Have you ever caught a blanch-worthy peek at one of those movies about murderous mobsters and wondered, “Ew. Who’s gonna clean up that mess?” I mean, after all, crime can be a grisly business. And somebody’s gotta end up with the short end of the, uh, mop, right? Well, now there’s a game about that very subject: a popular indie title called *Serial Cleaner.
Gamers play as one Bobby Leaner, a bell bottoms-wearing, mustachioed guy who’s struggled to hold down a steady job in the disco-dancing days of the ’70s. In fact, this thirtysomething is still living with his mom in their suburban bungalow while trying to work off major gambling debts. (Turns out he’s not so great in that department either.)
Bobby is, however, a fairly slippery fellow with a vacuum and a body bag. So the mob boys who hold his markers let him know exactly how he can work off his debt: He becomes The Cleaner. His job? To wait for a phone call, then sneak into any given joint or shop that’s seen a little boom, slash, splat in the recent past. Then, while cops or cameras scan the bloody devastation, he needs to grab any bodies and tell-tale evidence, and clean up the blood spill on his way out … without being snagged by the long arm of the law.
The gaming action, then, is very different from your typical stealth-oriented game. You still have to slip into an area undetected and strategically plot out your elusive and carefully timed movements from one hiding spot to the next. But you’re not doing so to line up a kill shot or to steal some valuable bit of intel. Players simply Hoover away all the bloody biological mess left by anonymous assassins.
At first glance, that may appear to be a pretty simple gaming task. But Serial Cleaner has more water in its mop bucket than you might expect.
While sneaking through farms, gas stations, disco clubs and motels, the number of bloodied bodies and objects to recover grows. The locations can seem impossible to get to. And if you get snagged by a patrolling police officer and have to start again, the evidence and hiding places shift around the map.
The lawmen themselves change as well. Sometimes you’ll face policemen whose last job was obviously as a sprinter on a track and field team. Or you’ll deal with enforcers who instantly zap you with a Taser if you cross their line of sight. And with each level, the windows for hidden movement become smaller and smaller. All of which emphasizes the need for heightened planning and pinpoint timing.
Serial Cleaner‘s cartoony, construction-paper style isn’t graphic in the way that many of today’s hyper-realistic shooters are. And there’s no fighting back against the police or ways to hurt those around you. That said, this game’s core premise—that you’re working diligently and quickly to cover up brutal, gruesome mob hits—is impossible to ignore as your character mops up splashes of red and bags butchered corpses. And when a real serial killer becomes a client, well, things get all the more disturbing.
Bobby sometimes makes uncomfortable comments about the victims he’s secreting away, too. His language—which is printed out in comic book-like dialogue bubbles—can be as foul as the crime scenes he’s cleaning up as he spits out f- and s-words, and misuses God’s name.
Now, by the time you reach the game’s end, you could see this sordid tale as a cautionary one. Bobby’s choice of profession and foolish habits eventually catch up to him and threaten to gobble him and his loved ones up, just as they likely would in the real world.
That said, it’s still wise to consider that this “Cleaner’s” world isn’t clean at all. Murder is a dirty business, no matter how cartoony and kid-welcoming this story about may appear to be.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.