During my time with The Sexy Brutale I heard others playing the game bringing up similarities to Groundhog Day, Majora’s Mask and even The Clue. However, what stood out to me was how much The Sexy Brutale reminded me of my time playing last year’s Hitman reboot. My preferred way of playing Hitman is setting up a chain of events that leads to the target’s death, while trying to stay as far as possible from anyone who might get suspicious. There’s an odd satisfaction in staying in the shadows and striking from afar, feeling almost like a puppet master. And for me, The Sexy Brutale scratches a similar itch.
You’re Lafcadio Boone, a guest at an eccentric Marquis’ mansion. Somehow things have gone horribly wrong, and you wake up in the library of the mansion with a mask on your face. A long haired lady emerges from a pool of blood on the ground, gives you a pocketwatch with time-rewinding powers, and asks you to save the guests in the mansion, who are being killed off by the mansion staff. For how slim the plot details are, the set-up is really intriguing.
You’re not allowed to be in the same room as the guests or the mansion staff, all of whom are wearing their own unique masks. Following the guests and the folks out to kill them helps you learn their daily pattern. Since you can’t be in the same room as them, you’ll be often peeking through keyholes to overhear conversations, observing their actions, and even witnessing the act of bloody murder. You then put all of the obtained information to use in stopping the guest from meeting his or her demise. See what I meant about that Hitman connection. Where in Hitman, I stayed afar, observed and used alternative ways to kill my targets, in The Sexy Brutale, I was doing the same in order to save the guests.
As you save each guest, you acquire some new ability from them, such as being able to rewind time further back or be more perceptive and hear whispered conversations more clearly. This serves the Metroidvanian (is that the word?) purpose of getting you access to areas which were locked before, thus allowing you to go further into the mansion and save more guests. However, there’s a catch. The game’s clock resets after a guest dies or is saved. Even if the guest has been saved, as you start the day again, they’ll still meet the same end again as you set about saving the next guest. It’s fascinating to hear the sound of a gunshot, the shattering of glass, and so on, as you realize someone has died while you were figuring out the means to save someone else. It is an almost surreal experience as you see those you’ve helped before, and benefited from doing so, meeting an untimely and rather brutal death.
The game presents you with an isometric view, with only one room visible at any given moment. You can investigate the room, discover more details about the various paraphernalia lying about, collect cards (oh, all the staff have names of cards assigned to them, it’s like a code), pick up items that can come in handy, and even interact with objects. At times peeking through a keyhole, you can see guests opening secret entrances. After they have gone through, you can follow them, leading into a new area of the map. Sometimes you’ll need items you’ve collected elsewhere to grant you access to new areas, like a key. Every time the clock resets, you’ll lose all the items you’ve collected, so remembering their locations and where to use them is essential in getting to your objective in stipulated time.
Not being able to be in the same room as others might seem like a forced restriction, but it merges with the overall gameplay and strategy rather well. The masks other guests wear is governed by some evil entity (entities?), and when they’re in the same room as you, time comes to a halt, and your only option is to leave the room. Items cannot be interacted with, and of course, neither can the guests.
At times you’ll be tasked with saving a couple guests, who are somehow linked to each other. These were some of my favorite, as it’s even more of a challenge to piece together the means of saving the target, and bringing it to, for the lack of a better word, execution. You really feel like you are weaving together an interconnected web of events, and the satisfaction of having it all fall in to place is immense.
As you explore more rooms, they all remain revealed on your map, and as the more you follow the killer(s), their locations also are indicated on the map. You will also need to discover the location of the next guest/target you need to save, which adds to the overall sense of urgency. The guests themselves are rather personable, and each stand out among others. They may not be the best people, but no one deserves to be killed in cold blood, right?
The mansion itself is quite the puzzler, with secret rooms and passages riddling its entirety. Different section have their unique aesthetic, and everything is presented in an almost cartoonish and very colorful style.
The overall plot stays strong till the end, though the very end might be subject to debate. For me, however, the plot was only the draw at the very start. The overall premise for the gameplay, how it blended new ideas in, searching for the next guest to save, and learning their routine, discovering new secrets in the mansion, and so much more kept me gleefully playing for hours on end. Even when I was feeling lost or confused about how to save a particular guest, I somehow never felt stuck. Restarting the day only took a few seconds, and the game always seemed to feed me new information every time I sought it.
The Sexy Brutale definitely needs patience, but it rewards it well, and never left me wanting. Even in the most gruesome of deaths, the upbeat music had me smiling and thinking – Hey, there’s always the next day. Though in the meantime, RIP guests.