Don your rubber cleaning suits, because PowerWash Simulator has finally reached a 1.0 release. Developed by the UK studio FuturLabs, who most recently released Peaky Blinders: Mastermind, it’s also notably the highest-profile release from Square Enix’s indie label, dubbed “Collective”. Since its early access release in mid-2021, PowerWash Simulator has been making waves since, filling the gap left by games like Viscera Cleanup Detail and the cleaning sections of House Flipper.
There is a story, but it’s largely pointless. You are an up-n-comin’ power washing business, taking small gigs to accrue income and a reputation for yourself, while the town of Muckingham trundles on in the background. Between the Mayor of Muckingham’s missing cat, his backdoor shenanigans involving a controversial pipeline, and the unearthing of an ancient civilization, these life-changing events only mean one thing: More cleaning for you!
It’s all set dressing for the main event, which is PowerWash’s cleaning mechanics, or rather, one cleaning mechanic. Armed with one solitary power washer, you’re thrown into a space that is covered from head-to-toe in dirt and filth, and your job is to clean every single part of it to perfection. With an adjustable nozzle and premium soap, you’ll be blasting away dirt, and getting the beaucoup bucks while doing so.
As a mechanic, it’s polished to a mirror shine. With each item fully cleaned, the game sets off a little ding to notify the player, shooting a small dose of serotonin straight into your brain. It perks you up as time goes by, another addition to those games you play while a podcast or radio program is on in the background, filling that niche perfectly if nothing else.
The items you need to clean will flip-flop between large areas of space, and a vehicle inside a garage or hangar, both categories displaying their own challenges, whether it’s maneuverability, sticky materials, or otherwise. It’s a zen-like aura that forms when you’re truly in your element; a house caked in grime and grease, graffiti and gunk, ready to be swilled away by a heavy-duty pressure washer operating at a maximum of 3200 PSI.
For a good while, PowerWash Simulator operates a neat cycle of giving you a (figuratively) neat spot to frolic in with your cleaning tools, and giving you a pat on the back for your spotless work. When you’re given a suburban house covered in grime and bird poo to clean up, you’re giddy with joy, ready to use a 10-degree nozzle to blast away your woes. As an experience, it’s nearly perfect, filling you to the brim with a satisfactory warmth.
Then it all stops. That joy becomes mired as the jobs become bigger, and the challenges become less about tackling different stains, and more about chiseling away at a dauntingly large space to clean. It’s not long until you realize you have another 35-40 hours of this, and that large sigh streams out of your mouth like you’re aware that it’s your last breath.
The thing about PowerWash Simulator is that as a concept, it is executed as perfectly as it can be. As a game, however, it suffers horrifically from next to no evolution throughout its entire adventure. The tools don’t expand significantly, there’s never a moment where you’re coursing through a level with a brand new upgraded power washer, and you’re never given better tools as jobs become more finicky.
It manages to fall in between being too specific in what it wants you to clean, and not specific enough in how you deal with it. Sometimes, you’ll be given a vent, or a bench drilled into a wall, and be told to try and clean behind it, despite your hitbox barely allowing for that flexibility. Your only option is to spray blindly until that satisfying ding arrives, but the satisfaction is now replaced with an exasperated grunt as you carry on aimlessly.
This is a problem that comes down to accessibility, which is bogged down by a lack of innovation. Sometimes the game will give you a clear pass to miss certain spots, and instead accept that you’ve cleaned a majority of an area, but other times, you have to be utterly spotless. In response to this, PowerWash Simulator does have a “show dirt” function that will flash dirt in fluorescent orange, but when it comes to items that are orange, or have Muckingham’s unwavering sun glaring upon them? You’re left guessing.
There’s something about the structure of PowerWash Simulator that feels so arbitrary, but nothing more so than the 5-star ranking system for each job. After every fifth of a level is cleaned up, you’re treated to a star on the board, and a series of text messages from the person who asked you to clean up. A little bit of comedy is injected into each line, and a lot of it will fall flat, due to the game’s tendency to always tell and never show.
Even with the online co-op function, the game struggles to retain the zen from before. A job shared is still a job, and the game has no online matchmaking, only giving you the option to play with pals on your Xbox Live friend's list, or if they have Steam. Progress only tracks for the host also, so someone is always going to be on the losing end, and if you’ve done the more daunting jobs in the past, there’s a high chance you won’t want to do it again.
Is there a moment where you can sit back and turn your brain off while playing this? No, not really. The game always responds with a new annoying object to clean, and runs out of steam near the end, instead opting to make areas bigger and more impossible to maneuver around gracefully. You try and look for shortcuts, trying to find some sort of jank to get by with ease, but there is none. As simulators go, it’s one of the most straightforward on the market, and that’s not a good thing.
There needs to be that air of irony, not just a companion piece to a podcast you’ve been meaning to catch up on. There needs to be some sort of reaction that isn’t just smug satisfaction from the game for tricking you into a chore, or a quirkiness that isn’t just a background plot. For the latter, the game only barely exercises it near the end, and funny text messages from whoever has tasked you with a job simply don’t cut it.
For a short session, or for a small fraction of its entire offering, PowerWash Simulator offers a zen-like experience that is like no other on the market. It’s fun to wash a car, it’s fun to wash a room, but as cars become planes, and rooms become mansions, that zen fades. The scale increases, but your output doesn’t, and a 50-hour playtime seems more like a threat than a gift, which shouldn’t be as such. What should be a neat little treat, instead turns into a debilitating feast.
TechRaptor reviewed PowerWash Simulator on Xbox One S using a copy provided by the publisher. It is also available on Xbox Series S|X and PC.
- As a concept, it shines superbly
- Initial jobs offer an immense satisfaction
- Executes gamifying a job well at first
- Rest of the game is designed poorly
- Intolerably long playtime of 40+ hours
- Sound design tends to be buggy
- Attempted comedy falls flat