Have you ever checked into a hotel and wondered if it would be the last time that anyone sees you alive? Normally, this would be due to a shady setting or a dilapidated building, but the net result is always the same: extreme paranoia. Now what if you were get the vibe that every single member of the staff was hell-bent on stopping your heart? If it were me, I would be checking out before they had the chance to “fluff my pillows.” So why do the visitors of this week’s new release, The Sexy Brutale, stick around, knowing that death could be around every corner?
A Skipping Record
It’s one thing to be privy to several murders, all of which happen in a 12-hour span. It’s another matter entirely to be forced to relive these horrors time after time. Players find themselves in the collar of geriatric priest, Lafcadio Boone. He has the privilege of reliving countless instances of murder and mayhem on a constant loop. Like a far more violent version of Groundhog Day, Boone must do his best to prevent each of the mansion’s slayings, all while racing against the stroke of midnight.
Players are granted a half day to prevent a single flat line from happening. If they are unsuccessful in doing so, all items that were gathered are taken away and the dial is reset to noon. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. The one snag is that there can never be any physical contact made with the actual attacker while thwarting a homicide. A perfect example of this concept is protecting a character from being shot, early on in the campaign. It turns out that the killer is taking an extremely dated gun that is on display in one of the studies, and using it to dispatch of said victim. In order to successfully intervene, you must take an empty round that can be found on the ground and use it to replace one of the live shells. The result is the attacker firing a blank, which allows the would-be recipient to go full-on Clue on his ass, taking him down with a candlestick in the chapel. Tim Curry would’ve been proud.
After averting a character’s demise, they imbue the player with a new skill. Abilities such as being able to manipulate time, enhanced hearing, or being able to talk to ghosts are all perfect examples of powers that set the foundation for protecting all of the Inn’s residents. These skills can then be chained together to address next assassination attempt. Thankfully, this one-at-a-time approach makes things far more reasonable to digest, because the size and scope of the map can be rather intimidating. Additionally, you will frequently hear things such as gunshots, bells ringing or glass breaking from throughout the hotel. Over time, you will actually learn that these were other events that are happening in real-time.
Back to the Future
Time management is by far the most interesting part of The Sexy Brutale. Did you fail to stop the bloodshed again? Who cares! Just wind back the clock and try it all over again. It’s as simple as that. Only through constant repetition can the answer to each one of these puzzles become clear. Shockingly enough, this premise never really gets old, as long as you’re paying close attention and soaking in the events surrounding each encounter.
Keeping a keen eye to the small details may not necessarily pay dividends in the current scenario. However, eventually events begin intertwine and throwaway elements from a previous puzzle can become the linchpin of a later scene. Light bulb moments like this give players the opportunity to feel like an honest-to-goodness genius. This even happens with certain pieces of seemingly throwaway dialog. They either don’t make any sense or are somewhat unclear at the time, only to completely pay off three missions down the road. The construction of both the writing and in-game scenarios are brilliantly interwoven. Simply put, they don’t make games like this for one good reason: they’re REALLY freaking hard to design!
Though missions are both entertaining and fulfilling for players that are fully invested, I will be the first person to admit that this style of game is an acquired taste. The design hearkens back to the old days of PC adventure games, which many won’t necessarily find appealing in a more modern setting. Design holdovers like countless invisible walls, slightly clunky analog controls and odd logical disconnects all make appearances at some point. I wish they could have found ways to at least come up with better ways of handling these sorts of awkward scenarios. That said, if you were a fan of the titles that inspired it, The Sexy Brutale is an updated take with a nostalgic feel.
A final key element that stood out was the outstanding musical score. There are several different takes on the same base theme, only in presented in different styles. Though it doesn’t reach out and take the focus away from the action, it does a fantastic job of both establishing an underlying tone for each area and heightening tension as the clock ticks ever closer to expiration. I genuinely love when this kind of attention is shown to the more complimentary details. It’s like dumping a bucket full of sprinkles on a hot fudge Sunday. Was it necessary? Probably not. But you better believe that it makes every spoonful taste even more satisfying.
When it comes to love letters to an era of gaming long since passed, you would be hard pressed to find something more heartfelt than The Sexy Brutale. It offers up a modern take on an extremely dated design, all made palatable with the help of time-travel. While this affectionate note may have a few typos, mainly in the form of puzzles with obtuse leaps in logic, it’s hardly enough to detract from the deep-seeded sincerity sprinkled throughout the experience. This is one sexy experience, indeed.
Review code for The Sexy Brutale provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.