Rolling the die.
Developer: Tequila Works, Cavalier Game Studios
Publisher: Tequila Works
Format: PC (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Released: April 11, 2017
The charm of The Sexy Brutale hits the moment the main menu greets you. A bouncing jazz track and chibi candy-goth art design come together to compliment a game mechanic that I can best sum up as “Groundhog Day: The Murder Mystery”.
You play as Boone, our hapless protagonist, waking up in the delightfully named “Sexy Brutale”, a strange casino mansion while a mysterious ghostly woman covered in blood stands next to you. Everyone, including you, are wearing masks in preparation for a big masquerade party in the evening. None of these guests are going to make it to the party, however, as they’ll soon be murdered one by one by the masked staff that work in the mansion. With mask firmly attached to your face and lead by the Bloody Girl, you are tasked with exploring the Sexy Brutale to try and prevent the murders of its guests at the hands of the people who claim to serve them. Scurry your way through the halls and rooms of the Sexy Brutale to protect the guests from their fates, whether they be shot, poisoned, eaten by spiders or thrown off balconies via the tried and true methods of time loops and shenanigans.
The sexy, brutal, Sexy Brutale casino mansion is an impeccably designed piece of architecture from the moment Boone wakes up. Each room is lovingly detailed with ornate furniture and casino ware, along with steampunk-esque machinery and fashionably gothic entablatures. Attractive interior design is the least of Boone’s concerns, however, when the Bloody Girl comes to him and tells him of his fate in the Sexy Brutale casino mansion.
Boone can restart the day with the help of his handy stopwatch. This ability is the key to solving the mysteries of the mansion and preventing the deaths of its masquerade guests. You can search the myriad rooms for clues, but walking into a room occupied by another person will cause problems for Boone, which we’ll get into in a minute.
Stopping the numerous murders from happening throughout The Sexy Brutale requires using the time looping watch and finding clues around the mansion without being seen by either the guests or staff. You accomplish this by listening in on conversations, watching events unfold through keyholes, or interacting with the world itself. For example, your first little foray in murder prevention sees you having to save the plucky scientist, Reggie, from being shot by a rifle-wielding staff member. To do so, you’ll need listen in on them through keyholes, which let you spy on the next room with a limited field of view, as they talk about various things that may or may not clue you into how you can prevent Reggie’s murder. You’ll then witness the murder, and have the chance to restart the day to figure out how to stop it all from happening. Interacting with the world involves you finding the blank cartridge left absent-mindedly by Reggie, and using it to replace the real shell in the rifle in the hunting room that the staff member will eventually come to steal from. In turn, that Sexy Brutale staff member guy looks like a moron when he tries to murder his victim. Basically, repeat the day and stop the increasingly complex murder plots until you’ve successfully saved everyone in time for the masquerade ball.
Masks are a big part of The Sexy Brutale, each guest of the mansion wears one that reflects their personality, but also entraps them in a somewhat magical stupor which makes them unaware of the staff’s murderous intents. The masks worn by the Sexy Brutale’s guests are, for some magically-induced reason, also very, very averse to Boone’s presence. Your own mask will flare up to warn you if someone is in the next room, and you can be in the same room as another person, but unless you want to be chased down by the burning, screaming mask of whoever’s in the room, you’re not going to want to stay around for long. While they have their masks on, the guests can’t interact or even see you, and the only way to undo that is to save them from being murdered. Saving them from their gruesome fates diminishes their mask’s power, letting the guests finally take them off, and allowing them to both see and interact with you. Each mask holds power that Boone will absorb, giving you abilities to hear further and see clearer, among other things that will help you on your quest.
The time travel, the masks, the clue finding and eventual murder prevention all come together nicely for a brisk 7 to 8 hour experience. After successfully doling out a couple of practice murder preventions in select areas, the mansion progressively opens up for exploration. It’s so open and explorable even, that if you’re not paying attention, you might stumble across the solution to the murder you’re trying to solve without realising it. With most puzzle games, this can be a happy fluke, but with something as story-dependent as The Sexy Brutale, you might be left puzzled as to why there’s a giant-spider room holding the latest victim when you saw her walking around in the casino not two minutes ago. But this is really the only kink I could find in the very strong gameplay framework The Sexy Brutale has built.
This is a puzzle game not to be missed, not often do you have a game with a hard jazz soundtrack.