Lavish casino mansion, The Sexy Brutale is packed with no shortage of distractions and amusement. Chipper orchestras play amidst rolling slot machines. Beautiful vocalizations are sung amidst ornate displays of glass work and exotic creature exhibits. Upon first blush, it’s a classy, joyous paradise of pleasure… And yet, something is very, very wrong here.
Whether it’s the unending time loop, the sinister masks on all of the staff and guests, or the tendency of said guests to be murdered in horrific ways by said staff, there is plenty that is suspicious about this establishment! Fortunately, there’s nothing suspect about the quality of The Sexy Brutale, the debuting game development effort of U.K.-based Cavalier Game Studios, developed in collaboration with Spanish-based Rime outfit, Tequila Works. A puzzle/adventure game that’s both highly creative and genuinely brain-busting, The Sexy Brutale is not only a terrific flagship effort for Cavalier Game Studios, but also one of 2017’s most impressive indie games at this point! If you’re partial to satisfying puzzle-solving and well-crafted mystery, this twisted gaming experience absolutely shouldn’t be missed!
The Sexy Brutale is the latest outstanding testament to the potential of the Unity Engine, thanks to its ornate art style and effective isometric presentation. The environments of the titular Sexy Brutale mansion are all diverse and wonderfully detailed, creating a unique gameplay diorama to explore that is both fun and foreboding in equal measure. Likewise, the designs of the masked characters are sublime, resembling playing pieces on a game board, which blends perfectly with the game’s themes of amusement and gratification being contingent on chaos. The visual style of The Sexy Brutale is packed with grimacing charm, making the game immediately eye-catching and immersive right from the first moment.
With a game this visually and technically ambitious being built on the Unity Engine though, you can expect a few performance hiccups here and there. The Sexy Brutale occasionally hiccups and drops frames on all three platforms, especially when moving between areas with a lot of busy environmental rendering. The framerate seems especially unstable in the Xbox One version to boot, which can result in delayed inputs and collision glitches at worst, though even on Microsoft’s console, the bouts of sluggishness are never bad enough to cause more serious issues like crashing. The PC version predictably has the strongest visuals and performance on at least moderately-powered rigs, though for what it’s worth, the console versions do a pretty strong job of keeping pace, even if the PS4 version seems to be a bit less likely to hiccup on you compared to its Xbox One counterpart.
The Sexy Brutale boasts an audio suite that’s just as impressive as its visuals, with much of the game being complemented by an upbeat, jazzy soundtrack. There’s an old-school cabaret vibe throughout much of the music stylings of The Sexy Brutale, which you’ll love to bop and shuffle along with as you play, bringing you into the more jovial elements of the casino atmosphere. Fortunately though, even when the game becomes more horrifying and ghastly, the soundtrack still doesn’t miss a beat, easily switching the mood from upbeat to frightening at a moment’s notice, while keeping the high immersion intact.
The sound effects in The Sexy Brutale are also surprisingly potent and pronounced! The thunderous, imposing sounds of garish murder consistently sound throughout the titular mansion, regardless of your location, offering effective split-second rumblings of the illusion that remind you of the stakes behind your mission. There’s no voice acting in the game, beyond some unspoken vocalizations in the music, but the characters nonetheless feel alive, even as the environment and their violent fates often do the talking for them. The mansion itself feels like just as much a main character as your player character, Lafcadio Boone, providing exceptional sound balancing that keeps the party atmosphere high, without disturbing the weight of the endless bloodbath behind it.
The Sexy Brutale is an experience as delightfully mad as its personalities, putting a creative new spin on both exploration-driven puzzle-solving and interactive character studies, with just a hint of clever stealth. The game casts you in control of Lafcadio Boone, just one of many mysterious masked guests in the Sexy Brutale mansion and casino. Lafcadio’s predicament isn’t as simple as gambling debts or extensive intoxication however. Instead, Lafcadio keeps re-living the same horrible Saturday, Groundhog Day-style, starting from 12:00 P.M. and spanning to 12:00 A.M., with the clock resetting and the day restarting every time it hits midnight. This would already be quite the puzzle on its own, but compounding Lafcadio’s troubles is the fact that the mansion’s staff keeps murdering the guests in various horrific ways, which occurs without fail upon every identical moment within the unending time loop.
Like a masked Bill Murray stuck at an exceptionally bloody Gatsby party, Lafcadio has no choice but to try and break out of the time loop by setting events right, namely by saving the lives of the various guests attending the Sexy Brutale. Players have a limited in-game twelve-hour time limit to explore the Sexy Brutale, gather information from eavesdropping and spying on the mansion’s population, and find both necessary items and secret tricks that could be the key to stopping a murder plot. Each in-game hour takes place around an approximate real-world minute, and should the clock strike midnight, you’re sent back to the last clock you activated with Lafcadio’s trusty pocket watch, awarded to you for use after completing the game’s tutorial segment, which will deposit you in the mansion and casino area proper.
Playing The Sexy Brutale is very simple, with the PC version unfolding via a point-and-click-style interface that has items and action use mapped to a few keyboard inputs, while the console versions have you moving with sticks and employing both actions and items by using the face buttons and shoulder buttons. At the start of the game, you only have the means to move between rooms, investigate and pick up both key items and collectibles such as playing cards and party invitations, and, most crucially of all, listen in on and spy into adjacent rooms that have guests and staff in them. You’ll have to be careful to avoid interfering with events in the timeline too! If Lafcadio is caught in a room with guests or staff, their masks will come to life amidst a hellish red backdrop, gradually draining the life out of Lafcadio until he either flees the room, or wakes up after a time loop reset that drops him back at noon.
As you learn more information and solve more murders, you’ll gain the masks of the guests you save, which will give Lafcadio a gradually growing arsenal of new abilities that make the mansion’s puzzles and exploration gradually more complex. Saving one blind woman for example will give you the ability to hear even the faintest whispers when her mask is used, while saving a reluctant medium will allow you to perceive ghosts in rooms with lit candles. Each new ability opens up more rooms, and more means to stop the deaths of the Sexy Brutale’s guests. It makes for a very smart difficulty curve that feels rewarding without being too punishing, especially since the puzzle solutions are often fairly reasonable, after some light deduction and outside-the-box thinking. There’s a few more outlandish solutions to some especially ornate murders, but these challenges never devolve into the realm of frustrating adventure game moon logic, especially when said solutions can always be logically put together by paying attention to the right staff members and guests.
Learning to spy and eavesdrop is crucial to success in The Sexy Brutale, though even if you mess up, the time loop will always give you another chance to get a puzzle right. The pocket watch allows you to control Lafcadio’s spawn point when the time loop restarts as well, preventing the need for much backtracking if you find yourself stumped by a particularly tricky murder plot. You do lose any items that you’ve collected when time is rewound, though fortunately, any collectibles that you pick up are yours to permanently keep, no matter how many times you restart the clock! These collectibles can also give players some great insight into both the characters and the environments to boot, giving The Sexy Brutale a rich sense of lore that further immerses you in its offbeat world, while potentially also further tipping you off to points of interest that can be used to solve puzzles and proceed the story.
Of course, as a drawback to this design setup, the gameplay progression is ultimately linear, and forces you along a set path of saving guests in a certain order, rather than allowing you to choose which guests to save at your own discretion. Beyond the chance to round up collectibles, which is your main barrier to amassing every achievement/trophy in the game in one playthrough, there isn’t much inherent replay value in The Sexy Brutale. That said though, the 7-8-hour length of the game feels right for the price of $19.99 USD, especially when the adventure is creative and clever enough to revisit every so often for especially avid indie game enthusiasts.
Even if it will be a one-and-done affair for many players however, The Sexy Brutale is nonetheless brilliant as a testament to creative puzzle/adventure game design. Each murder feels satisfying to solve, each secret feels satisfying to learn, and every step forward makes you feel all the more emboldened to see the end of Lafcadio’s struggles. Most importantly though, The Sexy Brutale is a lot of fun for gamers that have a love of puzzles in general, and that’s really the bottom line with its gameplay. It’s some of the most fun you’ll ever have preventing the horrific deaths of hedonists, that’s for sure!
As much as the presentation and gameplay of The Sexy Brutale impress across the board, it also must be stressed that the game’s storyline is quite superb too. Naturally, there is a reason for the bizarre events unfolding around Lafcadio, with the shady secrets of the mansion creeping forth a bit more with every guest that’s saved, and every amendment to the timeline of events that’s enacted. The culminating narrative payoff at the end of the game provides quite the unexpected twist for what’s really going on as well, and I’d be remiss to spoil it, so I’ll simply say that Lafcadio’s own secrets are just as crucial as those of the mansion!
Discovering both is a treat all around, especially when so much clear effort has been put into the game’s cast and lore. Finding secrets and collectibles fills in The Sexy Brutale’s eccentric storytelling canvas with all sorts of enjoyable details, which, as I said, will motivate players all the more to rescue the personalities that are intrinsically tied in with both the mansion and Lafcadio. Even without vocal performances, the characters have extensive backstories and well-defined personalities, even while Lafcadio stands as a silent protagonist, with his own backstory eventually filled in by the game’s especially shocking and fantastic climax. This is an impeccably realized game world all around, and one so rich in story and charm that you’ll find yourself turning back the clock just to hang out in it for a little longer!
The Sexy Brutale may not be the first game to employ a central hook of solving murders on a time loop (Capcom’s highly underrated Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective for Nintendo DS and smartphones was built around the same premise, for example), but the jazzy party-fueled atmosphere, lovably shady characters and remarkably well-told storyline all come together to create one of the finest independent puzzle/adventure games in recent memory. You’ll definitely need a love of solving puzzles to derive enjoyment out of this murderous mansion, but if you love flexing your gaming mind as much as your gaming hands, The Sexy Brutale will positively delight you throughout its 7-8-hour play time.
As with many Unity-developed games, the PC version of The Sexy Brutale is likely the most recommendable of the three, since it sports the strongest visual presentation and steadiest performance on even a mid-range gaming computer, but the gap isn’t all that large if you’re limited to, or actively prefer playing on consoles. You can’t go wrong with either console version of The Sexy Brutale either, since the game is great in general. If you do own both current-gen consoles however, and have no innate preference, the PS4 version of The Sexy Brutale might serve you best, since the Xbox One version has a noticeably less reliable framerate.
Overall though, Cavalier Game Studios certainly came out swinging with their first game release, and the fine presentation enhancements of co-developer, Tequila Works will no doubt get gamers more excited than ever for Tequila Works’ equally promising Rime to release next month! Even a time-looped party has to end eventually, and that’s a shame, but as with any outstanding hosts, I will nonetheless anticipate the next shindig that these fine developers will be arranging!
This review is based on an Xbox One copy of, “The Sexy Brutale”, provided by Tequila Works
- Lively graphics and soundtrack that easily immerses players
- Exceptionally creative puzzles and exploration
- Well-developed storyline with plenty of twists and amusement
- A few performance hiccups here and there
- Not much inherent replay value once you've finished the story