci­sions based off the sand­box be­fore you and, well, play­ing with it. Se­ri­alCleaner does not do this. Not at all.

Strip tease

In fact, it strips ev­ery­thing back, leav­ing you, a guy whose job it is to clean up the mess left be­hind af­ter mass killings, to dart about a se­ries of top down lev­els. Avoid­ing the cops and clean­ing up splashes of blood are the or­der of the day, bro­ken up by bouts of body shuf­fling and awk­ward door puz­zles. It’s in­fu­ri­at­ing. A stan­dard play ses­sion plays out like this: You start a level, and must eye up the map as a whole to get a han­dle on en­emy place­ments, pa­trol routes, and the lo­ca­tions of all the things you need to col­lect/clean. You ex­per­i­ment with a route. You fail and you get caught. Then you try again. You get a bit far­ther, and then fail again and start over again. This is fine when restarts are quick and breezy like Hot­lineMi­ami, or when fail­ure is all about the steady ac­crual of the nec­es­sary knowl­edge and mus­cle mem­ory re­quired in or­der to suc­ceed ( DarkSouls). The prob­lem here is that this is oc­cur­ring within a play space where you have so lit­tle tan­gi­ble or sat­is­fy­ing agency. There is no ad­e­quate spin of your role here be­yond just not be­ing seen. Other heroes might stalk from the shad­ows, ful­ton bal­loon out use­ful sol­diers, uti­lize gad­gets in dif­fer­ent ways, or change cos­tumes to evade fail states.

While the idea of a pared-back hard­core stealth game sounds tasty, with­out at least some kind of in­ter­est­ing choice to make the whole ex­pe­ri­ence falls flat, and quickly be­comes ir­ri­tat­ing. Upon com­ple­tion of a Se­ri­alCleaner level, you are more likely to punch your card and call it a night than punch the air and get stuck into the next.

One es­pe­cially in­fu­ri­at­ing ele­ment which oc­curs across some lev­els is the ran­dom re­dis­tri­bu­tion of the col­lectable ob­jects. You can spend ages analysing en­emy pa­trols and fig­ur­ing out a safe route to a cor­ner of the map. You can then fail do­ing some­thing else af­ter­wards, and the same ob­ject will be in a dif­fer­ent place next time, ren­der­ing all your work (for this can’t re­ally be called play) and mus­cle mem­ory com­pletely worth­less. Stealth fans, heed our warn­ing:

Se­ri­alCleaner might prom­ise a hard­core genre fix, but be­hind the ‘70s ve­neer lies a game that takes plea­sure in leav­ing you fum­ing. And un­like ac­tual clean­ing, it awards you with none of the sat­is­fac­tion of a job well done.

“The whole ex­pe­ri­ence falls flat, and quickly be­comes ir­ri­tat­ing”

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