The Sexy Bru­tale

PC, PS4, Xbox One


Some­thing is amiss at The Sexy Bru­tale, the casino man­sion owned by an enig­matic Mar­quis. For one thing, none of the guests at this year’s masked ball seem to be hav­ing a par­tic­u­larly good time. But slightly worse than that, they are also be­ing sys­tem­at­i­cally bumped off by the fright­fully brusque staff. It would be bad enough if just one shindig re­sulted in the death of your guests, but this par­tic­u­lar se­ries of events seems to be re­peat­ing end­lessly, loop­ing back to mid­day ev­ery time the clock strikes mid­night.

It falls to pro­tag­o­nist Laf­ca­dio Boone, an el­derly priest and re­cov­er­ing gam­bling ad­dict, to try to fig­ure out what is go­ing on and break the macabre cy­cle that has be­fallen the other rev­ellers. Boone is in a po­si­tion to do this be­cause he has the abil­ity to re­mem­ber events each time the day restarts, a power be­stowed on him by a mys­te­ri­ous girl cov­ered in blood, who also of­fers guid­ance through­out the game.

Pre­vent­ing each mur­der re­quires you to sneak about, spy­ing through key­holes and eaves­drop­ping on con­ver­sa­tions from cup­boards, as you build up a pic­ture of how the act is car­ried out and who is re­spon­si­ble. The move­ments of char­ac­ters that you ob­serve are recorded on your map, and you can scrub back and forth through the time­line to fig­ure out if there are any gaps in your knowl­edge that might pro­vide the key to solv­ing a cer­tain puz­zle.

Un­less you’re skulk­ing in a wardrobe or stand­ing on a mez­za­nine, how­ever, you can’t be in the same room as any of the other guests or staff. If you do find your­self oc­cu­py­ing the same cham­ber as an­other per­son, time will stop and their mask will de­tach, float into the air and chase you. If it gets too close it will be­gin sap­ping your en­ergy, even­tu­ally caus­ing you to col­lapse and then wake up at the be­gin­ning of the day again. But the blood-soaked woman has im­bued your mask with a lit­tle pro­tec­tion, slow­ing down the oth­ers and buy­ing you some time to es­cape the room. Once you’re on the other side of a door, the mask will re­turn to its owner and they will be obliv­i­ous to what just hap­pened, so you can get back to spy­ing on them.

Ev­ery char­ac­ter goes about their busi­ness in ex­actly the same way each day, and their ac­tions – and even­tual demises – will al­ways oc­cur at the same time. You might need to wind your way through th­ese tightly chore­ographed dances three or four times be­fore you’ve es­tab­lished what needs to be done – switch­ing a live shot­gun car­tridge for a blank one, for ex­am­ple – and a few more loops af­ter that to fig­ure out ex­actly how your plan can be achieved. You don’t have to wait out the full cy­cle each time: you can restart the day at any point by tap­ping L2, caus­ing you to wake up at which­ever grand­fa­ther clock – each of which serves as a save point and must be fixed be­fore use – you most re­cently synced your pocket watch to. Later, you’ll gain the abil­ity to fast for­ward through each 12-hour pe­riod to ei­ther 4pm or 8pm.

While the game has Metroid­va­nia el­e­ments, not least in the way that your grad­u­ally ex­pand­ing range of pow­ers grants you deeper ac­cess to the in­tri­cately laid-out man­sion, de­vel­oper Cava­lier sticks to a more com­part­men­talised struc­ture. You’ll be fo­cused on, and some­times even trapped in, par­tic­u­lar sec­tions of the build­ing and must solve each mur­der in or­der, rather than flit­ting be­tween them in an open world. When you save a guest (or guests: on sev­eral oc­ca­sions you’ll need to res­cue two peo­ple si­mul­ta­ne­ously) they’ll re­move their mask and you’ll have the op­por­tu­nity to speak to them. In do­ing so, you’ll ac­quire a new power. It’s only a brief respite for them, how­ever, as when the clocks re­set they’ll con­tinue to re­live their last day while you strut about the place now able to pick locks, say, or lis­ten in on whis­pered con­ver­sa­tions. There’s a sat­is­fy­ing so­lid­ity to the in­ter­lock­ing events that oc­cur each day. A gun­shot or ring­ing bell can be heard from most ar­eas of the man­sion, and guests will re­act to sounds and events in ways that help to re­in­force the sense of ev­ery­thing be­ing con­nected. The game’s ex­cel­lent mu­sic – which of­ten sounds like Pink Floyd hav­ing a crack at cabaret – is also neatly folded into events, each area boast­ing its own tune that builds to a crescendo at the ex­act mo­ment the guest or guests in that sec­tion die. This plen­ti­ful cross-ref­er­enc­ing, along with the chang­ing light as the day pro­gresses through each four-hour pe­riod, helps to en­sure that the po­ten­tially daunt­ing amount of in­for­ma­tion you must process never be­comes over­whelm­ing.

The ro­bust nature of this in­ter­play is mostly car­ried over to the game’s tech­ni­cal un­der­pin­nings, too. The Sexy Bru­tale looks sump­tu­ous, each room an in­tri­cate, beau­ti­fully-lit dio­rama oc­cu­pied by charm­ing chibi char­ac­ters, but the en­gine oc­ca­sion­ally strug­gles un­der the weight of all the mov­ing parts. It never be­comes a prob­lem, but the game will very oc­ca­sion­ally drop the odd frame or two as you tran­si­tion be­tween rooms. It’s a small price to pay for such a richly re­alised world, how­ever, and never hin­ders your ex­plo­ration – even when, later on, you’re oc­ca­sion­ally asked to move through half a dozen rooms at speed.

The Sexy Bru­tale’s world is a de­light­ful place in which to im­merse your­self. The time-bend­ing, snoop­ing and cutely macabre at­mos­phere re­call bizarre and am­bi­tious Ja­panese gems such as Ma­jora’s Mask and Gre­gory Hor­ror Show, but Cava­lier has im­bued the whole thing with a dis­tinctly Bri­tish flavour that makes the setup feel fresh. As a re­sult, like the mys­te­ri­ous man­sion at its cen­tre, this as­sured ad­ven­ture will draw you into its world, and keep you there.

Pre­vent­ing each mur­der re­quires you to sneak about, spy­ing through key­holes and eaves­drop­ping on con­ver­sa­tions

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