Reginald Sixpence totters around the Chapel, searching for something hidden in the Marquis’s safe. A few rooms over, one of the manor’s servants shuffles around, an act that would be innocent enough if not for the hideous gas masks he wears, or for the simple fact that in a few hours he’s going to pick up the antique hunting rifle and murder Sixpence. You know this because you, Lafcadio Boone, have seen it all before, and the task set before you in The Sexy Brutale is to now figure out a way to stop it.
Maybe you’ve come across this Groundhog Day-like gambit before in a video game (see Majora’s Mask and Ghost Trick), but the eerie intimacy of The Sexy Brutale’s mansion and the game’s rapid pace—a 12-hour in-game time loop that passes in 10 minutes—makes the conceit feel fresh. Each discrete area of the two-story manor has its own decor and atmosphere, from a set of security cameras in the casino to a live rehearsal in the music room. And the scenarios of each are equally unique: Willow Blue, who haunts the long hallways of the guest rooms is driven by some unseen force to commit suicide, whereas two thieves find that they’re the evening’s entertainment after they become trapped in an on-stage deathtrap.
Sadly, while The Sexy Brutale satisfyingly ties all of these events together in its plot, the gameplay feels repetitive. The story understandingly loops, but the mechanics are frustratingly fixed, never really changing from those first 30 minutes. Each puzzle boils down to the act of spying on the various guests, piecing together the reasons for their death, and then figuring out the one key change that will alter their fates. Stealth is ostensibly required, as a weird, game-ending paradox occurs if Lafcadio directly crosses paths with anyone else, but this mechanic is so laxly enforced that it’s more of an annoyance than a challenge. Ultimately, the first half of any puzzle is just a lot of trial-and-error stumbling about while the second half is just a matter of executing all of the correct—and rarely too complicated—steps in time.
The Sexy Brutale’s design suggests that it didn’t have to be this way. Because Lafcadio gains a new power from each guest he rescues (the power to shatter glass, to pick locks, to travel through mirrors), the puzzles could have grown deliriously complex. But these abilities are used only to cordon off parts of the manor and as an excuse to waste time backtracking in search of collectible, superfluous playing cards, each of which reveals a little more about the various rooms and guests. Instead of serving to unravel some larger truth, these cards only serve to further break down the manor into disconnected rooms. The in-game map similarly disappoints; it very neatly records the path each guest takes through the house, but because it never requires players to use that information, it doesn’t bring the game together so much as it emphasizes the vast separation between sequences.
There’s no climax, just a series of loose vignettes, connected only by the subtle changes in the environment (flickering lights, shattering glass) that acknowledge the murders occurring elsewhere. That, in the end, is what undoes the game: the future is the past, and the action is never present.
Developer: Tequila Works; Release Date: April 12, 2017; Reviewed on: PS4.