In this isometric puzzler from Tequila Works, it’s time to die.
Somewhere in England, a casino operates in the grounds of an old stately mansion. Inside, people are being systematically murdered. Lafcadio Boone looks on. He’s not able to interfere; at least, not directly. All he can do is listen, watch, and remember. Tomorrow it will happen all over again, and every day thereafter, until he works out how to change something that can save them.
The casino is called The Sexy Brutale. If efficient and clockwork slaughter is sexy, the place lives up to its name. Its clientele is an eclectic bunch, each of them concealing a mystery as much behind their grisly deaths as their masquerade masks. In darkened rooms, one by one, they are clinically dispatched by the casino’s sinister employees. Listening through walls and spying through keyholes, Boone pieces together their movements and their motivations.
Controlling Boone from an isometric viewpoint, the casino’s grand rooms are easy to parse. While each is adorned with rich accoutrements as you’d expect, the bare function of the space is absolutely clear. Items of interactive scenery display relevant action prompts, be it to open doors or pull levers. Some items also provide exposition (book cases, for example). The core design prioritises accessibility, allowing Boone to focus on people and events without navigation getting in the way.
That is until some peculiar technical issues rear their head, and they manifest whenever Boone moves between rooms. Opening doors is a perpetual frustration that usually requires 3 or 4 button presses to register. Likewise, peering through keyholes can be unreliable, wasting valuable seconds of observation as events unfold on the other side of the door. I thought these problems would be the killer blow to The Sexy Brutale’s appeal, but it‘s telling that I got over it pretty quickly.
When you do manage to look through a keyhole, it’s with a funnelled viewpoint that can be directed to follow the room’s occupants and to observe their actions. Once seen, those movements are memorised on a map. A unique feature of this map is the ability for time to be replayed, allowing you to plan your own movements for tomorrow’s attempt. Key events leave a more permanent mark on the map, such as the location of hidden corridors talked about and overheard.
This sounds like it should be an unmanageable mess, but the map and the events that play out within it are so cleverly designed that overlapping events are masterfully distilled into a linear sequence of discovery. Solve one murder, and access is granted to the location of the next. As you progress to new areas of the casino, you still have full access to the places you’ve been. Events you’re done with continue to play out as they did before your intervention, building a picture in your mind of the overarching, sinister plan behind these murders.
Progress to each new area is usually granted by seemingly supernatural masks, discarded by the casino’s customers after you have saved them. They might allow locks to be opens, distant conversations to be heard or even let Boone converse with spirits. Together with the game’s time motif, there’s more than a little inspiration from Majora’s Mask here. That’s no criticism; The Sexy Brutale at least borrows an idea that nobody is using, right?
Beyond the clever game design, the dark comedic tone of the narrative and the tragic events that unfold are undeniably compelling. The revelations in The Sexy Brutale’s final moments are at once awesome and heart-breaking, leaving you wanting to hear more about this mansion and its terrible past. A series of collectibles litter the mansion and offer you just that, each revealing more detail about the building once found (either before or after the main game is done).
I didn’t expect to enjoy The Sexy Brutale as much as I did. From hearing about it, even from initially playing it (in respect of those loading issues), I didn’t think I would find much here to satisfy me. But this is a game all about looking deeper. Persist for just a little while, and the confident, grand design of this game will seduce just as readily as its curious mansion. And if you aren’t convinced today? Just read this again tomorrow.
The Sexy Brutale was provided to us by Xbox via a download code for Xbox One.