Reginald Sixpence knew his murderer, or at least he thought he did. Peering through the decorated keyhole of an adjoining room, I observed that his would-be killer was just out of sight, audibly threatening the older man with a menacing, though well-spoken tone before the loud crack of gunfire would see the elderly gentleman slumped to the floor in a pool of his own plasma.
This wouldn’t be the last time that Reginald would die either, as time would then fall back on itself and allow me to bear witness to the dirty deed time and time again. The difference being, that with each fresh repeat of the day, I would be free to influence events to create a different end result, such as replacing the live ammo in the gun with a blank round before it is fired, for example. This is The Sexy Brutale, and it’s the time-travelling, murder mystery game that you never knew you wanted for your PS4.
A stylish puzzler bursting with imagination
At its most reductive, The Sexy Brutale feels like a gloriously unholy marriage of Groundhog Day, Cluedo and the Secret of Monkey Island; the improbable coalescent bonding of these disparate influences combining to make a puzzler that is, by this author’s reckoning at least, utterly unique on Sony’s home console.
Viewing the action from a lofty third-person perspective, players control a mischievous clergyman (spectacularly named ‘Lafcadio Boone’ no less) who is prompted by a bloody spirit to investigate the titular Sexy Brutale mansion in an attempt to uncover why the well-spoken denizens of the place are offing the guests, one after another, in increasingly bizarre ways. Making the proceedings even more stranger still is that all of the guests, Laffy included, have decided to go full-masquerade and adorned themselves with a variety of different masks, with each one bestowing the wearer with a unique ability.
When things kick off at the beginning of the game, Lafcadio is not without a trick up his digital sleeve either, as he immediately gains access to a broken pocket watch that allows him to turn back the clock and re-experience the events of the day once more in an effort to keep the victims of The Sexy Brutale attached to their mortal coil. Ostensibly a puzzler at heart, there’s no combat whatsoever in The Sexy Brutale, but rather you progress through the game by examining objects in the environment, eavesdropping on conversations for clues and using items where they need to be used – so there’s your Secret of Monkey Island comparison pretty much in a nutshell for those of you keeping track.
Where things get a little more complicated, is that while you can enter the same room as the other occupants of the Sexy Brutale for a limited time (Laffy starts taking damage if other folks make contact), you are unable to interact with anything in that location, forcing you to peek through the keyhole of an adjacent room, or hide in the nearest closet to plan your next move from afar as you wait for the room to empty out. In this sense, The Sexy Brutale feels rather like a stealth puzzler, but without any of the punishing harshness that games belonging to that genre often impose upon the player.
Where The Sexy Brutale becomes more than sum of its parts however, is in how it cleverly spurs the player on to focus on the steps that lead to the murder of whichever character must be saved at the time. In all cases it’s vital that the player not just follows the victim, and tracks their activities, but also those of the would-be murderer too, with eavesdropping on conversations perhaps revealing a key code to get into a locked room, or, observe a hidden passage that lurks behind a painting. Solving each murder before they happen brings a special kind of elation too, almost like you’re the member of some sort of nutty ‘Pre-Crime’ unit from Minority Report, freeing the denizens of The Sexy Brutale from the murderous nightmarish time-loop that they find themselves in before they end up, well, murdered.
In addition to the overwhelming sense of satisfaction that you get for saving each guest of The Sexy Brutale, Lafcadio also gains the masks that they were wearing too and absorbing the abilities they bestow in order to reach previously inaccessible areas. Saving antique dealer Willow Blue for instance, allows players to communicate with the numerous ghosts who roam the halls of the Sexy Brutale; not only providing some often additional hilarious dialog, but also potentially yielding clues to reaching a brand new area and thus bringing the player that much closer to preventing the next murder.
If there is one complaint about the various conundrums in The Sexy Brutale it’s that, while they are undeniably creative, there is only ever really one way to solve them. This is a slightly disappointing revelation given the huge potential that the time manipulation mechanic brings when it comes to capturing the imagination of the player. Hardly a missed opportunity then, but it’s difficult to not be wistful at what could have been, all the same.
Visually striking with great writing but over too quickly
Beyond the substantial lure of its cleverly constructed puzzles, The Sexy Brutale also enthrals with its witty writing and sumptuous audiovisual presentation. In terms of the latter, the character models especially are almost criminally adorable, appearing as if they have escaped from an artisan crafted toy house; boasting tiny little flourishes of animation that lend both character and nuanced mannerisms where other developers might not have been so artistically generous.
Elsewhere, the environment of The Sexy Brutale itself, this sprawling, almost grotesquely proportioned structure that looks like it has swallowed a hotel, a casino and a bar with room for more, evokes the bold style of the Roaring Twenties beautifully, as crimson leather seats and ostentatious cabaret decor give way to energetic jazz serenades that fully immerse you in its extravagant ode to that glamorous period.
As on point as the audiovisual presentation is (and it is horrendously on point), the quality of the writing is right up there too. Boasting sharp and funny humour that is equal parts reminiscent of Ron Gilbert’s point and click adventure games as well as television works such as Ben Elton’s Blackadder, the Britishness of United Kingdom based Cavalier Game Studios simply oozes through every digital pore as the narrative reliably veers towards the consistently humorous and frequently entertaining.
Out of everything, the biggest complaint that I can level at The Sexy Brutale is that there just isn’t enough of it. Outside of saving all the guests, a feat which will take you between four and seven hours depending on how fast your brain works, there just isn’t much to do other than collecting cards and scooping up the various party invitations that are dotted around the building. While it lasts however, The Sexy Brutale stands as a wonderfully charismatic and intriguing puzzler that PS4 owners really shouldn’t miss out on.
With its masterfully implemented Groundhog Day puzzler beats and an overabundance of style, both written and visual, The Sexy Brutale is a fresh and unique effort quite unlike anything else on PS4; I just simply wish there was more of it.
Regardless, by the end of it all I was grinning like an absolute fool, from ear-to-ear, and I think, unless you have an unfortunate and troubling aversion to witty writing and well-constructed puzzles, you probably will be too. This is the time-travelling puzzle game you never knew you wanted.
The Sexy Brutale review code provided by the publisher.