PowerWash Simulator Review

Money money, yeah, yeah. It's grime time

By Paul Hunter

Washing parts of the house tends to be the least exciting part of my week, so what a surprise when I discovered just how much fun virtual washing can be when you add oomph behind that water spray. PowerWash Simulator is my latest simulation game addiction, having already sunk more than 30 hours since its release on PS5 in late January. FuturLab and Square Enix Collective also launched the game last month on PS4 and Nintendo Switch, following a successful Steam early access and an Xbox release last summer.

The game's title really does say it all, PowerWash Simulator lets you start up and manage your own power washing services in the silly fictional town of Muckingham. Best of all: Gameplay laser focuses on the sweet satisfaction of cleaning minus the annoyances—no tangled hoses, no water usage limits, and no reliance on electricity. You just hit the right trigger to spray water and start blasting dirt, mould and grime away like a pro.

Let's register our power washing business and head on into Muckingham, here are three things I liked about the game...and two I didn't.

Liked: Getting in the Washing Groove

There must be something instinctual and primal about our fascination for making things clean because every time I start power washing in this game I get an immediate rush. All jobs follow the same routine where you're given an object—be it a bus, a bungalow or a tree house—that's covered in thick layers of dirt, oil, rust, moss or other filthy materials. You then take your power washer and spray every last inch of said objects until they're sparkling clean and look brand new.

FuturLab clearly knows a thing or two about classical conditioning because every time you 100% clean any part of the object (e.g. the window of a firehouse or the tire of a vintage car) the game gives you a satisfying 'ding' noise that sounds like a hotel desk bell. I quickly grew to crave the dings and it was hard not to smile when you fully wash multiple components in a row and get that sweet ding, ding, ding sound.

Another reason washing is so compelling is the designers smartly hide bright colours or lights underneath all the grimy black filth. In one job I had to clean a kids' dinosaur playground that begins a muddy, disgusting mess but once you wipe away the layers of dirt you'll uncover a bright rainbow-coloured play area that's pleasing to look at—plus it's rewarding knowing these vibrant hues are all because of your hard work. In another scenario, I had to power wash a huge underground subway station where even the lights were covered in thick grime. One by one I'd wash the lights and see this previously dark station light up like I was renovating it for a grand reopening.

PowerWash Simulator gets more creative with its jobs the further you get into the game's roughly 30-hour campaign. One of my favourite job types was cleaning up rides at an amusement park that are cleverly turned on. In one such situation, I had to hose down a horse merry-go-round, and for part of the cleaning, I rode the horses and cleaned while the ride circled round and round. Even better is the huge Ferris wheel where I'd hop in a car and blast the spokes as the ride went up and down, while naturally pausing for brief moments to enjoy the tremendous up-high view.

Towards the end of the campaign, things start getting really silly, and I was so down for that. You'll eventually get jobs cleaning up ancient statues in the desert, a mysterious lost palace, and even a UFO. Plus, some of the levels start requiring you to get creative, like one where you have to hose down the mayor's mansion at a distance using sniping shots since the dastardly mayor locked you behind the property gate. Instead of being a hodgepodge of random objects to clean, you can tell a lot of thought went into crafting a campaign that gradually gets more complex while also challenging you in novel ways.

Liked: Power Washer Nozzle Upgrades

PowerWash Simulator has an in-game store where you can purchase new power washers and nozzle attachments, and thankfully all items can be bought using the currency you'll naturally acquire during the campaign. You'll start with a basic Light Duty power washer and can eventually upgrade it to Medium, Heavy Duty and Pro versions that get more powerful with each step up. You'll need to constantly buy upgrades, too, since jobs get larger over time, plus you'll get introduced to even tougher materials to wash away like spray paint, lichen and tough oils.

Each power washer can be equipped with six nozzles that specialize in different tasks. For example, your basic white 40-degree nozzle produces a wide, fan-shaped spray for the most coverage but at the lowest pressure. This nozzle is great at cleaning dirt, but that's about it. For tougher materials, you can upgrade to the green 25-degree nozzle or the yellow 15-degree one, with each step up lowering the coverage area but increasing the water pressure. For the toughest of stains, there are also red 0-degree and turbo 0-degree nozzles that fire a pencil-thin spray at maximum cleaning power.

Within a few jobs I had locked in my preferred cleaning routine: start with the green or yellow fan sprays to hose down large swaths of dirt, then clean up with the more accurate 0-degree nozzle that can make short work of hard-to-reach areas. On that note, most missions give you equipment to help you reach high areas, like a stool, ladder or scaffolding, which enables you to clean things like roofs, the tops of door frames or second-floor windows.

Liked: The Absurd Story

There's really not much story at all in PowerWash Simulator, but what little we get is quite entertaining. The entire story is told through text messages you'll get from clients and other various townfolks and they detail everything from corrupt local politics to feuding citizen rivalries to even a bizarre tale about disappearing family cats. While it would have been nice to have these lines voice acted, if you take a moment to pause your washing and read the text chats you'll surely chuckle at the absurdity of it all.

Looking past the campaign, PowerWash Simulator also features great modes like online co-op where you can lend a helping hand to your closest buds as you merrily mop up together. There's also a Challenge mode that places limits on the amount of time or water you get, as well as a Free Play mode to revisit old jobs you've completed from the campaign. And finally, there's a Special Jobs area with some of the game's most creative jobs, such as watering the red dust of a Mars rover or hosing down a miniature golf course. FuturLab and Square Enix are also committed to ongoing DLC at no extra charge, including a Tomb Raider Special Pack featuring the Croft Manor and on March 2, 2023, a Final Fantasy VII collaboration is bringing five new jobs like the Seventh Heaven bar and the Airbuster.

Didn't Like: Finding the Last Bits of Dirt

During jobs, you'll see a running tally of your percentage completion, and in most cases, I had a relaxing, soothing experience up until about the 90% mark. Once you've reached that threshold you've typically washed all visible surfaces, but then you have the tedious task of searching the objects at odd angles (like between cracks or up high where you normally can't see) to find that one remaining speck of dirt.

To help you out, you do get a 'dirt detector' that acts like a UV light to see stains at a crime scene. The issue is, especially with larger objects, your dirt detector can often be of limited use. For example, I had to roam around a massive skate park looking for the handful of minuscule dirt stains I missed during the initial clean. Some cleaning jobs can take upwards of an hour to complete and you'll probably spend half that time trying to locate all these teeny tiny dirt spots that remain.

Fortunately, you can call open your menu to see your percentage completion of each component for the current job. You can also select individual objects to make them glow white and be easier to spot. But even with these aids, the final cleanup tends to turn this otherwise soothingly rhythmic game into what feels like an actual chore. I assume the developers thought this would be a fun puzzle-type challenge, which sure I can see it in that light, but that doesn't make the monotony of spotting penny-size dirt spots any more tolerable.

Didn't Like: Technical Issues

I had a buttery smooth experience with PowerWash Simulator up until about the halfway mark. Once I hit the large subway job I started noticing frame dips and stuttering that got really egregious. I was quite perplexed by the poor performance in the latter half of the game given that the graphics are basic for the most part, maps are small, and I was playing on a powerful and speedy PS5. Clearly, though, there are optimization issues with this game that need addressing. I've seen reports that the issue seems to be rooted in the game's auto-save feature, which you can turn off in the menu. I tried and it does help improve performance, but you'll have to remember to manually save lest you lose your progress. Hopefully, the developers are aware and are working on future patches.

The Verdict

For a game based on such a non-exciting task, PowerWash Simulator is way, way more fun than it ought to be. That mainly comes to down the game embracing its silliness, putting you the perpetually dirty Muckingham and tasking you with washing ridiculous places like a giant shoe home or a washroom with decades of baked-on piss stains. Once you settle into the game's zen-cleaning state, you'll easily melt the hours away obsessively cleaning objects until they look brand spanking new. While the performance issues drag down the experience somewhat, casual clean freaks all the way to obsessive grim busters will surely find this game relaxing and satisfying.

Final Score: 8/10 - Great

PowerWash Simulator details

Platform: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
Developer: FuturLab
Publisher: Square Enix Collective
Genre: Simulation
Modes: Single-player, Multiplayer
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)

A key was provided by the publisher.