In case you missed our inaugural edition of Plus/Minus, the series focuses on game reviews for the titles we play on our gaming channel. Said reviews are only written once either Jacob Taylor or myself have completed a game on the channel. The intention is not to issue a grade or a score, but merely to distinguish some of the highlights and lowlights of the game. Ideally, these will only be written in the event that we complete a game’s story so that we can ensure we are being as fair as possible to the title. The goal is to make it so that you, the reader, can decide based on the information provided whether or not it’s a title you’d be interested in picking up. As always, SPOILER WARNING!
Without further ado, let’s begin plus/minus!
The game opens with a series of fast/slow-mo animations and a very retro, 70’s look and feel. The music is upbeat and a little funky (in a good way). From the first moments, the music and charm grab you. Frankly, the artistic style of this game could easily distract were it set in modern day, but as part of the 70’s vibe, it fits perfectly.
The control scheme for Serial Cleaner is simplistic. The movement has one speed, one button picks up items, and one button sucks up the blood from the crime scene. Beyond that, there’s not much to say. This game is designed to be a speed/stealth adventure game. If you’re spotted, all you can do is run, and chances are, you won’t be fast enough to get away unless you find a hiding spot. Again, usually I would mark this as a negative, but for the simplistic styled approach of this game, it oddly works.
As previously stated, the graphics for Serial Cleaner are very stylistic and simple. Not a lot of shading, but altogether that only adds to the retro feel. The player’s perspective is locked at an angled bird’s eye view, allowing a better sense of your surroundings but occasionally making it difficult to differentiate between a wall you’re hiding behind and a corner. On more than one occasion I found himself standing out in the open because I believed I was hidden from the cop’s orange perspective light, only to find myself on the run and more often than not “Caught.” For the most part, this game avoids this issue, but it does happen from time to time.
The music and vibe of this game is excellent. Due to some other choices made by the developer, the music and story were going to have to carry the load for this game to work and to their credit, they really do. The story mode was surprisingly full with 20 standard missions plus several additional missions that can be found hidden within various levels. This not only lets the narrative play out, but builds the world around the game and add to the atmosphere.
Well, the first negative was bound to show up eventually, right? While I could say the minimalistic sound design is part of the stylistic choice made by the developer, it nevertheless leaves the experience just a little too detached for my taste. Sure, some small things are there: the ringing phone, the sliding box or rustling box/plant you hide in. Beyond that, however, there’s little more than the occasional grunt of cops and vacuum cleaner. No variation to any of these sounds.
The inclusion of bonus missions that can be found throughout the game is a nice way to add some replayability to the title. I wasn’t even aware bonus contracts were a thing until one of the last missions when I stumbled upon a footage reel at the Echo Killer’s house. While it immediately piqued my interest, I’m not sure it’s enough to bring me right back to the title. And I can’t see myself playing the full story mode again anytime soon. As such, this one is a push for me, personally -although it could be a plus for you.
Now for some specifics. This is the part where we delve deeper than the general overview to assess the highlights and flaws of a title.
The difficulty spikes in this game can be maddening
Based on how many “pluses” I’ve given this game, you might assume I have next to nothing negative to say about it. Not necessarily. This game frankly drove me IN-SANE a handful of times. Mission 12, in particular (9th episode of the lets play) brought about a depth of rage and madness I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced while playing a video game. Some of these areas require such precision in order to slip by the police and either collect the evidence, move the body, or mop up the blood and then they’ll suddenly break from the pattern when one or more cops suddenly investigate an area they haven’t gone prior. On more than one occasion this resulted in my capture and me screaming at the screen.
Lack of a boss fight
While I understand not every game needs a boss fight, they do tend to act as a nice milestone and change of pace to the regular gameplay. The closest this game comes to one is the final level, wherein you must use entrapment against the Echo Killer to make him confess to his crimes on live television. It makes for a decent change of pace, but the mechanics and objectives throughout the level are 99% the same as any other level. Literally, with the exception of using yourself as bait, this final level is no different from any other.
Ending (Spoiler Alert)
After being captured, along with your mother and the Echo Killer’s mother, by said killer, you are taken to a television studio and told your murders will be aired on TV so that the world will know the identity of the Echo Killer and his legacy will be etched in history. The reason for this? Pretty simple, really. His mother, understanding he was doing these killings but wanting to protect her son, continually hired you to clean up the evidence at his crime scenes and protect him. This enraged the killer, causing him to set his sights on you and your loved ones.
But there’s a little problem with his final plan. Think about it. If he wanted to kill you and the two moms in front of the world, while the cops ran amok throughout the studio searching for suspects and hostages, then why leave the two women tied in the dressing room and you plainly untied and allowed to move about freely? Wouldn’t it make more sense to bring the three hostages to the soundstage and just place them before the cameras before offing them?
And on that note, how does it make sense that I can so easily trick him into confessing not once, not twice, but THREE times on camera when they aren’t even hidden cameras? Seriously, it was HIS plan to use the cameras to cement his legacy, so how could he so easily be manipulated into spilling the beans over and over again? The logic doesn’t add up.
That said, it was a fairly challenging final stage and did manage to tie up the loose ends, even if the reasoning was a bit shoddy.
In the epilogue, you learn that the Echo Killer’s mother helped protect your secret and that despite the killer ranting and raving in court about a “cleaner” foiling his plans, some psychologist hired for analysis on the case suggests it is likely just a figment of his imagination. And while the police know you were the one to bring the killer down, they are more or less placing you and your mother in witness protection as they are unaware of your role as the cleaner the whole time. Thus, the game ends with your station wagon, mother, and all your belongings loaded up and ready to move onto the next chapter in your lives -somewhere far away from the Echo Killer and anyone associated with the case. It’s a bit cathartic in the end, but it does a nice enough job wrapping things up I suppose.