Puzzle games aren’t normally my thing, even if they’re your “point ‘n’ click” style of logic puzzles. That’s not to say I don’t like those kinds of games, sometimes I love them to bits, I’m just not very good at puzzles in general. There’s a pattern and method of thinking that goes into them that I just can’t wrap my head around a lot of the time. The Sexy Brutale marries its puzzles to its story, with generous dollops of decidedly British humour, in a way that really resonates with me. Perhaps its puzzles were just too easy, but I was able to solve them and still felt somewhat clever for having done so. Along with a simple but charming art style, and an amazing soundtrack, there’s a lot to love about this game.
Now, where’s that blood-curdling scream coming from?
The entire game takes place in a mansion, the titular Sexy Brutale, inside of which all manner of thrilling and tantalising entertainment is housed. The host and owner is the enigmatic Marquis, who invites a group of friends to a masquerade evening with the intention of bumping them all off. Players take the role of Lafcadio, a friend to everyone and – due to the actions of a (literal) corpse lady – time traveller extraordinaire (if one considers repeating the same twelve hours ad infinitum ‘extraordinary.’) There’s more to this mansion than just the murders and defiance of reality’s laws, however, and therein lies the rub. Or shot. Sometimes giant beasties. There are a lot of ways to die in this place, apparently.
The premise of the story is something like Clue meets Groundhog Day, with elements of Memento dusted over the top. The player character, Lafcadio, is a man out of time, forced to relive the same twelve hours over and over, so the story isn’t exactly “linear” in the traditional sense. You certainly have to complete events in a particular order to progress. However, those details are all out of order, sporadically shotgunned across NPC conversations and item descriptions throughout the game. Everything from the environment design to the character interactions all play a role in unfolding the narrative, which is as oddball as the mansion in which it takes place. The way it comes together at the end is immensely satisfying despite being relatively short, which is entirely due to its excellent writing and being so self-contained.
It may not be long, but it’s an enjoyable and (mostly) cheery romp for what is ostensibly a game about a massacre.
It’s not enough to simply figure out “whodunit;” you have to stop ‘who’ from ‘dunning’ it, which requires a bit of footwork and eavesdropping to accomplish. The puzzles are all based around exploring whatever part of the mansion you happen to be in at the time, learning about the order of events in its various rooms, and keeping an eye out for the occasional homicide. With an assortment of clues and information at your disposal, you can then piece together solutions that allow you to prevent the murders from happening. There were only a couple of situations that felt like I was guessing at what the developers were thinking, with the rest following something far less akin to moon-logic. A small clip plays upon rescuing guests, showing what happens when they don’t die in gruesome ways, and then they discard their masks.
The masks grant you the powers and abilities possessed by their former owners, which involves putting their mask on over yours until it disappears into shadow, and did I mention this game has odd moments? The powers are often needed to access a previously inaccessible part of the map, which is important as the discovery of new areas is so closely connected to the narrative’s drip-feed method. The stumbling point is that some of these powers very much work as a “deus ex machina” story device, having one or two major uses and then never really being used again. The same can be said for the mansion itself; for such a small in-game world, there’s very little backtracking if you’re not a completionist. It felt as though most areas of the mansion were merely set pieces to be discarded once they’d served their immediate purpose, as opposed to building towards something truly memorable.
They were very pretty set pieces though.
The PC controls are a little clunky, and I never did get used to them. To move you have to hold down the right mouse button; you can’t just click once on the space you want to walk toward. If you’re right beside something, left clicking will automatically interact with that object no matter where on the screen you happen to click. There are also some inconsistencies with action keys and controls mapping in general that I felt could have been easily avoided or would work far better with a controller. The UI design also makes checking things while playing needlessly annoying, such as not being able to view your inventory all at once, instead having to flip through objects one at a time to see what you had. These are minor issues though they’re still things that could have been improved with a bit more fore-thought.
Some things break the rules of the time loop, such as items that don’t disappear from your inventory or room changes that remain after every reset. In most cases these are more helpful than annoying or immersion-breaking. What bugged me, though, is that the guests you rescue from being murdered still remain in the loop, which I feel was only done to keep them around as obstacles. Entering a room occupied by an NPC causes their mask to fly around the room chasing you, causing damage if they catch up, which is the only way to be harmed in the game. If they were being kept around to serve a grander purpose, like a puzzle that incorporated all of them at once, that would be one thing. As it stands, however, it feels like a missed opportunity that became something of an annoyance.
It might look like I’m waiting patiently for people to pass but, internally, I’m screaming in frustration.
The Sexy Brutale’s style is gorgeous, with the character and environment design possessing a cartoonish quality that suits the game’s themes and gameplay. Characters have the big headed, small bodied appearance that lends itself well to the humour present in the game. Each room is presented as its own set piece, which is a highly detailed area surrounded by black so that the room itself remains the object of your focus. It even takes a leaf from the book of survival horror by presenting a single, mostly static high-angle view of each room, showing as much detail as needed. It’s effective for the comedy-thriller atmosphere that the game builds, though it does have its drawbacks for gameplay. The camera angles frequently change between rooms and aren’t reflective of the direction you’ve been travelling, resulting in constant map checking to keep track of where you’re going.
The sound and music direction is some of the best I’ve seen in any game, reinforcing the events of the story and keeping the player anchored in an audio routine. You might shift around the mansion a lot while playing, running through different areas to rescue the guests. However, the same sounds will accompany you through each loop. The noise from a gunshot ringing throughout the Sexy Brutale will always occur at 4 PM, for instance, or the sound of glass shattering will always sound off in the evening. The soundtrack, aside from being a fantastic listen, also plays a significant role in the demise of every guest. Tracks change depending on location and time, often building up to the instant that someone shuffles off the mortal coil, giving the moment so much more gravitas. (At least for the first time you see it happen.) Sadly, the soundtrack is only available separately right now if you purchase the special edition on PS4, but I did ask the studio if they plan to release it on PC:
So…. Maybe? If it does, it’s worth picking up.
I was initially drawn to The Sexy Brutale after seeing a short clip of the first mission being played through. The music, the humour, and the look of the game were very alluring, enough to make me want to give it a crack. While there were a couple of design and gameplay decisions that bugged me and a few expectations that weren’t quite fulfilled, the game is still a lot of fun for the short time that it lasts. The biggest takeaway was its soundtrack and the way they made it an integral part of the gameplay and plot. The combination of the music and sound direction really made the events of the game pop, maintaining my interest and story consistency at the same time. I’ll be keeping an eye out for future works from Cavalier and Tequila Works if this is the sort of thing one can expect from them.