I’ve always wanted to go to a masquerade ball, though probably not the kind that you’re a part of in The Sexy Brutale. I mean, sure, it’d be a blast to visit the glamorous casino mansion setting of the game, but being murdered by the staff over and over again in a twelve hour cycle that constantly resets itself? No thank you.
Thankfully, it makes for a glorious video game. You find yourself in the shoes of Lafcadio Boone, a priest who is tasked with preventing the constant murders of the guests of the ‘Sexy Brutale’ by the vindictive staff. What’s most clever though is how he does it – you have the power to reset time over and over again, meaning you’re able to witness the build up to each murder and work out how to stop it. It makes for a very thrilling murder-mystery that’ll not only keep you on your toes throughout, but also guessing at the motive behind each guest’s grisly demise…
The Sexy Brutale’s core gameplay mechanic revolves around your ability to restart time over and over again, all thanks to a strange pocketwatch that is handed to you by a mysterious red lady early in the game. This watch lets you reset the clocks to an earlier time, allowing you to re-live the events of the day and cancel out anything that might have happened. It’s kind of like ‘The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask’ in some regards, except you’re manipulating time to save the lives of some guests and not stopping the Moon crashing down into Earth. It’s going from one extreme to another, but hey, every life is important, right? It’s a question The Sexy Brutale answers throughout its macabre tale.
The Sexy Brutale doesn’t start off lightly, with the player sneaking around and witnessing a ghastly murder – someone has been shot! Of course, you have the magic pocketwatch, so you’re able to prevent this murder. This is where the game’s clever mechanics are displayed, with gameplay following a ‘Groundhog Day’ approach by having the same events playing out over and over again every time you reset the clocks. You’re tasked with working out where both the murderer is and what he is plotting in a way to disrupt his plan. You’re given plenty of hints in the game’s first murder, with the location of the weapon and the murderer’s whereabouts handed to you on a plate, though it’ll become more difficult with later murders where you have to work everything out from scratch. What do you do to prevent the heinous task though? Well, you’ll find that out in the game.
I absolutely love the whole concept of the game. It actually reminded me a little of Capcom’s cult game ‘Gregory Horror Show’ with its emphasis on following the routines of different characters, which is only a good thing seeing as I spent hours upon hours enjoying that game. The emphasis on solving murders only added to the unique charm of the experience, with a certain thrill to be found whilst sneaking around and finding a way to stop all of the nefarious schemes. You’ve got to keep an eye on where people are, listen in to their conversations, and look out for objects you can interact with if you’re going to devise a plan to prevent each murder – it’s top notch stuff.
All of this sneaking around does come at the risk of getting caught though. Luckily your presence isn’t immediately made obvious, with Boone given a fair bit of time to hide or escape when the murderers are around. If he is caught though, it’ll reset the whole day’s progress; it might not sound like too bad of a consequence, but it still feels like a ‘game over’ thanks to the drive you’ll feel to succeed. A careful mixture of hiding in cupboards, sneakily peeking through key holes, and well-timed snooping should see you find success though – just don’t be surprised to have to play through events time and time again.
The game plays out over a twelve hour time span, with time resetting back to noon at the end of each cycle. Any progress you make carries over though, so any information you learn about the murder, the location, or simple vital clues can be used. It streamlines the process, in turn making it easier to attempt to foil the murder the next time around – there’s no way you’ll stop a murder on first asking, so it’s a process that’s designed to make you try and try again, with each attempt inching you a bit closer to success. Luckily time flies in the game, so you’re never left waiting around too long. It actually adds an artificial sense of urgency to your actions; knowing that time will reset means you never worry too much, but only having a set amount of time to work does add an immediacy to your actions that feels right seeing as you’re trying to stop a murder.
Each time you prevent a murder, you’re awarded with the would-be victim’s mask – this was a masked ball, after all. Each mask grants you a new ability based upon that character’s profession, so given the eclectic nature of the guests you’re in for a few surprising perks. It might be something as simple as being able to pick locks or have enhanced hearing, but some of them are more… interesting. I won’t spoil anything here, but they certainly embrace the underlying occult nature of The Sexy Brutale.
There’s no denying that preventing the murders in The Sexy Brutale is a lot of fun, but it should be noted that you’re doing a lot of the same things over and over again. Sure, each murder is unique and has its own ingenious solution, but you’ll always follow the pattern of sneaking and spying with each one. It never grew tiresome for me thanks to the quick nature of the game and interesting locale, but those who want a bit more variety in their gameplay might find re-living events over and over again a little TOO repetitive.
There are quite a few guests whose murders you’ll have to stop in The Sexy Brutale, so you’ll be kept busy for some time. Much like the game though, time seems to fly by; it’s surprising how quickly the eight plus hours you spend with the game will disappear. It’s time well spent though, so you certainly won’t be craving a magical stopwatch to re-live anything. There are fifty two different hidden playing cards to collect too, as well as tid-bits of information that further divulge the game’s lore – The Sexy Brutale certainly isn’t lacking in things to uncover, so you’ll be kept busy for some time.
One thing that definitely deserves a mention is The Sexy Brutale’s aesthetic, with a stunning isometric view on everything. Each area you visit isn’t just bursting with life thanks to the vibrant colours and fantastic lighting effects, but also so well designed that you’ll actually feel like you’re exploring this glamorous casino mansion. The game was just as much of a joy to look at as it was to play, with the diverse visual style of the locale complimenting the often eerie gameplay.
The Sexy Brutale sure is something special, with it’s time-bending murder-preventing gameplay unlike anything I’ve played on console. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did, but as soon as I started playing I couldn’t get enough; the mysterious gameplay just hooks you in and keeps you entertained until the very end.
There are a few repetitive elements to the game that some players might grow tiresome of, but as a whole The Sexy Brutale is a stupendous experience that’s not to be missed. It’s original, exciting, and one of the most enjoyable titles I’ve had the pleasure of playing so far this year.
Developer: Tequila Works, Cavalier Game Studios
Publisher: Tequila Works
Release Date: 11/04/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC