The Sexy Brutale
Review by Matt Herron
Classic Adventure Game Feel with Fresh New Mechanics Makes for a Great Game Experience
In recent days Rime has been getting a lot of headlines with its bizarre DRM information, but Spanish developer Tequila Works has another game out recently that deserves to be talked about for anyone with a nostalgia for the classic adventure games of Lucasarts and Sierra – The Sexy Brutale. In a lot of ways The Sexy Brutale manages to recapture that classic adventure game style without sacrificing on having fresh-feeling mechanics and aesthetics, making it less of an homage to the old school and more of a recapturing of how those games felt the first time you played them.
The premise of the game is what originally reeled me in – it takes place over the course of 12 hours in the titular high-class casino, during which time all the guests at the hotel are murdered. Your character, a much-liked priest with a mysterious past, is awoken from reliving his death endlessly by a bloody apparition tasking him with discovering the cause of all the deaths and ultimately preventing them, which he can do with the aid of a magical pocket watch that allows him to relive the final 12 hours of the casino over and over again.
This premise leads to a very cool game experience, where the player can voyeuristically observe gruesome (and very creative deaths) keeping an eye out for ways in which they can intervene next time. It’s the ultimate expression of a game’s writer having their cake and eating it too – all the scenes in which the hero fails to save his charge aren’t just in there as a fail state, they are sure to be seen by every player. No doubt this helped to inspire some of the best dialogue and character development I have ever seen in a video game.
In a lot of recent games that I’ve been playing I’ve noticed that the once-novel “detective mode” (named after the pioneering Batman: Arkham games) has become de rigueur for any game that involves the player picking up on clues – perhaps as a response to player dissatisfaction with pixel hunting. However, The Sexy Brutale provides a refreshing change of pace, where all character interactions are viewed through keyholes with no special magic that allows you to separate clues from flavor, heightening the player’s interaction with the setting in a way that a lot of mystery games fail to do. The fact that objects that can be interacted with are always highlighted with a circle around them certainly helps as well.
It’s not often that I feel compelled to get 100% of the achievements in a game – my typical gaming experience is focused on ingesting the story and any medals I achieve are incidental – but The Sexy Brutale presents such an intriguing mystery that the achievements are more than just scoring more points – they offer further insight into what is going on.
The game isn’t without its faults, including the frustratingly slow plodding of the player character through the halls that you have explored enough to know that they hold no new secrets. Necessary to the functionality of the time mechanic in the game is that it takes a predictable amount of time for you to get from one room to another, so a run or fast travel option isn’t available, but after your 40th trip from the Heaven and Hell Staircase to the Spider Room you really start to miss it. Still, it gives you the chance to admire the beautifully designed environments and sprites that lend to the overall turn-of-the-century aesthetic.
When the full truth of the story finally reveals itself, the twist is not terribly surprising, but it does present the player with a lot to think about concerning the nature of death and love, which I think is a triumph. It’s not often that a game can truly incite a player to ask themselves philosophical questions with a final-moments reveal.
For those like me with a love of old standards like Loom and Monkey Island, I cannot recommend The Sexy Brutale highly enough – the game isn’t a huge time commitment (I finished it in about 7 hours) and is certain to put a smile on your face. Even if you haven’t yet dipped your toe into mystery adventure games, The Sexy Brutale is a great example to start with.