The first body is in the living room, blood coats every surface, and the murder weapon has been ditched on the ground in front of me. What a mess. I bag up the nearest body when a police officer walks in and spots me instantly, bellowing as he strolls in. I run – even sliding slickly across the blood for a little boost of speed, but I’m fucked. He catches me effortlessly and slaps the cuffs on.
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Luckily, this is just a playable flashback. Serial Cleaners, a stealth-game with the twist that you’re here to clean up a crime scene rather than create one, is going to be full of them. I load up again, take in the same scene, and this time notice a coffee table I could have hidden under, a hole in the wall I could have ducked through.
As a sequel to Serial Cleaner, one of the best games no one played in 2017, Serial Cleaners looks to be bigger, better and altogether bolder than its predecessor. It’s New Year’s Eve, 1999. Gathered in the kitchen are a few crime scene cleaners, the type of people to vanish bodies into thin air and make it like a crime never happened. They’re reminiscing, talking through how they met and some of the biggest moments of the last couple of decades, and it seems they only manage meaningful interactions whenever someone has died, which means players will be turned loose in a series of these flashbacks.
Each of these flashbacks will have you cleaning up a crime scene in a slightly tongue in cheek way: bodies and evidence has to be disposed of, blood needs to be hoovered up with a special blood hoover that’s loud as hell and draws opponents towards it. I got to play two of these levels during my time: a bloodsoaked apartment, and a mess in a combo video store and grocery store that is probably about to fail its next hygiene inspection.
The stealth mechanics here are intrinsic. You can’t meaningfully disable the guards in any way and getting spotted by a civilian or an alarm system will often add even more opponents to the experience. In the second level we played, it became nearly impossible when a guard was added to the outside, but it added meaningful tension in a way that was enjoyable.
It reminds me in a lot of ways of stealthy stab-’em-up Party Hard in that it’s always very easy to understand what you need to do but it’s much harder in practice to actually pull it off. Here, it’s a simple case of cleaning things up until the place is clean enough for you to hightail it out of there.
The different characters offer small changes. Bob, the returning character from Serial Cleaner, can bag up bodies to stop them smearing blood all over the place when they’re dragged. Lati, one of three new characters added to the game, can leap over objects to escape pursuers or take a less well-trodden route. I didn’t get to play with the other two, but think they’ll both offer small tweaks to the way you play.
One annoyance is that there’s no permanence to the scene: in one level I lured a guard outside and bolted the door, trapping him outside. When I left the area momentarily, as I came back he was again patrolling inside, blocking off my escape route as he developed teleportation powers during my 20 seconds inside. Similarly, movable shelves returned to their original location as soon as they weren’t on my screen, meaning the delicate routes I’d set up to avoid detection reverted when I needed them most.
But it doesn’t really matter. Serial Cleaners looks like it’s going to offer a fairly solid stealth game with a unique challenge: cleaning up messes rather than making them, scurrying under desks and through alleyways with a body perched on top of your shoulders. Few stealth games really force you to be vulnerable, and nothing makes you more vulnerable than carrying a body around while moving at slow speed.
Serial Cleaners will launch on September 22. I’m looking forward to hiding a bunch of bodies