Review: The Sexy Brutale
I love a good murder mystery, but a murder mystery where you can fix the murders is a new one to me. It’s an interesting twist when finding the cause of death is only the beginning, and tracing the trail of no-longer-bodies back to the source is the ultimate goal. But The Sexy Brutale gets by on more than just a simple gameplay twist and a killer title. These murders you’ve got to undo are wrapped up in a twisting plot, an arsenal of mystical powers, and some incredibly charming presentation. It may not be the total package in terms of gameplay, but the heart that this one has is more than enough reason to get caught up in its mysteries.
The Sexy Brutale is an opulent mansion-slash-casino owned and operated by the shadowy Marquis. He’s invited a crowd of his closest friends and associates to join him for an evening of entertaining diversions, and also death. Turns out none of the guests are destined to survive their visit, and the ominously-masked staff are more than happy to help usher their charges on to the afterlife. But one of the guests, Lafcadio Boone, is informed of the situation by a distressingly sanguine woman and given the tools needed to save everyone. You must guide Boone through the halls and chambers of The Sexy Brutale to undo the many grisly murders about to take place there, and luckily for you, you have plenty of time.
After a brief intro chapter that fills you in on the details of your circumstances, you start your mission at noon on the day of the murders. Events proceed all across The Sexy Brutale as they are destined to do, with guests and staff moving about, talking with each other, and being horribly killed. Boone’s special position in the drama does not allow him to interact directly with anyone; the strange masks that everyone wears react very unkindly to his presence in the same room, unless he is hidden. But what Boone can do is peek through doors, hide in closets, watch cameras, and otherwise spy on the events of the mansion to piece together exactly what is going on. All of the character locations and important details are marked on your map, along with a time slider that helpfully keeps track of when things happen where.
This is of key importance, because at the stroke of midnight, everyone is dead and the drama ends. To avoid this, Boone has a helpful pocketwatch that rewinds time back to the start of the day. Therein lies your gameplay loop: figuring out how each murder takes place, and what indirect actions you can take to stay death’s hand. You’ll take on the murders in linear fashion, due to the new powers you get from each solved scenario and the almost metroidvania layout of the mansion. This also leaves the mansion cleanly divided into areas that mostly keep all the clues and relevant tools together. It’s a fun place to explore regardless, due to the chunky, colorful art style, detailed descriptions, and diorama-style presentation of rooms. Plus there are loads of secrets to find, like playing cards and invitations, that help fill in the story cracks.
There are a LOT of story cracks to fill in, mind you. The tale that unfolds as you follow the trail of murders is an intriguing one, but never dips very deeply into the lives of any of the victims. Only the last murder reveals anything about the overall story, and I must admit it’s one of my least favorite narrative twists but it works fine here in retrospect. Picking up the secrets is almost mandatory to reach any deeper connection with the story, but honestly I found the gameplay and core mystery interesting enough to keep me hooked on their own. The early murders are quite easy to solve (I solved the second one entirely by accident, before knowing the causes of death even), but they do get more complex and more dependent on using your time powers and additional abilities smartly by the end.
I didn’t expect to get so wrapped up in The Sexy Brutale, but once I started I was compelled to see it all the way through. I do think a lot of it is the striking presentation and art style, and just as much of it is in the little world you have to explore here. You’re limited in the first hour or two but once you start finding the secret passages and additional powers, the mansion opens up and plumbing its mysteries becomes a whole new level of compelling. Stronger storytelling would have helped in what’s ostensibly an adventure game, but I’m still quite happy with what’s there. I daresay fans of puzzles and mysteries will be pleased with The Sexy Brutale, especially once the mansion’s true eccentricities reveal themselves.