A mansion converted into a casino, a never-ending masquerade ball, and hired help with an inexplicable hunger for homicide. The Sexy Brutale has all the ingredients to be the perfect cocktail of murder mystery. It has a lot of character, and its main concept is brilliant, but will that be enough?
First impressions are important, and The Sexy Brutale does certainly grab your attention from the very first screen. It is inevitable to draw some parallels between the masks that conceal the faces of the main characters, and what lies behind the name of this title. Even though everything seems confusing at first, things will start to become much clearer after a few hours.
The player takes the role of Lafacadio Boone, a priest who wakes up completely bewildered in the mansion that has given its name to the game. The elements that precede this awakening are those typical of a noir film: a mysterious lady appears out of the blue and asks you for a big favour, and there's music taken from the 1950s to set the mood. You're tasked with saving every guest attending the ball. The staff, for reasons we will not disclose, want to murder them.
When you first hear about it, it may sound like something you've done many times before. Simply be the hero and save the victims, however The Sexy Brutale offers a twist on this premise. You cannot interact directly with anyone. Every time your character is in the same room as another person who wears a mask, they will hunt you down. This means you must sneak around the mansion, peeping through keyholes and paying attention to every sound. How to avoid a murder becomes a two-part puzzle of figuring out the sequence of events for each murder, and then figuring out how each person behaves before and after the killing.
But if they die, how can we rescue them? This is where Lafacadio's curse comes in handy. Perhaps you already know that Tequila Works and Cavalier have created a game that takes inspiration from both Groundhog Day and Cluedo (Clue in North America), and this is exactly what this is (if you recall the excellent Ghost Trick, that one a game that springs to mind). At nightfall, the day repeats itself exactly as it was at the beginning, and you lose all of the objects you have collected during the day, thus you're forced to relive and hear the murders over and over again until you've solved them all and gotten to the root of the evil.
You must learn the schedules, know the conversations, and trace every step of each character as time goes by, and you'll have to try to come up with a strategy to save each victim. Then the day starts all over again and you test the solution you have come up with. If it fails, you'll have to change your approach until you get it right. This trial-and-error system can be tedious since you have to wait to perform certain actions, but you have the option to advance time - from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm - so you don't have to wait toolong inside a cupboard (or wherever it is you're hiding). And that's a good thing, as is the ability to reset the clock at any point and restart the day, because without the ability to speed things along this game, in spite of its lovely visuals and music, would have been unbearable.
Speaking of clocks, they are of crucial importance in the game. While you move through the several rooms and halls of the huge house, you come across some rooms where you'll find one of these grandfather clocks. When you activate one with the use of a specific object, it becomes our new spawn point as the day starts over (and you resume the game from there).
Returning to the main mechanic, the murders, which are the backbone of the game, they usually have a fairly straightforward solution. As a general rule, if you pay attention to conversations and clues given by those involved, it's not difficult to find a way to avoid the death. An annoying noise, a blank bullet on the floor, a clandestine conversation... Everything must be taken into account. But it's also much easier than it might sound, and it seems a bit superficial, almost as if they made sure not to make the solutions overly complicated and force too much repetition on the player.
We also must mention that the fact that you also acquire a new ability every time you save a guest is a plus. You're granted this new ability thanks to the mask that is removed. Thus, the game provides a system of progression that allows us to access more and more rooms of the mansion and even backtrack to overcome some invisible barrier or open a door that previously wouldn't open. There's a great deal to explore, and the fact that you're always trying to discover the next victim and aid them, along with the many collectables that are hidden here and there, helps keep you focused.
The setting of The Sexy Brutale deserves a special mention. With its small, big-headed and brilliantly fleshed out characters, it creates a great contrast to the macabre subject matter. The design reminds us of the old casinos (unsurprisingly) and this backdrop also helped keep us immersed. We've mentioned it before and this game appears to be inspired by 1950s design, and it reminds us of Manny Calavera's Rubacava in Grim Fandango. With every step taken as Boone, we've noted that elegance mixed with the sombre tone of the story, and we're smitten with it.
The music, and especially the sounds, are also fundamental to the experience. Saxophones, trumpets, drums... all of the instruments are mixed to create a soundtrack that is close to jazz, but with a more modern touch. The themes perfectly fit and complement what takes place inside the casino, once more adding to the immersion. Nevertheless, the sound effects are the cherry on the cake. They are also key to the gameplay. If someone is bound to die due to a gunshot at a certain time, you will hear that shot every time at the same time, reminding you of what's at stake. Ironically, the repeating deaths are what makes the game feel alive.
The Sexy Brutale swallowed us up whole. The idea of the time loop and, above all, that fact that you must save the guests to progress, is brilliant, especially when all of the other elements fit so well together. However, the actual solutions to avoid the murders could have been more elaborate, as it's not a very challenging game in that regard. Taking everything into account, these shortcomings are just minor annoyances in a game that will immerse you completely in its fiction.
As its name suggests, The Sexy Brutale is easy on the eyes, it attracts you with its visual style, its design, and its characters, but it is also a brutal affair and death is an ever-present. It's a charming game full of character, and it's a joy to watch the events unfold, and there are concepts here that feel unique and fresh.
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