Lafcadio Boone awakens in a room and a mysterious woman, covered in what looks like blood, tells him that he has to save the guests of Lucas Bondes. To aid him, he is given a magical mask and a pocket-watch - the former allows him to escape notice for a short period and the latter allows him to rewind time. Success depends on Boone’s observation skills and the ability to piece together the puzzle of how to prevent a murder!
The Sexy Brutale is a small game, set in a limited space, with big ideas. The plot is merely the container for a very clever puzzle game, and what a container it is. It is a very creepy game, standing in contrast to the bright cartoon-like art style. The sense of dread and foreboding as I raced against the clock to prevent each death literally gave me nightmares. I kid you not, the second night after playing this game I experienced my first nightmare in years. Trust me, being chased by glowing red cartoon heads in your dreams is not fun.
Despite that, the game is a wonderful example of a studio getting the mechanics almost perfect. A stated inspiration for the game is the film Groundhog Day and you get to wander about the mansion in search of answers endlessly as you can simply rewind the clock until you have sussed out the pattern of each murder. It works almost flawlessly - as if you fail, which I did numerous times, you simply tap a button to rewind to the beginning of the day and the last clock you activated. Alternatively, you can continue to explore until midnight when the game auto-rewinds. It is a mechanic that works well within the game's narrative, as it allows you to explore and discover the murder devices at your leisure, while still imparting a sense of urgency as you watch the pocket-watch in the bottom right corner wind up to midnight.
This is where the game gets things slightly wrong. I found myself watching that clock like a hawk as it ticked down, getting more and more anxious. This adds to the overall sense of foreboding, but at the same time forces the player to rush and not take note of where he is or what is in each room. While knowing that I could simply relive the day with all exploration and knowledge such as key codes unlocked, I still felt the need to race the clock, and it is a race. Each hour runs about five minutes in real time. This meant that I relived each day and each puzzle at least three times. In a way it is a cheeky method to extend the game time, but it does add to the game’s atmosphere.
Each murder that you must prevent is a puzzle. You need to explore the mansion to discover who will be murdered, how they will be murdered, and then figure out how you can prevent it. In this way, it reminds me very much of Hitman; you must carefully observe each victim and the murderous staff and plan your approach to the endgame. Once you figure this out, it just becomes a series of puzzles to tease your brain, with a murder-themed skin.
While the puzzles get more complex the further you go into the game, they aren’t impossible to solve. Eventually. The rapid progression of game-time ensures that you replay the day a few times over to get the full picture, and you need this complete picture to solve the puzzle. Again, this can be frustrating as you find a clock, a key or key piece of equipment, only to run past the appointed time for the murder and then have to rewind. Luckily a good memory, or handy notepad, coupled with the game’s concession to keeping all knowledge learnt intact, allows you to speed through the next day.
Making your journey more pleasant is the cartoon art style. The backgrounds are brightly coloured as are the guests and, if it weren’t for the murderous themes, this game would be perfect for a Cartoon Network show. In terms of sound design, the game has a wonderful jazzy soundtrack, evoking images of 1920s jazz bars and speakeasies. Unfortunately, but understandably for a small indie game, there is no voice acting. More's the pity since the game would be greatly enhanced by good voice-over work as the dialogue is rich and evocative.
The Sexy Brutale is a wonderful indie game that fans of puzzle and adventure titles should definitely play. The fast game clock is a drawback, forcing you to replay scenarios too often, artificially lengthening the game. The game will take you between four and five hours to complete, but in reality there’s only three hours of actual game play. Overall, it is a fun experience with enough challenge to keep you sated until the next big release.
Grumpy Old Man who still collects toys (THEY. ARE. NOT. DOLLS), PC Gamer lured to the Dark Side of console gaming, comic book reader and fan of all things pop culture.
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Cavalier Game Studios, Tequila Works
PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
12 April 2017
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