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Serial Cleaner review - "A stealth game that gets lost in its own ideas"

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| Serial Cleaner
Serial Cleaner review - "A stealth game that gets lost in its own ideas"
| Serial Cleaner

Stealth games tend to walk a finer line than every other genre - on the one side you don't want the game to be a doddle; on the other you don't want players failing often enough to frustrate them.

Unfortunately, Serial Cleaner doesn't get that balance right. It's a fiddly game on mobile, hampered by the screen-size limitations at most turns. Throw in a few bad design ideas and you're left with a game that you want to love, but that you just can't bring yourself to.

Hidey hole

Serial Cleaner sees you playing the titular scrubber. It's your job to clean up murder scenes so the police can't charge your bosses. There are bodies that you need to collect, dump in your car, and then escape with.

As well as corpses, you've got chunks of evidence to collect. Most of that you're going to keep in your own little trophy cabinet at home. Where your mum lives. There's a narrative that pushes you from crime scene to crime scene, but I don't want to spoil too much of it here - bad stuff happens, as you might imagine.

The levels start off simply - you've got one body to grab and a couple of police officers to sneak past. By the end of the game there are hundreds of potential ways to finish a challenge - you'll hide, you'll make noises to draw off guards, and you'll move scenery around to clear an escape route.

Serial Cleaner iOS review screenshot - Sneaking around on the second level

Coupled with the stylish 70s aesthetic, you'd think Serial Cleaner was on to a winner - but there are problems here that constantly kick you out of the experience. For one thing, levels change when you fail them - the layout might be the same, but bodies and evidence are in different places.

That means you don't really get a chance to learn from your mistakes - a guard's movement pattern might have messed up your last run, but they're not going anywhere near a corpse this time. It often feels like everyone else in the game is stronger, faster, and smarter than you as well.

Cops come sprinting as soon as they spot you, and there's a pretty good chance they're going to nab you - especially if you're carrying a body. And you probably will be carrying a body - that's basically the point of the game.

Got you

Add in slightly floppy controls and a UI that doesn't feel great on mobile, and you're left with a game that disappoints more than it engages. Fans of the stealth genre might find more to like here than others, but to be honest it's slim pickings.

Serial Cleaner tries to be tight and focused and wide and experimental at the same time, and those two threads bash into each other in some annoying ways. You never feel like a skillful operative cleaning up someone else's mess - you feel like a bystander that's stumbled into the wrong room and is desperately trying to do something to get out.

That's a real shame, since there's so much here to make you fall in love with the game as well. Instead it just feels a bit cold and confusing - you're looking to it to embrace you with its new ideas, but instead it pushes you away with bad choices.

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Serial Cleaner review - "A stealth game that gets lost in its own ideas"

Serial Cleaner's big ideas get in the way of its sneaking, and its poor design choices get in the way of its fun
Harry Slater
Harry Slater
Harry used to be really good at Snake on the Nokia 5110. Apparently though, digital snake wrangling isn't a proper job, so now he writes words about games instead.