Game Review: The Sexy Brutale

Alan Stock Alan Stock
October 4th, 2017

I'm a lover of travel, photography and video games, from the UK. I have worked in the games industry and very passionate about games and their design. Never get bored of them!

The Sexy Brutale is a time-hopping murder mystery game out now on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch. Alan Stock relives the nightmare again and again for this review for ComiConverse.

If like me, you are a fan of time loops, then The Sexy Brutale is the game for you. The idea, which Groundhog Day sold to the world, of being trapped in a repeating time loop has now made its way into countless movies. Gaming has been a bit slower on the uptake - the most memorable time loop game is undoubtedly the darkly brilliant Zelda: Majora’s Mask. The Sexy Brutale owes a lot to that classic, as you learn the repeating routines of characters in the world, and try desperately to change their doomed fates.

The Sexy Brutale Ballroom

The Sexy Brutale gains its title, not from some twisted bedroom fantasy, but the name of the mansion the game is set. This opulent residence is home to a casino, guest rooms, theatre, ballroom and the like, as well a considerable dash of the bizarre and otherworldly. It’s all gold trim and green velvet, full of oil paintings and statuary - every room highly detailed, viewed from a fixed, near-isometric perspective. The Sexy Brutale’s art style is bold but attractive, its cast heavily caricatured, sporting oversized heads and squat bodies. The art direction fits the jaunty yet dark atmosphere perfectly.

The Sexy Brutale Voodoo Girl

You play as Lafcadio Boone, an old priest invited by the Marquis to a masked ball in the mansion along with nine other guests. In the game’s opening section, you awake in the mansion’s chapel to witness a gas-masked staff member cold-heartedly shoot a bumbling guest dead. Then a blood-covered woman magically rises out of the ground, informing you that the mansion has become a horrific killing ground. The staff are on the rampage - and will murder all of the other the guests, and this horrible day is set on repeat, the killings beginning anew every twelve hours. But you, and you alone, can beat the system, and starting with this victim, you can change events and try to prevent the guests’ untimely deaths. The clock winds back and the day repeats - but this time, can you stop the murder?

The Sexy Brutale Spying

The masks which all the characters wear have supernatural qualities. They prevent you from entering rooms which guests or staff are in. If you do go inside an occupied room, time pauses, their masks detaching and chasing you, draining your energy. Your only option is to escape the room quickly, unable to interact with its contents or occupants. This simple mechanic forces you to observe and meddle from the sidelines without any direct contact with the cast. You spy on events by peeking through doors, you listen to guest and staff’s conversations through walls. To change the victims’ fates, you need to uncover clues about how they are murdered, and then try to prevent their deaths by manipulating events in the mansion on a subsequent time loop.

For example, in the simple tutorial scenario, after witnessing the murder and replaying the day again, you can spy on the victim guest rummaging through a safe - sending a blank gun shell inside tumbling onto the floor. You can take this shell after he leaves, and quickly load it into the fatal shotgun before the murderous staff member gets to the weapon. At the time of the murder, the staff member now fires a blank instead of a bullet - saving the victim’s life.

The Sexy Brutale Listening

Saving a guest rewards you with their mask, bestowing you with their powers such as lock picking or super-hearing. The Sexy Brutale is structured like a Metroidvania game - mask powers gain you access to further areas of the mansion and subsequently the next set of guests to rescue. The large building is full of secret doors and passages which streamline its navigation once discovered. Although guest and staff routes overlap frequently, you only ever need to save one or two guests at a time, focusing your quest into manageable chunks. Sometimes you are even locked into the murder area until it’s solved. It’s only towards the end of the game that things open up a bit, and you have murders which require traversing large parts of the mansion. The time loop can be reset at any time, and you can skip to different times of the day, which helps if you know you’ve botched an attempt or don’t want to wait for a predetermined event to happen.

The Sexy Brutale Conversation

Unfortunately for the guests, once saved, they will return to their doomed routines on the next loop, locked to their deadly fates. Cleverly, their murders always involve some kind of noisy demise - a gunshot or a window smashing, for example. Each loop you hear these sound effects at the time of their death, as they reverberate through the mansion. It’s a constant reminder that the carnage continues indefinitely and a morbid “ah-ha” moment when you find the cause of each deadly sound. Even after solving “old” murders, you can still learn more about the victims and their storylines by observing them at different points in the timeline. Slowly, you gain the full picture of the mansion’s events and its inhabitants' movements, helped by a handy map with a time scrubber which records your sightings.

The Sexy Brutale Theatre

There’s a witty morbidity to The Sexy Brutale - the sarcastic gas-masked staff grumble and joke about their grim work, and the murders are wicked in their imagination. There’s always a sense of fun and dark humour amongst all the death. The guests are hardly original - there’s the famous diva singer, the master thief, the ex-prizefighter - they’re likable enough. As you spy on the cast, learn about their backgrounds through collectibles and watch their horrible demises, you really want to save them.

The excellent score matches the rambunctious ambiance perfectly, with funky, jazzy tunes that sometimes make way to lovely piano solos or string chords depending on where you are in the mansion. In a nice touch, the music adapts to the events of the timeline, building to a crescendo if you are witnessing a guest’s murder. Some of these moments are the best, the mood can be poignant despite the cartoonish visuals.

The Sexy Brutale Singer

The strange events at the mansion, the time loop, and the building’s many mysteries keep the story compelling throughout - as you slowly uncover the truth of what is really going on at the Sexy Brutale. Towards the end, the narrative takes the centre stage a bit too much, and the final scenes are rather heavy-handed. But overall the story does a good job of keeping you intrigued and invested throughout.

I imagine it’s a nightmare to balance and design a time loop game where multiple characters have intertwining schedules. The Sexy Brutale does quite a good job, considering. You never have to focus on too much at once, and your goals are always clear. However, the puzzles are a bit too straightforward and easy, partially as a result of that simplicity. Usually, the route to success is as simple as tailing the relevant characters through the day and waiting for them to divulge clues which lead to the solution. I saved a number of the guests simply by using my intuition, the answers obvious after one loop without any extra hints. Some murders which have quite complex timelines end up having easy fixes, requiring just one or two actions on your behalf.

The Sexy Brutale Spying on Ballroom

Compartmentalising the mansion and its murders keep things simple, but the downside is that the potential complex puzzles this playground could have offered is never realised. It’s only the last few murders and the optional collectibles that require much lateral thought to solve and proper understanding of the mansion’s layout and the inhabitants' routines. It feels like a missed opportunity - here’s hoping for a sequel that takes full advantage of the possibilities. Although the timeline system here is solid, how it's used in gameplay terms feels limited.

The Sexy Brutale Casino

Still, there’s a good sense of satisfaction in saving the guests, manipulating events out of their sight, uncovering the mansion's secrets and its extra hidden content. A sense of mastery of its layout and the timeline increases as you progress - until you feel like you know the day, as well as Bill Murray, knew the town in Groundhog Day. The Metroidvania structure continually gives you new places to explore and a sense of progression with new abilities. The game can drag at times when traversing the mansion, and when you must repeat long events, but overall The Sexy Brutale tackles the time loop idea with flair and some neat new ideas. Its mischievous style and strong presentation brings the mansion, guests, and the time loop together into a well-oiled whole. There is definitely some wasted potential, but The Sexy Brutale is a solid, original and fun game that’s definitely worth your time. Now if only I could turn back time and not eat that chili sauce I had for dinner…

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