Serial Cleaners review, can you change your style without updating the mechanics?

The protagonists and protagonists of video games usually recognize each other quite easily, because they tend to leave behind an endless trail of blood … or in other cases of squashed beings. Perhaps a part of us begins to suffer from this topos, and what better way to get rid of the sense of nausea than to take on the role of those who come after the massacres of the protagonists ?! The cleaning people who come to fix the disasters left behind by the heroes-anti-heroes everyone loves. It is therefore not strange to think that a game like Viscera Cleanup Detail has been incredibly successful.

And it was only a matter of time before someone came up with the idea of ​​us playing the role of Mr. Wolf from Pulp Fiction, the one who not only cleans, but literally solves the problems of trigger-happy kids. Five years have passed since the developer Draw Distance released the game Serial Cleaner (in the singular), in which we played the role of Mr. Bob: a “cleaner” of the messes made by the American mafia in the 70s.

In Serial Cleaners (in the plural), which we are here today to review, thirty years have passed and Mr. Bob is back in action accompanied by two colleagues and a colleague. We are in New York, on New Year’s Eve 2000, and the four companions have gathered in a funeral home recalling the most memorable jobs of the decade that is about to end. It is during these flashbacks that it is up to us to take the controller in hand (we do not recommend mouse and keyboard on PC) to control the four characters.

Not all flashbacks are set in the 90s and some, like this one starring Bob, are particularly over the top.

Bob, who we already know, has now become the typical grizzled Tarantino with a lot of experience on his shoulders, alcohol on his liver and therefore eager to bestow as many wise as immoral advice on life. Viper, or rather V1p3r, straight out of the Matrix is ​​the typical young 90s hacker full of herself, ready to split the world with DDoS attacks and waving the fringe of her black helmet.

Lati, on the other hand, is an African American from Queens, with decidedly more dynamic hair, poetry in her blood and the dream of becoming a contemporary artist, made difficult by the criminal quagmire of her neighborhood. Finally there is Hal, also known as Psycho; nomen omen, given that we are faced with a psychopath through and through, with the communication skills of an infant and a chainsaw always ready under the long black raincoat.

Unlike the first chapter, Serial Cleaners focuses much more on the narrative component and in the course of the game we will deeply explore the stories that led the four protagonists to work together, scratching in the rot of their lives as only the dark New York noir can do. Ironically, however, this twist on the narrative brings out all the weaknesses that the game, pad in hand, unfortunately has and that we will analyze shortly.

And this is not the only improvement that paradoxically puts the spotlight on the naked king, but also the shift from 2D to 3D that you surely noticed in the trailer. Let me open a parenthesis here, regarding a reflection that this game has led me to elaborate: the expectations on a game are closely linked to the graphic design chosen by the developers. Not so much because style and budget often go hand in hand, but precisely because the cover should already communicate something about the book we’re going to read.

From a fast-paced 2D game with a stylized style inspired by the 70s, like Serial Cleaner was, we expect minimal and almost arcade gameplay. With few mechanics, a high level of challenge and a level design that keeps pace with our masochistic desire to fail and start over. If you added good narrative to a game like this, you would have the perfect recipe for the indie masterpiece. This second chapter instead catapults us into the 90s from all points of view, even as regards the design: few polygons, few animations and bare and mixed textures. In short, a nostalgic leap back in time that is a marvel for the eyes and the heart.

Too bad that this change in graphic style has not been accompanied by a leap forward also in terms of gameplay, on the contrary, in some respects, almost a leap back if we consider the loss of arcade challenges. Sure, each character has their own unique abilities, but in the end the narrow levels are meant for that single character (or at most a couple to alternate) with a substantially linear design that doesn’t leave the player’s minds free to work, work out plans or finding alternative strategies. Therefore, not only the possibilities of interaction with the environment, in addition to moving corpses and collecting blood, are minimal, but their usefulness is also evident from the first moment.

Even the seemingly more complex levels are too small and simple to pose a real mental challenge.

Those who love stealth games, like me, know how important environmental exploration is, with the continuous discovery of new situations to exploit to their advantage. If, on the other hand, everything is immediately evident, all that remains is to wait for the policemen to carry out their patrols to leave us free to pass. This is ultimately all the level of challenge that the game offers: waiting for the agents to pass. And, as already mentioned, if this simple mechanic could fit perfectly in a 2D game with a fast pace and a distinctly arcade tone, it is completely out of place in a game that at least apparently would like to enjoy a wider breath.

Since we were talking about cops, whose purpose is to protect crime evidence from our cleaning clutches, I would have liked to criticize the stupidity of artificial intelligence, but considering that this is a constant problem even in high-budget productions, it doesn’t seem to me. the case to rage further. It is just a pity that in a stealth game this aspect produces not just ludo-narrative dissonances, like policemen who find a corpse packed, cleaned and moved and after two seconds they forget it. Or they see you with a body on your shoulder and they don’t come to check, maybe just because they have to go up the stairs, even if we were dealing with Commissioner Winchester.

As the writers of a sitcom, the developers wanted to rise to writers of an author tragedy, risking flying too close to the Sun. But as Lati said in the game, maybe the problem is mine that as a child I have been more attentive to the rhythm than to content.

/ 10

Serial Cleaners review, can you change your style without updating the mechanics?