Murder That's More Than Meets The Eyemask
Any game developer worth his salt will try and come up with a fresh idea or unusual twist within their genre that coupled with great gameplay, will ensure they have a hit on their hands. The good folks at Tequila Works and Cavalier Game Studios may have ticked all the boxes with the Sexy Brutale in a game that had me hooked on its macabre shenanigans. The name of the game doesn’t give you much of a clue as to what’s in store, but if I said it combines the board game Cluedo with Groundhog Day, then throw in a little Edgar Allen Poe and we have a good starting point.
The Sexy Brutale is the name of an old mansion that has been converted into a casino hotel, where the guests of the owner, known as The Marquis, are creatively murdered by the staff. You play the part of Lafcadio Boone, an old priest who wakes up in the library, caught in a 12 hour time loop, that will see him returned to his waking place every time the clocks strike midnight. Boone is the only guest who is aware of this and able to retain the memory of each time loop, thanks to a mask given to him by a bloody spectral lady, who has the party piece of disappearing into a puddle of gore once she’s imparted her latest nugget of information.
You are able to wander the rooms of the mansion unnoticed as your mask doesn’t allow you to be in the same room as anyone else, so you peek through keyholes and listen at doors, witnessing each murder in turn, before time rewinds allowing you to ingeniously save each victim from their perilous fate. The idea is the learn the movements of the victim and killer, figure out how the murder is committed then prevent it. It starts off with something simple, with you putting a blank cartridge in the shotgun used to blast away a guest, but from there on things get much more demanding of your skills as a time bending detective. Like Boone himself. Every guest is trapped by a mysterious mask, but saving their life frees them from its grip and rewards you with its unique power, such as enhanced hearing or the ability to see and converse with the ghosts of the mansion.
Each murder is solved in turn, so things never get too hectic, and you progressively unlock more and more rooms in the sprawling mansion so there’s never any excessive repetition to you route.You start the game in possession of an ornate pocket watch, which lets you know the precise time of the next victim’s death, and allows you to return back to the start time whenever you like. You can also unlock the ability to begin your day from other clocks around the mansion, giving you a more convenient start point for each current mission. Most games use a restart point to get you back into the game after a failure or death, but in The Sexy Brutale it’s a vital mechanic of the game that you need to use well replaying the same hours over again as you build up your picture of the story one piece at a time. As you discover each room, it appears on your map of the mansion, and as you observe the movements of the characters those movements are recreated on your map, as you can scroll back and forth through time using a slider.
You view the game in an isometric 3D view, only seeing one room at a time, either the one you are in or whatever you are spying through a keyhole. Although cartoonish in style, the graphics are gorgeously intricate, perfectly portraying the decadent roaring twenties style, which is superbly complimented by the mostly upbeat jazzy soundtrack. The cutscenes blend nicely with the gameplay with the only gripe being a slight lag in the graphics when entering rooms. The characters may be a little cliched at times but that’s no bad thing as their uniqueness gives each mission a different feel. The difficulty of the puzzles progress nicely, some being quite convoluted but without you ever feeling like you’re stuck or out of ideas.
The Sexy Brutale is not so much of a “whodunnit”, but more of a “how did he do it”, and “how do I stop it”. It’s like we already know it was Professor Plum with the lead pipping in the library, but the trick is figuring out how to prevent it in the first place without directly interacting with any of the protagonists. As well as the main story, there is the replay factor of a subgame where there are 52 playing cards scattered around the mansion, and it’s your job to collect them all. The game is such a pleasure that you’ll have no qualms wandering through the vast array of rooms again looking for the cards to complete your collection. The Sexy Brutale is a superbly executed puzzle murder mystery game and although we are only a few months into the year, it’s a title that will certainly be making many shortlists when people think about their top games of 2017.
Many Thanks to Tequila Works for the review code.
Developer: Tequila Works & Cavalier Games Studios