The Sexy Brutale Review – The House Wins

Death dealer.

Developer: Tequila Works, Cavalier Game Studios
Publisher: Tequila Works
Format: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Released: April 11, 2017
Copy provided by publisher

The Sexy Brutale certainly knows how to get my attention. The name alone was scintillating – promising the devilish and the stylish in a way that had me immediately intrigued. Then I witnessed the visual direction – macabre cartoon violence in a twisted casino populated by eccentric characters with creepy masks.

By the time I found out it was a murder mystery that required observation, deduction, and time travel, I was fully sold.

Calling The Sexy Brutale a murder mystery is perhaps not entirely accurate. You get to see each murder in all its brutal glory, after all. The mystery isn’t so much in the whodunnit but the howstoppit.

Every guest at the casino/hotel mansion is killed off in some gruesome manner, slaughtered mercilessly by the very staff of the Brutale themselves. The gas-mask wearing attendants commit their crimes without remorse but it’s not the player’s job to apprehend them – as aging priest Lafcadio Boone, they’ll need to see how a victim was killed, then reset the clock and attempt to foil the plan from the shadows.

Taking place over the course of a single day that can be forever rewound and repeated akin to Groundhog DayThe Sexy Brutale offers a number of murder scenarios that must be sequentially undone. The first murder – essentially a tutorial – is a very simple matter. A man is shot with a rifle – after the staff checked to make sure it was loaded, of course.

By finding and replacing the bullet with a blank (you can’t just take the bullet out, since the staff checks), the murder plot fails, but you need to see the killing unfold first before working out the crucial flaw in the staff member’s plot.

Naturally, the other murders are more complex affairs and may require multiple Groundhoggings before a solution becomes clear. Players can track the movements of both victims and killers, spying on them through peepholes and eavesdropping to gather clues or find important locations.

For mysterious reasons Boone shouldn’t be at the Sexy Brutale and his anomalous presence cannot be detected – at least traditionally. While he can’t be seen by the human occupants of the mansion, the elaborate facepieces they’re all wearing somehow know he’s there.

Should he occupy the same room as another character, the mask will rise from their head and float toward him, dealing damage upon contact. All activity in the mansion freezes and players will be unable to interact with anything nearby. In short – you’ll stick to the empty rooms unless you’re planning to dash in through one door and out the other.

While it’s very difficult to die in the game (masks move slowly and take a long time to drain Boone’s life), the rule does what it’s meant to – stop players from directly interfering and ensure they can only ever spy and sabotage in secret.

As you may have already guessed, The Sexy Brutale plays out in real-time. Once the day begins, the plan for the murder is set into motion – characters start moving from room to room, talking to each other, and getting into position for a most unfortunate demise.

Boone’s job is to secretly tail both prey and predator, learning their movements (which will be marked on the map and timestamped for review), how the death is dealt, and eventually how to rescue the target.

The Sexy Brutale is a puzzle game, that much is true, but as someone who doesn’t usually get along with puzzles I found myself utterly adoring this one. If you’re not generally a puzzle fan, you may still want to check this out.

Because the puzzles are based in observation, there’s something notably organic about how they’re solved. It can be tricky to put all the pieces together, but with some logical thought and a keen eye, the answers are all there in plain sight and they’re often cunningly simple. Every scenario gives Lafcadio all he needs to know – the trick is gathering and then mentally sorting the information.

And boy are some of the scenarios just utterly brilliant.

Each murder is, in fact, an amazingly scripted sequence with its own unique little story, and while it’s tempting to try and immediately rescue somebody I urge players to watch each death passively at least once – not only will it obviously help provide clues, but the murder sequences themselves are often ingeniously scripted and darkly amusing.

If nothing else, the killing of Tequila Belle is one of the most deliciously vicious sequences I’ve ever seen. It’s dramatic, it’s funny, and it’s chilling, which sums up this game perfectly.

Many puzzles involve the collection and use of items, but Boone cannot keep said items if he resets the day. He does, however, retain any knowledge he’s learned, including passwords or secret passages, and the map is just detailed enough for players to work out where people are and what objects can be manipulated.

Finally, each rescued victim leaves their mask behind, which Boone absorbs for a new power. Such abilities include enhanced hearing and the power the see and talk to ghosts.

So it is that The Sexy Brutale unfolds over a tight couple of hours, players resetting and then racing against the clock to undo nefariousness in beautifully detailed sequences using their own eyeballs and ability to follow logical paths – with a little bit of guesswork here and there.

For those who want to squeeze more running time from the experience, there are 52 playing cards to find, as well as character invitations that reveal more story. The Brutale has its secrets, and players can definitely squeeze more from it if they so desire.

This would have been a terrific game if it had just remained a morbidly comic puzzler, but it’s backed up by evocatively written lore and a story that turns into something all the more incredible as it unfolds. What starts as an entertaining spot of Cluedo But Backwards becomes an enthralling tale of crime, punishment, and guilt.

To say much more would be to spoil it, but by the time the credits rolled I was wide eyed and impressed – especially since what could have been a bullshit finale ended up working surprisingly well.

While no technical powerhouse, The Sexy Brutale‘s character and environment design are top-notch with an exaggerated cartoon feel to offset otherwise barbaric scenes. Aside from some minor loading issues when entering the occasional room, the game runs well and I’ve not encountered glitches or bugs to report, hooray!

The music is fantastic, a suitably swinging soundtrack for the setting, and while there are two lovely vocalized songs, the lack of voice acting overall is a shame.

The story unfolds entirely via text, which is fine enough, but I feel a strong vocal cast could have perfected it. This is not to say the game is actively harmed by text-only dialog – in fact, bad acting would be worse than zero acting – but some of these scenes could have been utterly perfect with the right voices behind them.

I’ve only one other criticism, and that’s the lack of options when manipulating time. As well as resetting the day, you can jump forward to 4pm or 8pm, which is useful for skipping things you don’t need to see again. Unfortunately, that doesn’t quite solve the issue of having to rewatch certain scenes, especially since you’re on a time limit anyway so skipping ahead often feels like an unwise risk.

When the worst I have to offer in terms of negativity is a lack of voice actors and some minor repetition however, it’s clear this is a quality title from a studio firing on all cylinders.

More than that, as The Sexy Brutale opens up and reveals something more complicated at its heart, I have to confess a certain level of awe at just how tightly scripted this whole thing is – pulling together separate but linked stories, playing them out in real-time, then layering a personal and affecting arc tale over it all while still providing brilliant gameplay? Tequila and Cavalier created something special with this one.

Blast it all if it isn’t another impeccable entry in a year swarming with quality already. I fear this one will get lost in the shuffle of big budget games, but make no mistake – The Sexy Brutale deserves as much attention as any HorizonZeldaNioh or Persona.

Rolling the dice on this one is a play I can confidently back.

10/10
Sterling

Maxpower16
Guest
Maxpower16

So what does “Brutale” actually mean? I’ve been trying to Google it for a while now, only having found references to the French and Italian versions of the word “brutal”.

Sperium3000
Guest
Sperium3000

“The music is fantastic, a suitably swinging soundtrack for the setting, and while there are two lovely vocalized songs, the lack of voice acting overall is a shame.” But you know, I argue that there are certain games where the lack of voice acting is a strenght, specially because not all voice acting is made equal, you can always have stinkers. Like, the fact that every character’s voice in, say, Don’t Starve, is represented by a different musical instrument gives that game an unique charm. But of course, it’s a case by case thing. I’m not trying to discredit what… Read more »

Muddy Scarecrow
Guest
Muddy Scarecrow

And this is exactly why Digital Homicide can go get fucked by a cactus. They sneeringly tried to claim that Jim is actively against indie games and wants to see them all fail. And yet if it weren’t for Jim I wouldn’t even know about two very amazing indie games, the first being Undertale. No joke, his review was the very first I’d ever heard of that game. So…yeah. Gonna check this one out and I expect to love it. You had me at “time travel murder thriller” because this sounds like a spiritual successor to Ghost Trick. Edit: AND… Read more »

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

As to the voice acting thing, do you think that was strictly a budgetary limitation, or did they perhaps want to avoid scenes that moved at a specific pace due to things being on a timer? I haven’t played it yet, so perhaps the question is less applicable than it seems, but I do find it curious that what sounds like an old lucasarts game in a lot of ways wouldn’t have VO to support the story.

GrantimusMaximus
Guest

Wow, I’ve never heard of this. This just jumped on my steam wishlist.

Sperium3000
Guest
Sperium3000

Why couldn’t have this one launched free through PS Plus instead of god damn Drawn To Death?

Andrzej Sugier
Guest
Andrzej Sugier

Jim, have you forgotten Nier already?…

Cameron Ward
Guest
Cameron Ward

how fast does the timer move? I think that might be my only hesitation in terms of purchasing this game. been keeping my eye on it for awhile

Silvershock
Guest
Silvershock

I’m not sure if I’ve read a review where you’ve given out a 10 before, but I am gratified that your top rating is “Sterling”.

eljueta
Guest
eljueta

OMG BETTER THAN ZELDOR

Ralph Panebianco
Guest
Ralph Panebianco

While I don’t think anyone can take any of your scores seriously again after your Zelda review, your text is typically worthwhile. I’ll check this one out.

Jack Trevor
Guest
Jack Trevor

Sounds like Ghost Trick. I’ll check it out considering this sounds interesting.

dfx7
Guest
dfx7

The last time I instantly went into a game after reading your review was Undertale. And that game is one of my top ten favorites of all time.

So I’m giving this a shot.

mrhair
Guest
mrhair

You’re missing the info at the top of the review (publisher, platforms, etc).

Also, this game really sounds like my sort of thing; I just wish it wasn’t coming out at about the same time as, like, five other games that also sound like my sort of thing.

professorrev
Guest
professorrev

This sounds like 999 and Virtues Last Reward found a cabin in the woods and put some blankets down.

Even Luck
Guest
Even Luck

Whoa this sounds like Ghost Trick by mental people. That’s going on the wish list.

goodbyejojo
Guest
goodbyejojo

caught that killer7 reference

Lewis Cowen
Guest
Lewis Cowen

Gonna need to check this out. Looks fun.

bimmyz
Guest
bimmyz

*grabbing popcorn and inb4 score bait trolls

Eirik Hafskjold
Guest

I am going to buy this without even looking at the game now, Jim. I am going to go in totally blind with no hype or knowledge of the game (other than your review) and trust your judgement. It will be fun to see if you just found me a masterpiece.

Dave Crowe
Guest
Dave Crowe

I saw an Xbox vid mention the game the other day and it intrigued me through the visuals initially. Glad to hear there is more to it than that – will pick it up.

febLey
Guest
febLey

I’m pretty sure you gave 10/10, because this game has masks x)

Coleman
Guest

Glad you liked it Jim, this was definitely a stand out games at Rezzed this year.

irfanf (IrfanF)
Guest
irfanf (IrfanF)

“yes that score is genuine”
yeah either its a 0 or a 10

Kamakazie
Guest
Kamakazie

Well, here’s something I’d never heard of before. Sounds really interesting.

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