New York, New Year's Eve 1999. While the entire population of the Big Apple is engaged in the celebrations in anticipation of the arrival of the new millennium, including fireworks, disco parties, alcohol and Disney films, four people deviate from anyone else, getting together to talk about their careers, telling each other how they got into the industry. So far there is nothing wrong, right? Indeed, it almost seems like a pleasant situation, the incipit of a Spanish cinepanettone. Too bad, however, that the protagonists of Serial Cleaners are not Massimo Boldi or Christian De Sica, but gods professional crime scene cleaners.
Representing a indirect sequel to Serial Cleaner, the almost homonymous Serial Cleaners tells the stories of the group of cleaners led by Bob, the protagonist of the first game and this time joined by the psychopath Hal, the hacker Viper and the young Lati. So let's travel through the 70s, 80s and contemporary 90s to discover what led these singular individuals to do this equally singular work, while exploiting their unique skills.
Pulp Fiction, but we have to clean up the blood
From the first moments of Serial Cleaners his reference to the cult cinema of the 90s is palpable: from Quentin Tarantino's classics to the trendy action of that decade, the title of Draw Distance mixes the elements and brings them out in the locations, characters, scenes and bright colors that we can enjoy during the stories of the protagonists .
Although we can choose the order we prefer to discover the narration of the different characters, all the missions will have the same set up: a crime has taken place, there is blood — a lot of blood —, evidence and corpses to dispose of, and our task is to clean everything up. Obviously this must be done without getting caught by the police, detectives, security guards, other criminals or even bystanders who populate the immediate environment of the crime scene.
Here arises the first, and biggest, Serial Cleaners problem. Since we have no alternative but to be stealth (ie, we can't beat the blood out of the cops) to be able to clean everything and complete the mission, I expected the AI to be more insightful. If in the first level the game seemed almost difficult to me, committing myself not to let the agents see me in the slightest and not to call the slightest attention, I soon realized that all that effort was not necessary.
In fact, understanding the range of action within which one is not seen or heard and memorizing the path of the "enemy" characters is pretty easy to do our job without getting caught. And if an agent were to see us, it will be enough to get out of his field of vision for him to forget everything and go back to walking as if nothing had happened. Even when I moved corpses from room to room the NPCs barely wondered for a second how they teleported, but didn't amplify searches or stay alert.
Several times, therefore, I found myself passing by the agents, with a body on my shoulder, without being seen. Even the distractions provided by the game, such as turning off the lights or turning on a stereo, are quite useless, since after turning them off the NPCs will go back to what they were doing before, retracing exactly the same path. In short, you will have to be stealth, but don't expect the levels of seriousness of Splinter Cell.
A chainsaw, a computer or a spray can?
Serial Cleaners is indeed a game not to be taken too seriously, perfect to play, especially in the Nintendo Switch version, on a gloomy winter afternoon with a blanket on and a hot chocolate at hand. Narrative plays a major role in the work, and the stories of the characters are made interesting (some more than others) thanks to solid writing; once we understand the motivations behind the protagonists' choices, we learn to appreciate and support them.
Indeed, each cleaner is unique, not only in terms of his story, but also in terms of abilities: even if everyone has to perform the same tasks to clean up crime scenes, Hal can cut up corpses with a chainsaw and then throw the limbs at NPCs and put them so out of the game; Viper is a hacker and can use his abilities to remotely tamper with lights, as well as get through ventilation ducts; Lati can jump over obstacles such as fences and low walls and leave graffiti on the floor to attract the attention of the police; finally, Bob can bag the bodies to drag them in public without arousing suspicion.
These peculiarities make Serial Cleaners less monotonous, as unfortunately there isn't much room to experiment with different tactics during missions. Although the absence of frills and unnecessary fillers is a positive factor, it would have been nice to have more ways to solve problems; in all situations we have to get rid of the corpses and evidence by throwing them at a specific point, suck up a quantity of blood and finally run away. Once you understand the path to take to drag the bodies without getting caught and memorized the paths of the NPCs, it is simply a matter of mechanical work until the objectives are completed.
The only additional difficulty we can come across is the arrival of a few more policemen, but nothing that really makes the experience more complex or that makes us rack our brains to find a creative solution. This is all a real shame, given that once the main story (which lasts about five hours) ends, we're unlikely to want to dust off Serial Cleaners from the library; if, on the other hand, it were possible to carry out the work in different ways – or if, even, there was a kind of arcade mode with randomly generated levels – the title of Draw Distance would be much more long-lived and stimulating.
We are not afraid of contrast
However, if there is one thing that the Polish team has managed to do very well, it is the graphics of Serial Cleaners, which features clear improvements compared to the previous chapter: the 2D aesthetic has in fact been replaced with 3D, adding different texture levels and loading the scenarios with saturated tones. On Nintendo Switch unfortunately the game does not render as well as on PC (version of which you can find our review at this link), and even in the docked version the definition is not perfectly clear; despite this, the work is still pleasant to look at, above all for its originality and for its pop tones.
Another difference from the launch title is the isometric camera, which in Serial Cleaners allows us to have an unfortunately not total vision of the game environment in which we find ourselves; to our rescue there is "the sense of cleaner", an ability that allows us to have a clear idea of the situation, highlighting what still needs to be done and the position of the various NPCs. This feature is useful but still limiting, given that it is not possible to move the view at will, perhaps zooming into the rooms to better see the positioning of the objects.
In short, Draw Distance has worked to produce a more beautiful, more complete and longer-lasting sequel, but it has only half succeeded: if on the one hand, giving Bob colleagues makes the gaming experience more varied, in terms of gameplay much can still be done to make a possible third chapter of Serial Cleaners (hopefully not called Serial Cleaners²) even more enjoyable and stealth.