Created by Cavalier Game Studios, a team founded by former members of the fabled (ha! Fable-d! geddit?) Lionhead Studios, and Tequila Works, the Madrid-based team behind Deadlight, The Sexy Brutale was one of the more anticipated titles of 2017, with one site calling it the best game at Gamescom 2016 with only a demo to go by. Truth be told, being the out-of-touch video game enthusiast that I am, I wasn’t particularly up-to-date with the latest in video game news and expos, but a brief article in a volume of Edge some time last year had me interested in The Sexy Brutale‘s concept. A neverending murder mystery set in an opulent mansion with masked guests and a stunningly stylish art style? Count me the fuck in.
In The Sexy Brutale, you play as Lafcadio Boone, a priest trapped in a neverending nightmare and tasked with figuring out how and why the guests in the opulent mansion are being killed off one by one. With every guest you save, you unlock powers granted by their masks and use those powers to advance further into the story, saving more people and eventually uncovering the secrets behind The Sexy Brutale.
Without spoiling too many things (since I’ll be writing another post later about my thoughts on the game’s story!), The Sexy Brutale shines in four aspects: gameplay, dialogue, sound, and art. Granted, there are instances where the game lags and affects the gameplay – there are times when I’m tapping the A button as hard as I can to get Lafcadio to stop diddling about and open the goddamn door – but whether that’s due to my ailing machine or the game itself is anyone’s guess. Questionable lag aside, the very concept of The Sexy Brutale‘s gameplay is an exercise in elegant simplicity. Lafcadio can wander around the mansion unhindered, but if he ends up in the same room as a staff member or a guest he can be tormented by the staff’s or guest’s mask, which will drain his energy the longer he remains in the same room with them. To avoid that, Lafcadio can peek through keyholes into the next room and see what’s going on.
Much of the game revolves around you running around the mansion, avoiding guests and staff alike, in a rush against time to save the guests from being murdered. Once the clock strikes midnight, the entire day resets back by 12 hours, and Lafcadio is set to begin his quest again. This is where The Sexy Brutale‘s gameplay shines – you’re meant to play through the day over and over and over again, or else you wouldn’t be able to pick up important clues to solve the murder mysteries. The resetting gameplay mechanic is crucial in understanding how the guests are murdered, and subsequently how to stop the murders themselves. This sort of repetitive gameplay can be tiresome and downright irritating if done for too long, wandering through the same damn hallways and dodging the same people again and again, but The Sexy Brutale paces itself well enough that it doesn’t feel boring, and the length of the game – six hours, give or take, without obsessively searching every nook and cranny for collectibles – is long enough to get a good grasp of the story and short enough to not feel too cumbersome to the player. It’s a simple concept that can be tricky to execute, and The Sexy Brutale does it so well so as to seem effortless.
A good gameplay means nothing without a good story, and while I’ll be talking about that in a separate post, I’d be remiss not to point out the delightful dialogues that pepper the game. The writing in this game is phenomenal; again, keeping in line with the theme of simplistic elegance the game seems to go for, the dialogues fill the characters with personality and life to the point where I started feeling not only for the guests, but also the staff members. In a game where it’s so easy to miss even a crucial piece of dialogue, making each line count is important, and The Sexy Brutale succeeds in creating a cast rich in personality and notable quirks with a limited number of dialogues. That’s pretty damned impressive, I ‘d say. As an example, here’s a ghost in the library complaining to Lafcadio about the abysmal quality of the books available:
After a good three hours of wandering around the mansion and dodging staff and guests alike, listening in on conversations and generally soaking yourself in the eerie, uneasy ambiance of the mystery, this kind of silly humour comes across as relief, even.
As previously mentioned, The Sexy Brutale‘s mechanic revolves not only around spying on those around you, but also keeping an ear out for telltale footsteps coming your way. In this sense, I particularly love how you can tell the exact moment each guest is being murdered by sound cues alone – a gunshot, the tolling of a bell, breaking glass, all these can clue you as to what’s going on at the moment, and I really think that’s a neat concept. Music-wise, the soundtrack for this game is fucking amazing. Seriously, it’s amazing. I might just get my hands on a physical copy just for the soundtrack alone, it’s that good. It’s jaunty and jazzy and fits the casino theme perfectly, but during the more heartrending parts of the game (yes, you read right. this game can break your heart) the soundtrack can be downright melancholic.
Last but not least, The Sexy Brutale‘s art style is a sight for sore eyes. The isometric view doesn’t offer a lot for details, but goddamn is there a lot of details in this game. The levels are well-designed and aesthetically pleasing to the eye, and I personally found it greatly to my liking. The juxtaposition between the cute 3-D renders and the stylised art of the characters was particularly charming to me. Overall, The Sexy Brutale is a wonderful visual experience, and I highly commend the team at Tequila Works for a job exceedingly well done.
If there were to be anything detracting from the experience, I’d have to say the aforementioned lag – it could really make or break your game, especially when you’re rushing against time or trying your damnedest to not get caught by the staff or guests. Also, the transition between gameplay to cutscene and vice versa could be a lot smoother. A minor detail I’d noticed was that Lafcadio’s character model doesn’t have a lot of idle movements during cutscenes – unless he’s handing something over to another character, he turns his head to look around the area non-stop, which doesn’t really make much sense when another character’s talking to him.
There isn’t much replayability to The Sexy Brutale – once you’ve played through the story, there’s very little point in replaying it unless you’re trying to collect all the invitations and cards – but it’s an enjoyable and surprisingly poignant experience that’s well worth your time and money. 9/10 would recommend.
The Sexy Brutale is available now on Microsoft Windows, Playstation 4, and Xbox One.