Hot on the heels of a golden few months for gaming, it’s easy to overlook some of the lower profile releases. In the case of The Sexy Brutale, this would be a great shame, as it is one of the most enjoyable and charming games I have played in years.
Billed as ‘a never-ending masked ball featuring intrigue, murder and the (quite possibly) occult!’ it can perhaps be best described as an adventure game version of Cluedo, but one in which you must prevent the murders from occurring. Just as with Cluedo, the cast of characters is varied and populated by larger than life caricatures.
You play the taciturn priest, Lafcadio Boone, as he is forced to endlessly relive the same party again and again. Whilst this may at first sound like most people’s undergraduate experience, events soon take a turn for the darker. One by one, the guests are killed in ingenious ways by the mysterious ‘Staff’ and Boone must gather information and solve puzzles to prevent these murders.
Fortunately, as the game begins, you are given a magical pocketwatch by a mysterious bloody lady that enables you to restart the day whenever you wish. This watch can be upgraded later to allow for more precise manipulation of time and represents the central mechanic of the game. In essence, you must learn the patterns and flow of the day and ensure that you are in the right place or have used the right item to alter the fate of the guests. It’s brilliantly realised and prevents the inevitable repetition of the Groundhog Day scenario from becoming annoying. If a particular death proves tricky to prevent, however, this could change. I managed to progress through the game without becoming overly stuck and never felt frustrated by having to rewatch a day multiple times.
The guests at the ball cover a wide range of personalities, ranging from an ingenious inventor to a psychic. Each character has a particular ability embedded within their mask, abilities that Boone can learn once their murder has been averted. These ensure that the mansion (The Sexy Brutale after which the game is named) gradually opens up to you and new areas become available to explore.
Aside from the skills to be gained from the masks – which I’ll naturally refrain from discussing to avoid spoilers – Boone can eavesdrop through keyholes to glean information and pick up hints. Whenever another character is present behind a door, Boone is enveloped in a warning red flame, as if you’re discovered in the same room as another character, time will freeze and the occupant’s mask will attack you, forcing you to try to escape. If you fail to escape the room, the day will be reset once again. Whilst this sounds frustrating, it actually rarely happens as the time given to escape the room is generous. There are also cupboards in which Boone can hide before other characters enter a room in order to overhear conversations.
The sneaking and spying is well supported by some fantastic writing and a wonderfully twisty (and twisted) narrative. The characters are inventive and distinctive and the mansion opens up through a well-judged sense of progression. All of this is wrapped up in a delightful artstyle that reminded me equally of Dishonored and Head Over Heels. The isometric steampunk aesthetic is complemented by a glorious soundtrack full of jazzy and atmospheric tunes that I’m hoping will be released separately. I very occasionally noticed small drops in performance on PS4 when rushing between rooms, but these were rare and had little effect on what is a relatively sedate game.
Alongside the puzzles of each guest’s demise, there are various collectables to find. Each guest has an invitation that unlocks further information about them and there are 52 cards to collect that provide details on different rooms within The Sexy Brutale. I thoroughly enjoyed tracking all of these down, particularly as there was no temptation to consult an online guide. I don’t always earn the platinum trophy in games, but The Sexy Brutale kept me hooked until I had located every single nugget of information about the house.
Amidst the glut of blockbusters at the start of 2017, The Sexy Brutale stands out as one of the most enjoyable and well-realised titles out there. Successfully evoking the feel of a classic adventure and combining it with a distinctive art style and beautiful music, it deserves to reach a wide audience. Its 8 hour playtime is consistently entertaining and full of intrigue and the final narrative payoff is satisfying. All in all, The Sexy Brutale is a perfect indie game to fill the gaps between the many sprawling epics that are demanding our gaming attention this year.
PS4 version tested