A Flawed Masterpiece, an adventure game built around the idea to rewind a set period of time like Majora’s Mask. The game lacks general polishing but the core mechanic, story, aesthetics and music scores are great — the game could have been greater, should the map and abilities have been fully utilized.
In the Sexy Brutale, time’s of the essence…
Rewinding a set period of time is novel but not really a new idea. On screen we have seen movies such as Groundhog Day, Run Lola Run and recently Edge of Tomorrow — there’s even one X-Files episode built around this idea (S06E14). However, in video games, it’s still rather innovative and refreshing, if executed correctly, i.e. Majora’s Mask, but we don’t see good games built around this mechanic often — by deliberately mentioning mechanic, I exclude games merely featuring a time travel or time loop story. And now, we have the Sexy Brutale:
In the Sexy Brutale, you relive one day until you put an end to it. The masquerade is a trap, the pocket watch the key. The action of guests and staff the puzzle, and to preserve life your goal. Each action they perform is assigned to a specific time, making their death inevitable — that is, until you, Lafcadio, intervene and break the cycle of timed tragedy. And that, is the core gameplay: you stalk them (you are not allowed to confront anyone face to face) and study their death. Each time you fail, the day starts over, until you manage to save them, which in turn unlocks new abilities and areas to further your show in that looping Saturday, in that haunted mansion — until you discover the truth buried underneath.
This mechanic combined with the heartily designed mansion — with its every nook and cranny full of exquisite details — brings forth a wondrous experience. Throughout the game you are growing increasingly familiar with the corridors, halls and chambers, unearthing the story behind them and the guests. Which leads to…
Its great narrative. At first, you are going to be confused. Names you don’t know seem to be randomly popping out, characters talking about things that are completely irrelevant — you can’t even portray them, everything is arbitrarily and randomly throw at you. However, as you progress along the story, things start to make sense, suddenly you can understand perfectly what Mr. A is talking about, why are Ms. B and Mr. C having a conversation concerning Ms. D, why is Mr. E doing this at that time. With tons of flavor text that do absolutely nothing to the gameplay but world building, the Sexy Brutale and its guests just seem so vivid. That being said, the main plot is nice too, though they didn’t choose the most subtle way to conclude the story, the ending is still impressive and left me with satisfaction.
Aside from gameplay and narrative, the game offers wonderful and consistent aesthetics, which enhance the sense of extravaganza and eerieness of the mansion, and beautiful music scores that corresponding to the current location, time and event. The exposition is amazing as well: fixed camera angles and the way you peek through doors allowed developers to decide not only what you can see, but also how you see them, delivering some spectacular scenes. Sound effects are also well designed and placed: after several rewinds, you will know which sound indicates what event: A gunshot around 4 o’clock means the death of Mr. A; bell tolls for the untimely demise of Ms. B.
But alas! The game is far from perfect. Although the sound design is informative and decent, it can be obnoxious at times. While the map design is exquisite, each “mission” is rather segmented, rarely demanding you to traverse the map, leaving the abilities and areas a bit underwhelming and not fully utilized, and thus the puzzles are often too easy: there was even once I just stumbled upon the solution without realizing it. Level design just ceases to improve when there’s plenty of room for the game to be great.
I hate to admit, but the game could really use some time to work on general polishing. Wonky UI, jerky control, awkward animations and occasional frame rate shutter just give the game — an attentively designed and produced game — a sense of cheapness. That said, I do cherish my experience playing the Sexy Brutale.
Now for something completely irrelevant. You may stop reading and move towards the next review if you haven’t made your decision.
1. The game is short. I beat it in 6 hours and I believe that’s average, which makes its $20 price a bit steep. But I also believe that play time does not necessarily justify the price; experience does. For those who thinks every dollar should provide 2~3 hours of play time, think about how bland checklisty sandboxes are.
2. Oh boy, though flawed, this game should have totally been a bigger shot, but two things happened. Firstly, for the love of god Tequila Works is so bad at marketing. Not the notorious way of bad, but the awkward way and it’s almost making me sad. I think it’s safe to say it beats every other indie sharing the same release time, making it eligible to be the game of the day. Well, surprise madafaka, out of nowhere then came Bayonetta PC, with not even the slightest hint, she just charged into the battlefield and smashed everything down to pieces. I’m not saying Bayo is a bad game — it’s great, it’s one of the best action games PC has to offer. It’s just not very honorable for a 3A game (aight, a remake of a 3A game) from a major publisher such as SEGA to launch a sudden assault. Indie games avoid overlapping their release date with 3As for a reason, given that major publishers usually have the basic decency to disclose release dates. Fingers crossed, I hope RiME have better luck — if it does have the quality in the first place.
The game is available on Steam.