The Sexy Brutale is not your typical murder mystery game. In fact it is really unlike any other game I have played. It is a macabre cartoon puzzle starting as a murder mystery and ending in a lavish story of crime, punishment, guilt and the occult. Combine that with time travel and Sherlock-level deduction and I was sold quickly on this game.
Let me set the scene for you: Every guest in the casino/mansion/hotel you are in dies, slaughtered remorselessly by the gas mask wearing attendants. You, as priest Lafcadio Boone, are not there to arrest them or to solve the mystery. Your job is to prevent the murder, foiling the plans of the attendants through a mix of observation, deduction, stealth and time travel.
Over a single day, you must attempt to undo a sequence of deaths of the guests. The first murder, essentially the tutorial of the game, sees a man shot by one of the staff using a rifle. Removing the bullets from the rifle is the obvious solution, but the staff member checks it is loaded, and loads it himself, drat! Placing a blank in the gun means that the staff member believes it is loaded and when it fires nothing, the supposed victim has a chance to defend himself and disable his would-be murderer.
A simple solution to begin with, however the other murders are more complex affairs, sometimes involving multiple victims. Multiple resets of the day will be required before the solution becomes clear to you. You can track the movements of both the victim and the killer, aided by your ability to spy through keyholes and eavesdrop on conversations to gather clues and piece the story together.
Boone, and by extension you, should not be at the Sexy Brutale, and his presence cannot be detected by traditional means. Human occupants of the mansion cannot see him but the mysterious masks which each guest and staff member wears can detect him. When you occupy the same room as someone else, masks rise from heads and float towards you, dealing damage upon contact and leaving you unable to do anything but to run to another room. While it is difficult to die from this as the masks move very slowly and take a long time to drain your health it does stop you from directly interfering, forcing you to stick to stealth and sabotage.
The Sexy Brutale is a puzzle game at heart. Once the day begins the plan is set in motion and character will move between rooms, talk to each other and effectively live the drama of their death, only being prevented by your subtle intervention.
Because the puzzles are based primarily on observation the solutions all feel organic. While it can feel tricky to begin with, as sometimes you will even have to hunt around to find out who you must save next, the solutions are often rather simple and there is never a point where you are not given all the pieces you will need. The game never lapses into being too easy though, so keep a keen mind and a keen eye at all times and you should be fine.
This usually means that your first day will be spent watching the murder play out, and here you see the real strength of this game. Each murder is a beautifully scripted event with its own unique story. While it is tempting to try and save people immediately, and it is possible sometimes, it is worth taking your time and watching the day play out, and sometimes the murder is even necessary to figure out what to do next.
The sequences themselves are often scripted perfectly and charmingly dark. I watched with wonder at how each of the different deaths played out: The apparent suicide with more to tell, the Southern Belle killed by her music, and the eight legged death of a carefree young woman to name but a few.
While many of the puzzles involve you collecting items, Boone cannot keep items once the day resets, with them disappearing and returning to their original locations. Knowledge however can be kept, such as passwords or secret passages, and this is all added to the map for your perusal. Each rescued victim also leaves a mask behind, which Boone absorbs to gain a new power which assists in future mysteries. These include enhanced hearing and the power to see dead people.
The main body of the game lasts no longer than a few hours, with only eight main missions to keep you entertained. While there are 52 playing cards scattered around the place for you to find the abode has many more secrets which you can delve into. However despite the short length, the story is packed tight and when the credits rolled I was wholly satisfied with what the finale delivered.
The story is told through an excellent looking and sounding game also. The game is not a powerhouse, and graphical options are sadly lacking, but the environment design is of a high quality. Each room has its own interesting design and features, assisted by smoothly transitioning swing music. Both the environment and music create a ‘Day of the Dead’ feeling; appropriate for a game of this kind.
There is little to criticise here. The game runs smoothly and there were no major graphical bugs and glitches during my time with it. If I had to find a criticism, it is the lack of manipulation you get with time, it being the main mechanic of the game. While very early on you get the chance to jump forward to 4PM and 8PM this doesn’t solve the issue of having to rewatch scenes, which depending on how many times you have reset can wear you down. However skipping ahead normally feels like an unwise option anyway, and I only did it twice during the while of the game.
In a year where I have played a lot of really good games: Horizon, Breath of the Wild, NieR and Yakuza, The Sexy Brutale holds its own easily as a game you should have. This wonderful little dark gem is the puzzle game for everyone, and earns an easy 10/10 for my enjoyable stay in this macabre abode.