Experience epic sci-fi battles… as the janitor who cleans up after them.
PC Release: October 23, 2015
By Ian Coppock
If Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands teaches gamers anything (aside from the economics of Mexican drug cartels) it’s that furious gun battles can leave a huge mess. There’s all the blood, the bodies, the bullet shells… not to mention whatever else got blown up in the crossfire. Usually video games neatly sweep these trails of carnage under the rug by deleting corpses and debris, but that’s certainly not how things work in real life. It’s certainly not how things used to work in video games, and even the games that don’t delete the bodies rarely deal with the consequences of all that viscera lying around. Viscera Cleanup Detail, the final game of this month’s zany party series, is here to change that notion.
Created by the indie studio RuneStorm, Viscera Cleanup Detail is a “first-person cleaner” that explores what it might be like to clean up in the aftermath of the action hero. Whether it’s the Master Chief, the Doom Guy, or another party entirely, some space-age superhero has blasted their way through a sci-fi facility, leaving a trail of bodies and bullets behind themselves. Viscera Cleanup Detail challenges players to step into the galoshes of an unfortunate space janitor, and make the facility they’ve been assigned to clean spic’n’span once more.
Now hold on, don’t click away just yet. The idea of spending an entire game cleaning up after someone who got to do all the shooting may not sound appealing at first, but Viscera Cleanup Detail presents this concept in a challenging, humorous, and surprisingly fun way. The game’s entertainment value is multiplied when other players come aboard to help clean, either locally from the couch or in the game’s online multiplayer mode. Much like the comedy of Jerry Seinfeld or the gameplay of Infra, Viscera Cleanup Detail takes a seemingly mundane concept and uncovers its many novel layers… in this case, janitorial work.
Viscera Cleanup Detail has roughly two dozen levels based on common sci-fi game settings, like military fortresses and secret laboratories. It also sprinkles those levels with the aftermath of scenarios common to science fiction, like a big battle against aliens or a lab experiment gone horribly wrong. Regardless of whatever mess each level contains, Viscera Cleanup Detail drops players into these facilities to mop up the carnage. The game ends when the player decides the level looks clean enough and clocks out. The more thorough the janitorial work, the higher a score the player receives.
Players drop in armed with a few tools to get the job done, including a space mop, galoshes, and a handy dandy little sensor that can sniff out hidden trash or a missed pool of blood. Brooms, welders and other tools can be found in the levels themselves. As the galaxy’s best space-janitor, players can also access endless amounts of water buckets and haz-mat containers for keeping the mop clean and cradling garbage, respectively. Players can dispose of all this viscera using an incinerator plopped down somewhere in the level.
The two most basic elements of cleaning in Viscera Cleanup Detail are mopping up spillage and disposing of debris. The former consists of using the space-mop to do away with everything from pools of blood to splatters of alien goo. Approaching the mess and clicking repeatedly will suffice to mop it up, but take care to rinse the mop so it doesn’t get too dirty. In fact, mopping repeatedly without straining the goo out of the mop will cause it to start leaving trails of whatever the player’s trying to clean. When the bucket’s taken as much crap as it can, it’s time to dump it in the incinerator and grab a fresh one. Rinse and repeat. Literally.
Cleaning up debris is about as simple as mopping, but potentially much dirtier. Each of Viscera Cleanup Detail‘s levels is strewn with dozens of garbage objects, from spent shell casings to the corpses of unfortunate bystanders. Picking up smaller items is simply a matter of grasping them and throwing them in a haz-mat container, but larger objects, like bodies, need to be handled carefully or they’ll splatter blood everywhere. Some debris, like alien corpses, is too big to fit in a container and must be sliced up into smaller chunks with a laser gun. Viscera Cleanup Detail isn’t as simple as spamming the mop button until the level is clean. The consternation heard when a new player realizes that a dirty mop actually spreads blood is priceless.
Each round of Viscera Cleanup Detail has a notable crescendo of gameplay. The first stages comprise getting rid of the obvious mess, like bodies and blood. Later in the game, players can pick up a welder to patch up bullet holes and other dings in the space-drywall. Inveterate space janitors also need to make use of the J-HARM, a finicky Al Gore-style scissor lift that’s as likely to launch players into space as lift them to that hard-to-reach cranny.
Finally, the garbage sniffer. Or whatever its name really is, the little sensor thing that goes “ping” when trash or mess are nearby. This device is usually stored away until all the apparent mess has been cleaned up, and is useful for finding debris that might’ve gone overlooked. Once the place looks as clean as the player thinks it can get, it’s time to clock out and call it a night. The player’s final score depends not only on how well they cleaned, but whether they restocked spent supplies and organized items according to the mission screen.
Similarly to manually gathering materials in Minecraft, there’s something deeply cathartic about cleaning up after a huge mess in Viscera Cleanup Detail. It may sound crazy, especially to players who can’t be asked to clean in real life (ahem) but Viscera Cleanup Detail can be deeply immersive and relaxing. The only drawback that can pull players out of this cleaning trance is the game’s numerous physics bugs. Debris can sometimes scatter randomly as if thrown by an angry ghost, and janitors getting stuck inside a shelf is not unheard of. RuneStorm managed to patch most of these bugs when this title was in Early Access, but not all of them, so take extra care with that container of human heads.
Though it produces a weird serenity when played alone, Viscera Cleanup Detail can elicit hilarity when played with friends, which is the main reason a janitor simulator made it into a zany party game lineup. Working as a team to clean a level is all good and fun, but the mind games players can play with each other within Viscera Cleanup Detail are hysterical. From secretly re-dirtying an area that a buddy swore he cleaned five seconds ago, to murdering other players with stray explosives (“janicide” as the game calls it), teamwork in Viscera Cleanup Detail almost always makes for a novel gameplay experience.
It also helps Viscera Cleanup Detail‘s case for fun that its levels are absolutely gorgeous. Each area players visit is brightly colored and sharply textured, with dozens of in-game objects to draw the eye. Even the relatively mundane levels, like the waste disposal, have plenty of nooks and crannies for the curious janitor to explore. Of course, larger levels like the “Overgrown” stage can contain some truly eye-popping detail, with beautifully realized alien landscapes and lots of bright, leafy fauna. Gamers who play Viscera Cleanup Detail will get a lot of enjoyment from exploration alone, and subsequently enjoy restoring these areas to their proper order.
The level design in Viscera Cleanup Detail is as varied and interesting as the game’s sightseeing. Whether it’s a small spaceship corridor or a sprawling science facility, each level contains lots of elevation variation and areas of different sizes. Levels in Viscera Cleanup Detail vary considerably in scale; some levels might take as little as a half hour to clean solo, while the larger 4-5-hour facilities might go faster with some custodial backup. Players who also own a copy of Shadow Warrior will receive a free Viscera Cleanup Detail episode set in the Yakuza temple from that game’s first level. Longtime readers might also remember that standalone Santa’s Workshop level that was reviewed on this page as a Christmas special back in 2015.
Viscera Cleanup Detail‘s biggest flaw, and one that inhibits players both new and old, is the game’s relative lack of instructions. For a start, the game has no tutorial, and doesn’t impart new janitors with so much as an on-screen control scheme to help them get started. Each level starts players off with a list of things that need to be done for the stage to be considered clean, but the instructions in most of these are quite vague. “Stack barrels in the designated area”, well, what the hell is the designated area? Oh, that thing on the wall is a medkit that needs restocking? Might’ve been good to mention that too…
Even if Viscera Cleanup Detail didn’t have some tricky mission requirements, the abject lack of any sort of tutorial is annoying. It doesn’t take too long to figure out how to mop spills or pick up debris, but what about finding and using the scissor-lift? What about figuring out that the laser gun actually patches holes instead of creates them? Which objects count as trash and which ones can be left on the table? Viscera Cleanup Detail isn’t the first indie game that forces players to rely on wikis to figure out what it can’t spell out, but that sort of stuff is usually the province of crappy Early Access survival games.
One thing Viscera Cleanup Detail has in spades more plentiful than a tutorial is some pretty funny writing. The game doesn’t really have a narrative, but in-game text logs allude to some sort of mercantile janitorial company for whom the player works. Funny Aperture Science-esque notices about employee safety and protecting the company are scattered everywhere, and inform the game’s various options menus. Exiting the game is considered going on strike, and finishing a level without requesting more paperwork is probably career suicide. The mission logs left behind by the mystery gunman who did all this are similarly amusing, poking fun at the mindless “get to the chopper, bro!” mission objectives all too common in games these days.
Luckily for Viscera Cleanup Detail, performance options are something else that the game has in spades. The game allows players to toggle the full range of visual and audio options, from v-sync to framerate buffering, so that they have a chance at getting the game to work if it doesn’t quite load to their liking. Players can also customize their janitor, albeit just their shirt and overalls, in these menus.
Viscera Cleanup Detail is rough around the edges when it comes to its in-game physics and the conspicuous lack of instructions on how to play, but its core gameplay experience is truly one-of-a-kind. Teaming up with friends to clean a futuristic facility of guts makes for an eyebrow-raising story, as does blowing up a decaying alien carcass in a best friend’s face. When backed by streamlined if unexplained gameplay and gorgeous level design, the idea of spending a Friday night at a space cleaning party doesn’t seem quite so odd. Pick up a few copies and dive mop-first into a bizarre odyssey of janitorial mayhem with Viscera Cleanup Detail.
You can buy Viscera Cleanup Detail here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.