The Sexy Brutale
Browsing a list of new releases, I clicked on The Sexy Brutale out of sheer curiosity about what the hell it was. I halfway expected some sort of kinky dating sim. Instead I found the perfect impulse buy for a weekend of losing myself in a finely tuned clockwork world that stuck with me long after I uncovered its mysteries.
The Sexy Brutale is a time traveling game of stumbling across murder and figuring out how to go back and stop it. And I really do mean stumbling. A brief tutorial guides you to save the first victim, working behind the scenes through eavesdropping and stealthy movement. Afterward, you appear in the entrance hall of a mansion with only the names, faces, and death hours of your next targets. Where are they? How do they meet their awful ends? How do you save them? That’s all up to you to find out.
So begins a satisfying loop of reconnaissance – filling in the map, following people around, catching more slices of drama choreographed to its own lush soundtrack fervently building toward that dreaded final act. Murder prevention is about the joy of connecting clues rather than annoyances of execution. The stealth mechanic is forgiving, as is any requisite timing of action. Key items and critical knowledge stay around upon a reset of the game’s single day, as do phases of one particular puzzle that would have otherwise been busy work. As you unravel each piece of the mansion’s daily routine, you witness the sights and sounds of events happening elsewhere – some that you know of, some that are yet to be revealed.
The script serves up a cheeky melange of sophistication and silliness – sound comic timing, classic cultural references, face-slapping puns, and bathroom double entendres. Conversations are engaging even when overheard from some random midpoint as you are generally apt to do. Murderous staff wax snide about the brilliance of their plans and the mundane details of their job. Guests show touches of humanity beneath their cartoon archetypes, and the not quite easily lovable are at least entertaining – especially when snarking about others who arguably deserve it. Even after learning all I needed to solve the puzzles, I went back and tailed everyone from the outset – aided by the ability to scrub through the timeline and see my prior observations of them on the map – just to know them a bit better.
I also loved to explore just because. Traversed with the tactile delight of clopping shoes and weighty button presses, the mansion is rich with detail that informs, entertains, and reinforces themes of decadence and vice and regret. Shortcuts open up as you proceed, encouraging you to retrace your steps and get the most from new abilities gained from the masks of rescued guests. To unlock the expansive codex, room by room, for more history of people and property alike. To dig through the layers and context of details not understood before – especially after the ending, when the entire place opens up to you. To gather up collectibles and unlock a secret final sequence, putting closure to a story explained well enough to the player while leaving room for interpretation.
There are a few hitches in the elegance of this machinery – solutions a touch too simple or generic, limited indication of specific missing collectibles, a climactic sequence that runs out of steam in a long info dump. None of this detracted from the hooks that The Sexy Brutale sank into me. The captivation of its sumptuous and stylized aesthetic. The futile stare from a closet as a charming guest flailed at his predicament yet again while the steady march of bass strings heralded his impending doom. The proclamation of my own stupidity as the missing puzzle piece snapped into its mental place – and the catharsis of finally setting things right.