Avoid the filth, clean up the filth – make up your mind!
Stealth is a tricky genre for developers to get bang-on, 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 stealth-flavoured 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. Serial Cleaner does not do this. Not at all.
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 thusly. 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 requisite
“The whole experience falls flat, and quickly becomes irritating”
bobbins that 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. Now, this is fine when restarts are quick and breezy à la Hotline Miami or when failure is all about the steady accrual of the necessary knowledge and muscle memory required in order to succeed à la Dark Souls. 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, utilise gadgets in different ways or change costumes to evade dreaded 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 successful completion of a Serial Cleaner 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 collectible objects. You can spend an age analysing enemy patrols and figuring out a safe route to a certain corner of the map. You can then fail doing something else afterwards and then 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: Serial Cleaner 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.
Below Those switches all need pulling in the correct order and at the correct time. Yep.
right Run away and hide before being caught, but this can take more effort than it’s worth.