The Sexy Brutale
PC, PS4, Xbox One
The idea for The Sexy Brutale had been bouncing around in the heads of brothers James and Charles Griffiths, plus collaborator Tom Lansdale, for a while. But the unusual, time-bending premise makes for a difficult elevator pitch, so, with experience at the likes of Mediatonic, Lionhead and EA behind them, the trio set out on their own – founding Cavalier Games and setting up shop next door to Hello Games’ old Guildford premises – and began work on a demo.
“We knew that it was always going to be complicated to explain,” design director Charles tells us. “So we decided just to build it out to prove it can be turned into an accessible game anyone can pick up and play.”
Encouraged by the promise their early efforts showed, the group sent a demo to a number of industry friends. One of the recipients was Tequila Works co-founder and creative director Raúl Rubio Munárriz, who was immediately impressed.
“I begged them to let us work on the game,” Rubio Munárriz recalls. “It’s a fantastic concept, and we wanted to help them to make it beautiful. Not because it wasn’t already, but because we saw the potential of what it could be, and we could help deliver it at scale.”
So what exactly is The Sexy Brutale? The title refers to the game’s setting: a grand casino club that Charles describes as a sort of “anglicised Moulin Rouge”, which is owned by an eccentric British Marquis known for his decadent annual masked balls. The player takes on the role of Lafcadio Boon, a priest and former gambling addict who remains close to the Marquis despite the pair’s divergent lifestyle choices, and one of the guests at this year’s event.
Hampering the revelry, however, is the awkward fact the Marquis’ guests are being systematically picked off by the hired help. Perhaps even more concerningly, this grim series of events keeps repeating itself, since every time the clock strikes midnight the day resets and plays out all over again. As Boon, your role is to observe, eavesdrop and spy on your fellow guests to prevent their deaths, travel to more parts of the mansion and, ultimately, restore time’s natural progression.
You’re aided in this temporal Metroidvania by powers bestowed on you by the masks you collect from each rescued victim. Your first intervention, for example, is for the benefit of Reginald Sixpence, the mansion’s master clockmaker who comes to a sticky end at the business end of a shotgun. Carefully observing Sixpence – the masks themselves are tied to the occult happenings and will levitate from their entranced wearer’s face
to attack you if you get too close – and the member of staff who murders him allows us to switch the gun’s cartridge for a blank. Sixpence’s mask allows you to awaken at different clocks around the house, at different times of day, broadening your investigative reach, while another example we’re offered improves your hearing, allowing you to discern whispered skulduggery that was previously inaudible.
“What we’ve tried to do is take all of the friction out of the idea,” Charles explains. “A lot of people like the idea of looping time, and people say, ‘Why have more people not done this since Majora’s Mask?’ But the reason is that it’s intrinsically flawed in lots of different ways. Actually turning it into an accessible game is quite a challenge. You can end up with lots of problems. ‘How do I remember all of the things that are going on?’ ‘Do I have to wait around for ages?’”
Cavalier’s solution to these problems are, respectively, a four-dimensional map and splitting the day into three segments. The map gradually fills out as you explore, as you’d expect, but any events or movements you witness are also automatically recorded, allowing you to scrub through events to keep a track of exactly where and when key moments take place. And as you’re able to start, once Sixpence is saved, at noon, 4pm or 8pm, you’ll never be too far from any given moment. As a bonus, the different lighting conditions provide additional associations as you piece together the complex story that’s repeatedly playing out around you.
“The bedrock of it, for all the more complex time mechanics, is still traditional adventure-game-type stuff,” Charles says. “The fun of it is exploring and piecing everything together yourself, figuring out, ‘OK, what are the moving parts? How am I going to be able to change what’s happening?’ But the map helps to solve one of the problems with point-and-click and puzzle games in general: you’re either making progress or you’re stuck. We’ve added more granularity to that, so if you’re ever not sure what to do next, just look for gaps that you have in the schedule, or times when you’ve lost sight of a character, and if you follow them you’ll start adding more information to the map, and that gives you a greater sense of progressing towards a solution.”
The Sexy Brutale’s off-kilter atmosphere, darkly chirpy dialogue and requirement to spy on the mansion’s occupants is evocative of Capcom’s 2003 curio Gregory Horror Show. But it’s that game’s failures, as much as its successes, that have inspired Cavalier. “Gregory Horror Show, Chulip and Moon:
Remix RPG Adventure are all fascinating games, but it felt like they were let down by some of their design and execution,” Charles explains. “That’s been a real concern for us – it’s such a great and intriguing concept, and I don’t know why it’s only the Japanese that try it, but we really wanted to solve all of the problems around [the concept]. Because
Gregory Horror, while being a wonderful and intriguing game, was punishing as hell.”
Cavalier’s efforts to gather together, and present clearly, the multifarious threads of
The Sexy Brutale’s tightly interweaved storylines and systems appear to have been successful. From what we’ve seen so far, the game makes a decent fist of doing away with the steep learning curve and addling systemic obscurity of games such as Gregory Horror
Show, and its appeal is further bolstered by some charming visuals. Whether that map remains readable once it’s filled with more than two characters’ movements will require a more thorough shakedown of Cavalier’s work, but the early signs are encouraging.
“We wanted to do something you can only do in this medium,” Charles explains. “You could lay out a story in a linear fashion, and tell it start, middle and end, but it becomes an entirely different story depending on what order you see events. Pulp Fiction and Memento play with that, but you can actually do that better with a videogame than any movie or book could. We can present the whole thing, and then let you find a path through it.”
“It’s such a great concept, and I don’t know why it’s only the Japanese that try it”
Charles Griffiths, design director on TheSexyBrutale
Raúl Rubio Munárriz, Tequila Works co-founder and creative director