The Sexy Brutale is the Groundhog Day of Murders with One Important Flaw
WTF is The Sexy Brutale?
The Sexy Brutale is a short “puzzle adventure” game from Tequila Works released in April, 2017. In this game, players take on the role of Boone, a guest at a weird-ass party where all of the other guests are about to get murdered. For reasons that only become clear in the story’s final act, Boone has the power to loop through time and replay the last twelve hours over and over again, allowing him to spy on the guests, learn their secrets, and prevent their murders.
The game is divided into levels, and each level consists of snooping around one of the guests until Boone figures out which actions to take at which specific times to save the guest from getting murdered, all without anyone knowing he’s there. This involves things like hiding in closets, peering through keyholes, eavesdropping, and casting a voodoo spell on fish.
Each successfully-saved guest rewards Boone by giving him a mask that allows him to absorb new powers and travel to new locations in the mansion the party’s taking place in.
As the game progresses, the mystery of why this party even exists comes to the fore, and Boone is forced to make a heavy choice.
It’s fun, but it doesn’t deliver the number one thing I expected
I really enjoyed The Sexy Brutale, but my overall reaction is dominated by one fact. When I’m told the story involves looping through time to stop a series of murders, my expectation is that, at some point, I will have to complete a time loop where I stop all of the murders. That’s the point of how time works. If the day restarts, the people I just saved are still about to get killed, so, after a certain point, I should have to run through the whole day and save everyone.
This isn’t true in The Sexy Brutale. There’s a story reason that eventually explains why it isn’t true, but my hunch is that the meta reason it’s not true is because it was outside the scope of what the game developers could offer. Up until the final level, the game is structured in a very rigid and consistent way where you are assigned a person to save, no one else matters besides that person, and saving that person lets you progress to the next level. In fact, you’re actually penalized for saving other people again, even if the only reason you wanted to save them was to get them to leave the room (guy who sits at the blackjack table all day, I’m looking at you).
It’s kind of a letdown, and it’s symptomatic of a larger trend where the game seems constrained by limitations on the development side – which is understandable, but still really conspicuous.
The gameplay is also not super involved
So, the puzzles in The Sexy Brutale are not exceptionally hard. There’s actually a pretty iron-clad strategy you can use to get through each level, which is to locate and follow the person getting killed and then locate and follow the person who kills them and then enact whatever obvious solution presents itself based on that intel. It’s more complex than that, but just barely.
This is another instance where the game probably would have been more fun if it were more complicated, but being more complicated would have made it a lot more difficult to program and design. Because the levels are so streamlined, and your action is limited to the particular place and set of characters you’ve been assigned to, the field of possible solutions in front of you is pretty small. If the interactions between the different groups of characters and sets of events were more dynamic, it would have been more challenging.
It gets an A for atmosphere, though
One of the really good things The Sexy Brutale has going for it is atmosphere. It’s telling a very dark story – very, very dark, as the ending approaches – but it does it in such a stylized way that it feels pretty fun. The guests are killed through a combination of mundane and highly unusual means, and the mask-wearing characters are drawn and animated in a way that feels light and whimsical, given the circumstances.
This is not like Tomb Raider where failure means watching somebody get rammed to death with spikes. The expectation of The Sexy Brutale is that you have to watch these people get killed a lot and, while that feels suspenseful sometimes, it’s done within the safety of knowing that you can restart the day to save them and that you’re not about to be assaulted by a bloody, traumatizing sight.
The use of sound is another thing the game does really well. Because the levels take place in different locations, and because we don’t play the same scenes again and again, most of the cues we get to remind us the day is repeating are auditory. The same music starts up again at the start of each day. The same PA announcement plays. In the distance, we can hear gunshots, songs, chimes, and explosions that correspond with events happening in other story lines around the mansion and, when we find out where the sounds come from, there’s a feeling of recognition.
Even though the story stays light at the beginning, there’s a lot of symbolism along the way that gradually prepares us for the super dark turn it’s going to take. It’s cute that the characters wear masks, but also kind of creepy. The servants who have it in for everyone emerge through doorways made of fire. There’s a large, ornate staircase that symbolizes heaven and hell.
Even if the game seemed way too easy and simple at first, I was drawn into the story and I wanted to understand what was going on. I wanted to know what all the hints were getting at. I had the gathering sense that I knew the answer, but I needed confirmation.
That’s a really good mystery.
In conclusion, it told a good story, but wasn’t an excellent game
I prioritize hearing a good story above playing an excellent game, so I feel warmly toward The Sexy Brutale, because the story it told was better than I ever expected to get. At the same time, my going in position was that I was really interested in the mechanics of a game where the day repeats. And, not having ever played Majora’s Mask, my suspicion is that this game still owes a lot to Majora’s Mask in that respect.
However, when you get right down to it, The Sexy Brutale is not a repeating day game – and my issue with it is more that the way it’s framed, and positioned, and marketed, makes it seem like it’s going to be something its not. This is actually a very linear game where the story happens to involve a character who travels through time and occasionally sees the same events replay again. It’s not bad for what it is, but it’s also not what I thought I was promised.
I would still be very interested in playing a repeating day game that involves a murder mystery. My sense is, though, that that would be a lot harder to develop.