Five years after the premiere of its first part, 505 Games has just published Serial Cleaners, the sequel to the popular indie title with the intention of offering a more varied sequel with a revamped graphic aspect but without losing the aesthetic touch of the original. With new characters to clean up his crime scenes, I’ll explain if this stealth game “looks clean” or if it’s better to get rid of him like the bodies we have to dispose of in his levels.
When one thinks of the genre of games with touches of stealth in isometric or overhead perspective, it is inevitable to remember games like Desperados 3, Shadow Tacticsand -of course- a classic saga from our own lands: Commandos. Although the approach of these and other similar games revolves around achieving a series of objectives in a variable size map and getting out without being caught, that same premise can be adapt in a thousand ways, which more original and fun. Something that already demonstrated in 2017 el Serial Cleaner originalthe simple but fun and innovative game in which we play Bob, an ordinary guy from the 70s with the unglamorous task of cleaning up crime scenes perpetrated by his bosses.
Now the Polish study Draw Distance-formerly known as iFun4All and creators of its first part- brings us its sequel, Serial Cleaners from the hand of 505 Games. And despite the fact that initially it seems that we are facing an improvement on several levels of what the original title offered us and of a single protagonist -now with three associates and each one with their own style of “cleaning”-, the reality is that the additions and changes made by the authors have achieved that I get more frustrated than amused with the game, more because of the poor implementation of its novelties than because of the ideas it tries to incorporate into itself; and it is that sometimes it is true that ”less is more”.
Serial Cleaner was a very simple game; its premise was clear and not very complex, but well executed and presented. He even managed -as Diego Emege jokingly points out in his analysis of the original– get a smile out of us for the comical way of presenting something as grotesque as the corpses and the huge blood splatters at the scene of a crime, in addition to the way completely folksy of Bob having those items: a vacuum cleaner and the trunk of his station wagon while playing “run run I’ll catch you” with the police. All this presented with a flat color retro cartoon aesthetic inspired by the 70s (with a soundtrack also inspired by the era). It seemed that everything had to be better than in the first part, but no, and now I will tell you why.
Autopsy of a wreck
Serial Cleaners moves forward in time to the the 90’s, but he has also wanted to do it in the artistic and technical section. That flat drawing is still present, although now with greater variety in the color palette and textures and an isometric perspective that gives it a greater depth to the presentation of the mapping, thanks to the motor Unity. Music and cutscenes are also now more cinematic, serving the purpose of storytelling. how is new years eve for Bob and three other professionals in the “cleaning” business: Lati, Psycho and Viper. The plot of the game places us with the entire team in the middle of the year-end festivities, and between cups and cups we get to know how this particular band was formed through some jobs they had to do throughout the last decade of the 20th century.
The plot of the game presents us up to 20 missions -mostly unconnected- and scenes that show us who these four crime scene cleanup professionals are. Aside from seeing how they met, we also learn that each cleaner has its own style. To mention two examples, Viper can hack devices electronic devices and create distractions for the cops, or Psycho, capable of temporarily stunning police officers by throwing blunt objects at them, or members of the corpses that it has torn to pieces with his chainsaw (unless he is caught by a policeman who is not on alert and passes out at the spectacle).
Obviously, all this suggests that we are going to be able to experience varied missions, with many options to solve, and having to alternate between the different team members to leave the stage clean as they say. Unfortunately it is not. The vast majority of missions are played “solo”, that is, we only control one professionals, although there are three missions in which we can alternate between two preset cleaners. Consequently, the maps are custom made of what they are capable of. In principle, that would not be a problem, since in these games there are usually missions for a single character in which they can show off in different ways to solve the puzzle they pose. But not. While in the original game the missions were simple as could be, but they felt organic and entertaining, here I have fought with the environment and the stage to know exactly what the cleaner in question had to do and where.
The distractions and the disposition of the police or guards left no room to try alternative ways to complete the mission. as much as you can upset the order in which you are going to take the evidence or remove corpses, but that’s it. To make matters worse, in the few missions in which you have another cleaner, you can’t use them at the same time or quickly switch between one and the other; you have to go to a point on the map and exchange them. with which you forget about make “rehearsed plays” like those of other titles that I mentioned at the beginning of the analysis.
Many times you want to pick up evidence or a corpse and end up lighting up drawing attentionSpeaking of interacting with map elements or objectives, many times you want to pick up evidence or a dead body and end up turning on a light or other device that draws the attention of the cops, or you keep opening and closing a door. But it is not what is going to annoy you the most about the Serial Cleaners games; that dubious honor is reserved for the cop AI. In these games, one aspect that is usually taken care of very well is the behavior and routes of the patrols. They have to feel consistent, but not oppressive to the player. As well, the main flaw of Serial Cleaners is that the AI does not follow its own rules, or responds inconsistently to what we provoke in the game. To give some practical examples: How is it possible that a policeman who is two meters away from me -with his back turned- does not hear me unscrew a grate with a black & decker and go about your business but be able to hear me dragging a corpse on the other side of a wall and come to investigate it?, or why to get to the source of a sound that I have made to distract them they take the longest route instead of the most direct, preventing me from taking the one I need? And why, if they see me carrying a corpse, do they start to get closer, but when I drop it and hide, they resume their route? like nothing?
To say related to this last point that, inexplicably, the developers have substituted the vision cones from the previous game by a direct line of sight that if filled makes them alert and chase us. If they come with the clubs it doesn’t matter, because if we run towards them we will tackle them and it gives us plenty of time to hide. But if they pull out the pistols, the one I stop moving at and get shot at charges me to the last checkpoint. The worst is yes just before before they shot me, that ”checkpoint” had been saved, there’s barely time to get to safety, and sometimes I’ve had to restart a mission because of that programming oversight, that the cops don’t come out of their alert state when they catch us and reappear. In addition, the absence of cones of vision makes it very difficult knowing if we can go through one area or another without being seen, and if we add to that the erratic behavior when their routes are altered -or not, because they are able to investigate what an open door does but ignore the fact that now there is a corpse where there was none before- well, far from being something fun to dodge, it becomes a frustrating activity and that depends on luck that the AI protocols play in our favor.
Beyond seeing those other endings, there are no replay options.In the technical section, despite the fact that the game looks fairly good Within what I ask of this type of experience, I have experienced serious bugs, such as my character falling into the void after running through a ventilation duct, or that it is difficult to interact with certain objects. It hasn’t happened many times, but they are there, and combined with the negative points from before, it subtracts even more points. That and that there are scenes that lack music or special effects. And since the scenarios look more realistic, even if it’s an indie, they could have endowed with facial expressions to the characters (even if they were cartoonish or exaggerated to look good) in the scenes to indicate their moods or accompany their jokes, quite good I must admit and full of references to the pop culture of the 90s. About his story, although as I have said it is well interpreted by its characters, it is somewhat diffuse and, although it has multiple endings, only one thing changes and at the request of the developers I will not reveal here what and how. Unfortunately, beyond seeing those other endings, no replay options, or optional missions as in the previous title, or the possibility of selecting missions once completed. If you want to play the penultimate mission and you have beaten the game, to start from the first until you arrive.