It’s rare for a game to grow on me as significantly throughout the course of its plot as The Sexy Brutale did. Most games take a little bit of run time to get into their full stride, and The Sexy Brutale is no different in this respect, however it did come as a surprise to me how endeared with it I would ultimately become. I put this down to a couple of things. Firstly, the obvious, the game is actually really good. It’s a truly creative, unique and stylish experience. But, most crucially, it’s one that requires you to understand how it works before you can fully enjoy it. It’s not an experience that allows you to fumble about, it won’t offer you a helping hand, and you will be required to put in some effort to achieve your goals. Like in the way dying in a Souls game is an inevitability, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you can start to have fun, The Sexy Brutale requires a similar attitude to solving its puzzles. Initially, of course, I found this quite overwhelming and resigned to the idea that the game would be a slog to get through, however, when it clicked, I found myself enjoying a satisfying title like little other, and the best puzzle/adventure game I’ve played for a very long time.

The narrative is a mysterious one. You find yourself in the casino mansion, The Sexy Brutale, where in the opening tutorial you witness the murder of one of its guests. Shortly after, you are greeted by a ghostly, bloodied woman who informs you that the staff of the mansion are out to kill all of the guests, and that you are the only one who can stop them. Fortunately for the man who just died, she also reveals to you the power to turn back time, and with that you set out to find a way of stopping the foul acts being committed, and discover why you have this power, and why the guests are being murdered.

Unfortunately for our character Boone, it’s not quite as simple as that sounds. After you have awoken in the mansion, you find a mask attached to your face. The mask protects you in one sense, as you are unable to be discovered, however it also makes it impossible to interact with the people in the mansion as they also wear masks that attack you if you enter the same room as them (so running into a guest won’t result in them asking “who the hell are you?” But you will have to run away from a creepy floating mask). Therefore you will need to find more elaborate ways of preventing the murderers from succeeding. When you do succeed, however, the would-be victim will remove their mask, allowing you talk to them and, with an added twist, absorb their mask to gain their hidden power.

So essentially sleuthing is the name of the game, and you will need to do a good job of it to succeed. Your playstyle may differ from mine, but the first thing I would do upon starting a new victim is explore all the new areas. Investigating the various items in each of the rooms, seeing if there’s anything suspicious or anything I can pick up and use, and of course filling in the mini map for future reference. Perhaps you’d prefer to follow the victim or murderer first, watching their actions and seeing how the whole day takes place for them. Either way, you’ll be wanting to gather up as much information as possible. And then once the day reaches its conclusion (and the death of every guest in the mansion), it will start all over again from the beginning.

Second time round you should have a better idea of what’s going on – what times certain rooms will be occupied and by whom, perhaps what objects in the environment are used in the murder and how you can tamper with them to effect the proceedings. If you screw up, you can start the day again yourself instead of waiting out the time, and also if you have your sights set on a solution, you can fast forward time and get straight to it (starting the day from scratch removes all acquired items, however, so if you need an item for the solution to a puzzle, then you will need to use it ‘on the day’, so to speak, instead of storing it for later use). It’s all a matter of tracking patterns, timing, and discovering things about your surroundings.

It might sound a bit complicated, and as mentioned previously, it can be overwhelming to start with, but once you get into that headspace, you can appreciate just how well-crafted these little puzzles and investigations are, and can enjoy the immense satisfaction that comes from figuring it all out. I don’t want to spoil much about the solutions, but just as a brief example from the very first murder: the killing takes place after the sinister staff member takes a loaded gun from one of the rooms, then taking it to where the victim is and blowing him away. Following the murderer will reveal to you where he gets the weapon, and also shows you that the gun was pre-loaded, so he doesn’t replace the ammunition inside. If you follow the victim, however, you can see him unlocking a safe in an adjacent room, where a blank bullet drops to the ground. This is the simplest example of how the puzzles in the game work, as I’m sure you can guess the solution from that description – you load the gun with the blank bullet before the murderer gets to the room, rendering the gun useless, and giving the victim the chance to fight back (the murderer won’t check the ammo, because as we’ve seen, as far as he is concerned, the gun is loaded) – but hopefully that gives you an idea of how the game’s logic runs. While the game does just plonk you in and expect you to solve these murders, by tracking the various guests and exploring the rooms you will come to a conclusion – there’s no nebulous point and click logic here, you just need to watch closely.

But what makes the gameplay really interesting is this factor of time. Not just with respect to how it effects the puzzles – with you restarting the day over and over before you find out what to do – but also with regards to the game on a broader scale. You see, there are no levels in The Sexy Brutale, but instead you unlock more of the mansion as you progress. So in effect, all of these murders happen throughout the same day. It goes a way to explaining the strange noises or occurrences that you experience throughout – someone cuts the main power at a particular time, you hear a gun shot at another, a crash of glass at another, and so on – and you soon realise that all of these things are events taking place all over the mansion. It’s quite impressive. It makes the mansion feel hectic and alive, and also emphasises the various patterns at play.

As for unlocking these other areas of the mansion, we come back to the subject of masks. As already mentioned, each victim has their own unique mask, and when saved from death you will absorb it and take their power. The mask powers aren’t just helpful for unlocking new areas of the mansion, but also in actually solving the puzzles. One gives you the ability to pick locks, allowing you to gain access to chests that may contain items, another gives you keen hearing, allowing you to listen in on far away conversations, and another allows you to break glass with your voice. There are only a few powers to use (what with there being only a few victims to save), and more often than not they will be used to discover collectables, but in some situations they are essential to progress, particularly the hearing power, which is quite satisfying to use (hiding in a cupboard, for example, and eavesdropping some important information).

On the subject of collectables, there’s a couple of types that can be gathered throughout the mansion. A full set of playing cards can be discovered in objects and secret rooms, and on the body of each victim a letter of invitation can also be collected. You might think they’re a bit dull or run of the mill – who really cares about collectables? – but The Sexy Brutale does a good job of creating an interesting setting to explore. Of course, there are the interactable objects and scenery to look at, but there’re also secret rooms with strange and dark goings on to be found. I don’t really want to spoil it, so I won’t go into detail, but it’s worth backtracking and searching everywhere you can.

The Sexy Brutale came closer to a 10/10 than any other game I’ve reviewed, but unfortunately there are some issues, albeit minor ones, that kept it from achieving that score. For starters, while generally pretty simple and accessible in terms of physical gameplay, one could say that the control scheme is a tad clunky. You move Boone around with the mouse, clicking right to have him walk to the desired location, or holding it down to have him follow your cursor around. You click left mouse to open doors, and the various abilities at your disposal are triggered with keyboard controls. It’s a negligible issue, and I hesitated about even including it, but something feels a bit odd about the way Boone follows your cursor around – it’s slow, yet floaty, and he has an annoying habit of catching up with your cursor and coming to an awkward stop (probably an issue to do with having a control scheme like this in such small areas – you end up edging towards doors instead of smoothly running to them). Use of a controller alleviates this somewhat, but it’s not really the sort of game that should have an issue when played with keyboard and mouse.

More irksome, however, are the few technical issues. I experienced noticeable lag throughout my playthrough. Only in certain areas, or after performing an action (mostly when opening a door), but this was no isolated incident, and the game stuttered in places on a regular basis. While not a dreadful issue – 90% of the game played fine – it was certainly annoying. Coupled with the trouble I had with the controls, it created some awkward door-opening, with Boone freezing for a moment, then spazzing towards the door and opening it slowly. Particularly when you’re trying to rush around to get to areas to snoop or witness an event, this can be quite stressful – you run to the door to follow a staff member, only to have the game lag out and you end up missing the first part of dialogue.

My last issue is more of a subjective one, but still something that I felt prevented the game from being all it could be, and that’s the overall length. Or more accurately, how much content there is – I imagine run time would vary depending on how good you are with the puzzles and how much exploring you do. The game took roughly 5 hours for me to complete, that covering all 7 ‘victims’ (I’m including the final section in that total). I appreciate games like this not being overly long – so it’s a nice, contained experience, not a slog that grows old before the end – but I felt there could have been at least one more victim to save. Especially considering the first victim is basically just the tutorial, and one other in particular was very easy to solve, it didn’t feel like there was enough on offer, and the game had little chance to expand. I mentioned previously about masks and that some of them you only really use to find secrets or collectables, well perhaps there could have been more use created for them if there was more content. I’ve heard others say they appreciate the brevity, however, and it’s not a shallow experience either way.

Despite those few issues, I feel The Sexy Brutale is one of the better puzzle/adventure games to come out in recent years, and certainly one of the most unique. If you’re into your puzzlers, then I have little doubt you would enjoy this, and even if you aren’t, then perhaps the game’s theme and structure would still appeal to you – I’m terrible at puzzle games, particularly those that bear a resemblance to point and clicks, but the time shifting mechanics and reliance on sleuthing made the challenge more accessible to me. The game is bursting with style, from its swanky aesthetic, to the jazz soundtrack – there’s even a bit of singing involved which was very nice to listen to. The game requires legitimate thought when solving its challenges, yet manages to avoid being too difficult or relying on ‘moon logic’ to create challenge, and as a result, there’s very minimal frustration, but bucket loads of satisfaction. It’s just a brilliantly crafted and highly enjoyable experience that I feel deserves a lot of attention at the moment.



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1 - Crash Bandicoot and Ridge Racer Revolution being the first 'real' games I ever set eyes on - and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games, the sort offered by titles such as Total War and Silent Hill, though I also have a soft spot for a good RPG. I studied Journalism at university in the hopes of progressing into writing about games, but my 'real job' is as a postman. You'll most likely find me covering indie games as I'm always on the look out for interesting little titles, and generally I stick to the PC and PS4 platforms. I'm not interested in MMOs or really any kind of online game, and I have an unusual and frankly worryingly expensive obsession with collecting gaming guide books, but aside from that I like to think I'm a well rounded average gamer. Find me on twitter @JohnLittle29