All things considered, Groundhog Day's cranky Phil Connors had it easy. Sure, he was doomed to repeat the same annoying Groundhog Day again and again, but at least there were no murders, or cults, or enigmatic men in scary masks. In the new adventure game The Sexy Brutale, you don't have it quite as easy.
Most of the time, the titular Sexy Brutale is a cheerful locale. It's home to all sorts of glamorous delights, from glitzy casinos to stunning magic shows to dazzling concerts. But today, Saturday, something is wrong. People are dying in this once peaceful building, and the strange, masked employees seem to be the ones pulling the strings, murdering them with increasingly elaborate deathtraps that must be undone if you ever wish to uncover the identity of our amnesiac protagonist.
Of course, undoing future crimes is a lot easier said than done. Since everyone moves around the building in real time, you have to keep careful track of where they are on the map, and what around them might be putting them in danger. Thankfully, once you witness someone in a room, their placement is added to the map, and the more rooms you seem them at in at different times, the easier it will be to track them using a handy little slider that lets you change the time of day on the map.
Of course, considering this whole 'building of masked men trying to murder their guests' is quite the dangerous scenario, it's best to stay out of the way. In fact, all of the player's tracking is done by peeping through keyholes or hiding in cupboards rather than standing out in the open in the same room as another character. If you are exposed, those meetings will trigger a brief period where you're allowed to escape the room, lest you suffer the deadly consequences.
As The Sexy Brutale progresses, the murders become more and more elaborate. That's where the masks come in. Much like The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, whenever you save one of the guests, you're rewarded with a new mask that grants you new powers. Now, here's where problems arrive - out of all the abilities the mask grant, very few of them are useful in many situations. Sure, the ability to talk to ghosts completely changes how you interact with some of the house's rooms, but powers such as lockpicking and glass-shattering screams aren't nearly as useful as they should be. In fact, the latter two can only be used when prompted by the HUD.
The only mask that really gets a lot of use is the main one - a massive helmet that, when coupled with a magic stopwatch, allows you to rewind the day at any time, sending you back to the foyer with whatever knowledge you picked up on your previous run. As the game goes on, you can unlock more clocks to choose as 'reset points', allowing you to stay in the general location of a murder without having to constantly trek through the foyer. Beyond just being a cool premise, the time travel is invaluable to puzzle-solving, allowing you to reexamine a murder as many times as necessary until you can solve the crime.
Not only does the time loop allow you to better figure out the puzzles, it also gives you the chance to explore the mansion as the day goes on and the guests begin to pass on. Again, much like the aforementioned king of time travel gaming, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, exploring different locations at different times can open up all sorts of neat secrets and hidden conversations between major (and minor) characters. This insane attention to detail show the marks of a committed development team, but more importantly, it's also a fantastic incentive to replay certain segments again and again, learning more and more about the lovable cast.
Of course, even if you don't feel particularly motivated to discover what makes these characters click, the building is packed with strange secrets ranging from collectible cards to truly creepy discoveries. In fact, The Sexy Brutale is absolutely jam-packed with macabre humor and occult discoveries, giving the murder sequences a vibe not unlike Tales From the Crypt or an old Vincent Price spine-tingler. It's weird and creepy sure, but the cartoony art style warps the otherwise horrific scenarios into incredibly fun capers to solve. Well, incredibly fun save one very grim suicide near the start, which would feel out of place if it wasn't for the downright phantasmagorical discoveries your investigation holds.
While the individual murders may be more in the style of a dark comedy, the overall story is a lot less interesting. While The Sexy Brutale plays with its time travel concepts in some fun ways in the last thirty minutes, for the most part, the time travel is divorced from the proceedings entirely unless it's time for a character to build up the big reveal. Unfortunately, the game's big twist is one so heavily hinted at that the only surprise when it rolled around was that it was supposed to be a reveal in the first place. While I won't spoil anything, anybody even remotely familiar with the usual beats of time travel media will see this one coming from a mile away, and those who aren't will be able to catch on to where the story's heading a good few hours before the grand finale. It doesn't help much that the reveal of a certain character's secret identity kind of undermines the whole theme the overarching narrative is going for, especially when it feels like an afterthought in a tangled web of time-related conundrums.
But even when the story's at its most predictable, the fact of the matter is that The Sexy Brutale just works. Sure, the narrative may be lackluster, and sure, most of the masks are useless in most scenarios, but the central time-looping hook is done so well that it's hard to stay too disappointed in it. Besides, there's a gambling robot that's modeled after the Grim Reaper.
And that's just awesome.
The Sexy Brutale was reviewed on PC via Steam with a key provided by the developer.
The Sexy Brutale is an occasionally muddled sci-fi story with just enough macabre charm and attention to detail to make it stand out.
- Macabre Tone and Twisted Sense of Humor
- Fun Time-Bending Hook
- An Insane Attention to Detail
- Finale Trades Thematic Depth for a Shallow Twist
- Most Masks Are Useless