The Best Stealth Game This Year is Also Free (And Cozy) – The WereCleaner Review

9/10

A fantastic (not to mention free) game, the WereCleaner is not only fantastic for a free game, but also one of the best stealth titles in a long time. Made by students, the game truly shines thanks to its charming art, simple and sweet game design, and the whole lot of passion that went into it. You should play it as soon as you can; you've got nothing to lose.

There aren’t a whole lot of free games being released nowadays. And, of those, even fewer are actually free, when you count microtransactions, season passes, and other various moneymaking techniques. And of those that are free, most seem to be “prologue” games made to advertise a full release down the line, or are now-unplayable flash games, with about the gameplay depth of a glass of water.

The WereCleaner is free, but it isn’t any of those. It’s just a full, free game, available on Steam right now, and it might actually be the best stealth game thus far released in 2024. Yes, free free. I know, hard to believe.

And so, being a free game from an unproven, student-led development team, I didn’t go in with high expectations. I thought it would just be a fun little project, probably made by a tiny team. We weren’t contacted by the developers or anything, I just saw the game on Steam and decided “hey, I’ll give it a shot, I’ve got nothing to lose.” I wasn’t even expecting to write about it.

And yet, here I am, writing about it. Because, I’m thrilled to report: The WereCleaner is just that good. So good, in fact, that it really is my favorite stealth game of the year so far (so long as you don’t count the PC release of Ghosts of Tsushima, which I don’t).

But what makes it so good? That’s simple: solid game design, fantastic art, a ton of character, good levels, and just enough complexity to fill its entire brief playtime with fun decisions that are engaging the whole way through. Oh, and you get to eat people, too. I think that’s a plus.

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Let’s get into a few specifics. The story begins by introducing players to Kyle, a janitor at Howlin’ Hugs (also the name of the developer), and you get to learn the basics of the game while cleaning up the world’s filthiest bathroom at the back of the corporate office building where most of the game takes place. After this first tutorial shift, once Kyle returns home, when the game gets going. There, it is revealed that Kyle is… a werewolf! And a really, really cute werewolf, at that. The goodest boy, in fact.

And not only this, but Kyle also receives an email from his company: all employees will be required to work overnight. And, with rent quickly coming, Kyle has no choice but to go to work as anything but his best self (though he will need to go as his furriest self). And so, he shows up to work the next night already in werewolf form, ready to clean… Or so he hopes.

You see, here’s where the game’s brilliantly simple mechanics come into play: if coworker spots Were-Kyle, he will immediately beeline toward them and… Well… There is a reason werewolves aren’t allowed in the office. Kyle will kill them, and then anyone else who spots him during his rampage. This can very quickly descend into chaos. And, because you lose time and points for killing your coworkers (unfortunately), you’ll want to avoid this if at all you can.

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But, here we come to something clever: because failure is still really fun. I mean, you chase after a coworker, and then are left with a body that you must (yes, must) devour and clean up after. Which, it turns out, is yet another mess that you’ll need to clean up, like all the others, and those mechanics are also fun and engaging, giving the same satisfaction as something like Power Washer Simulator. It’s great.

Of course, in order to get 5-stars on each of the 7 levels (each representing a different day of the week, getting progressively harder), you’ll need to be perfect, not only avoiding eating your coworkers, but also moving quickly and efficiently through the ever-growing level (you’re introduced to different areas on different days, keeping things fresh until the last day, when the entire building is open to you). And so, as fun as it is to clean up an entire office of slain coworkers, it’s also fun to weave around them and time their movements in order to do your job and keep from getting caught.

I haven’t even mentioned the characters. Hilariously voiced with mumbling noises, the discussions between Kyle and the office’s paranoid security chief Daryl are one of the game’s highlights (well, most of the game is a highlight, but still), as the well-meaning officer slowly goes from mildly suspicious peer to a shotgun-armed lunatic intent on executing Kyle (even though he’s so adorable). The game never takes itself seriously, of course, but the cartoony feel and arcade gameplay only makes these zany characters work all the more.

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The game isn’t perfect, of course. The gameplay is only about as complex as it needs to be to fill the 2 or 3 hours you’ll take to perfect it, and the single level (even if the area you play in changes) does get a bit tiring after a while. The game introduces some things too late in the game to truly utilize them. And without a free-play mode, there is very limited replayability. Even though I don’t think any of that actually is a huge obstacle, and is probably to be expected when it comes to a free game, it is worth mentioning.

That said, the game is about as good as a free game can be. It’s cozy, it’s enjoyable, and it’s a genuinely well-made stealth game even with the budget it has. The students at the University of Southern California who worked on this project (as part of Howlin’ Hugs) should be proud, and everyone still reading should go play it as soon as they can. After all, it’s free on Steam. 

As for me, I will be on the lookout for more games from the people on this project going forward. I’d even be willing to pay next time. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to head out of the office before my boss gets back for… reasons.

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Graves
Graves

Graves is an avid writer, web designer, and gamer, with more ideas than he could hope to achieve in a lifetime. But, armed with a mug of coffee and an overactive imagination, he'll try. When he isn't working on a creative project, he is painting miniatures, reading cheesy sci-fi novels, or making music.

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