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