Murder is afoot at The Sexy Brutale and you’re on the case! But since you witness the whole thing, you already know the murderer’s identity and precisely how it took place. Well, to be more specific, how each murder will have had taken place and will surely take place again. So how do you solve the case? By making sure it never happens in the first place. Co-developed by Cavalier Game Studios and Tequila Works, The Sexy Brutale is an isometric, time traveling, murder mystery adventure game set within the lavish Sexy Brutale casino mansion. Like Tequila Works’ 2D zombie survival title, Deadlight, The Sexy Brutale is an amalgam of various conventional game concepts brought together in an unconventional way to create something pleasantly familiar, yet wholly unique.
The game takes place over the course of a single Saturday evening masquerade party, but whereas your protagonist, Lafcadio Boone, finds himself trapped in a time loop, the evening continuously restarts again and again. Under direction from a mysterious, blood-soaked stranger, you must utilize this temporal anomaly to prevent the mansion staff from killing off the dinner guests. It’s an odd concept to wrap your head around, but think Groundhog Day meets Clue, with a touch of Quantum Leap heroism.
Every time travel fiction comes with it’s own set of rules and TSB is no different. While simply smashing every potential murderer over the head with a candlestick would sufficiently prevent the murders, TSB forbids you from interacting with any of the other characters directly, victim or murderer. Not only can none of the other characters actually see you, but each of their own masks have a life of their own, aggressively attacking you when you’re in the same room. The attacks drain you life, but are really less of a threat and more of a way to keep you at bay, forcing you to resort to more devious means of murder prevention, like spying, eavesdropping and trickery. After successfully preventing a murder, you do get to briefly interact with the rescued and gain a new, helpful ability from their mask, such as enhanced hearing.
The game is divided into several “missions,” each focused on a single murder. Sometimes you’ll even dealing with multiple murders! Each of these guests’ evening must be watched several times over, first witnessing how the murder occurs, then tailing the victim, then tailing the murderer, all the while keeping an eye out for clues as to how to initiate a “butterfly effect” and save the victims. As the game takes place over the course of a single evening in a single location, the individual missions often intertwine, Pulp Fiction style. For example, throughout every mission, at precisely the same time during the evening, you will hear a gunshot, or a bell toll, or the lights will dim, with the causes of these mansion-wide occurrences remaining a mystery until you play that particular mission. These nicely tie the individual narratives together, but as is the nature of time loops, they’re inevitably repetitive.
The ghastly subject matter and explicitly gruesome nature of some character deaths would be disturbing to witness if the grizzly scenes weren’t offset by the adorably stylized, bobbleheaded nature of the characters themselves. Coupled with the swinging, ragtime-ish soundtrack, The Sexy Brutale is incessantly charming, from beginning to end.
As with most adventure games, the controls are exceptionally simple, affording you only the most basic abilities like movement, object interaction, viewing your map and checking your inventory. The plodding nature of Lafcadio’s walk is cute, it would have been nice to include a run button as well. What truly moves TSB beyond the average adventure title is that you must not only explore and interact with the game space, but within the time as well, for objects or rooms that are meaningless at 4:00 p.m., could prove to be pivotal hours later. The pins and markers occasionally placed on your overhead map can be helpful, but like the rest of the game, are initially confusing.
Like any other single-player, narrative driven title, the game has little replay value once the campaign is complete. But for $19.99, The Sexy Brutale is something every adventure game enthusiast should check out. It’s brilliant combination of macabre themes from things like Clue and 13 Dead End Drive (kudos to anyone who remembers that game) cleverly combined with Groundhog Day style time travel come together to form an example of the proper, modern evolution of the adventure game genre. The Sexy Brutale is available now on Windows PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
A PS4 review copy was provided by Tequila Works.