The Sexy Brutale was released on April 12, 2017 and has captured my attention ever since I watched a “my top five games of 2017” video by one of my favorite content creators back in January of this year. As someone who loves murder mysteries like classic WhoDunnits or even hidden role board games that require critical thinking revolving around a darker and deceptive atmosphere, this immediately caught my eye and, frankly, I had high expectations with it being the absolute favorite on that particular list. I consider myself fairly content with my decision to purchase and play it this past week. The visuals and music of this game emanate a strong, jazzy, perhaps even a bit of a steampunk-ish masquerade vibe that I believe is absolutely perfect for it. It does not cater to looking incredibly realistic and its character design feels almost like a unique twist on something Tim Burton-esque, with exaggerated features and mannerisms. It is a stylish game of eccentricity, and I personally love the aesthetic of it and hope to see more games with similar atmospheres in the future.
The neat part about The Sexy Brutale is that it feels almost as though your character is merely watching a story play out around him, rather than you necessarily being a direct part of that story. You work your hand at changing the fates of victims, but they are consistently continuous regardless of wherever you are, which leaves you feeling like an omniscient ghost a lot of the time. The key element of the gameplay is the factor of time. Much like The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000) and the film Groundhog Day (1993), you find yourself in an endless loop of the same day in an effort to learn more about what you can do to solve the conflict, whether it be learning a character’s movements or keeping tabs on where certain items are because you lose them at the end of the night. However, the rest of the mechanics are fairly simple. The main character, Lafcadio Boone, can listen for footsteps and conversations, as well as hide in wardrobes and look through keyholes in order to investigate the area around him. As you progress through the story, though, you also gain some abilities along the way in order to help with increasingly complicated missions. There are also two types of collectibles – cards and invitations – to appeal to those who enjoy those sorts of achievements. Because The Sexy Brutale relies on hidden investigation, Boone cannot be seen when running throughout the mansion that the game takes place in. If you end up in a room with one of the NPCs, there is an immediate sense of dread as everything goes dark and red, and the NPCs’ masks begin to chase you. This alone can cause a sense of panic, but I realized during a particularly stupid moment on my end that the consequence does not elicit the same severity once you realize how long it takes for the punishment to occur. The atmospheric change alone when you are in the same room as an NPC had been enough to keep me on edge throughout the entire game without wanting to rake risks but, towards the end when I had made a great error and was forced to experience the “consequence” of taking too long to escape, it suddenly did not feel as intense or scary. This is unfortunate, as this is the only real feeling of “punishment” (like dying or being knocked out in a game) and it is a bit on the weaker end.
As stated above, the surrounding characters are consistently living out their same actions throughout this same day that is being looped over and over again. A lot of parts to the story itself can only be figured out through listening and witnessing pieces of conversations in different locations during different times of the day. This could be viewed as interesting or a flaw, because you could easily finish the game without necessarily knowing a lot about the history and connections between the cast members. Especially early on, it could even feel nonsensical or silly. There are many gamers out there who may enjoy puzzles but might not dedicate time to restarting the day more than necessary in order to hear more detail about what is going on, so ultimately it could leave one feeling like they don’t really understand what is happening until the end. However, as someone who listened to most things but definitely still missed out on what was likely a decent amount of potential dialogue, I felt that the ending of the game was truly a wonderful experience. I will not spoil it by any means and I am sure there are those who would experience it and not feel the same way, but it turned into something a little greater than what I had expected, which was only a fraction of what ended up happening. It is a story of loss and redemption. The ending alone tied everything else together, even things I was not completely sure about because I hadn’t witnessed enough conversations. It reminds me of a popular game from 2013 but I won’t say which, although I hope you do play and catch what I’m talking about.
I am giving this game 4 out of 5 stars because I believe that it genuinely accomplishes what it sought to achieve. This is by no means a perfect game, especially with it being a game that might be an acquired taste in the first place and, as discussed, there are minor elements that could probably be improved upon or that take away from it being utterly incredible. But for those who enjoy an interesting narrative regardless of perfect coherence, fun visuals, the murder mystery genre, and some puzzles, this is definitely a game that is worth it. I do not think that the length of the game justifies it as a $20 purchase, as it can be finished in about four hours, but I do not regret buying it at all and I fully enjoyed it. If anything, I would say getting it on sale is a big recommendation, and it is available on PC, PS4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch.
I hope you enjoy your stay at The Sexy Brutale.