Friday, 3 November 2017

The Sexy Brutale - Review

Developer: Cavalier Game Studios/Tequila Works
Publisher: Tequila Works
Platforms: PC, PS4 (version played), Switch, Xbox One 

A puzzle game doesn’t have to be complex or even all that difficult to necessarily be fun. The Sexy Brutale is a perfect example of that.

Messing around with Groundhog Day-time loops is nothing new for video games, and indeed, the basic gameplay in The Sexy Brutale is nothing new or overwhelmingly original, but it is well executed.

The game effectively plays out as a series of “anti-hitman” puzzles, as you go about exploring the Sexy Brutale casino and attempting to undo the mysterious murders that take place there. Characters roam about the casino on a strict timetable, turning up in certain rooms at specific times of day. Given the game’s time travelling concept, you’ll quickly be “killed” (i.e. forced to start the day over) should you linger too long in a room with another guest, or when the entirety of a day has passed.

It makes it so the basic fun of The Sexy Brutale is about pinning down who is where at what time. An early encounter involves stopping two murders at once; a blind singer and her gambling-addicted husband. The singer gets gobbled up by a giant spider, whilst the husband gets poison added to his last round of drinks. It’s your job to make sure the husband doesn’t get poisoned, and also figures out what’s happened to his wife before it’s too late. Like with any game about people being assassinated, whether you be the one stopping the assassination or carrying it out, there’s a weird, morbid thrill about preventing these elaborate and bizarre crimes.

In part, this is thanks to the game’s gorgeous art style. It’s reminiscent of Viewtiful Joe; squat characters with giant heads and exaggerated faces. The casino opens up almost like a little toy set-piece, the camera almost firmly stuck above the action as if you’re hovering above and peering down at it.

Whilst the basic gameplay is a case of working out routes, solving a few puzzles by using item A with item B, there’s a steady trickle of additional abilities rolled out across the game’s svelte runtime to keep things from becoming stale. Each mask you acquire from rescuing one of the casino’s inhabitants imparts a new ability, such as improved hearing or the ability to shatter glass with your voice. This means the casino opens up in a logical fashion, with areas gated off until you’ve acquired a new ability by solving whatever murder is next on your list.

By doing so the developers manage player progression and reduce frustration. Rarely is there an area or encounter where things are too vague or cryptic to solve. The game world expands with each murder prevented, but never growing to the point where it becomes overwhelming.

In fact, if The Sexy Brutale has any major problem it’s perhaps that it’s too simple for too long. Anyone brought up on classic adventure games or survival horror titles will likely find the challenges here surprisingly simple, even when the game gears up for the climax. In one sense, this could be a criticism, but by keeping the game’s mechanics bare bones and instead focusing on the look and style of its world, The Sexy Brutale pitches itself as a game that just about anyone can enjoy, regardless of their knack for puzzles.

That being said, it feels as if something more could have been done with the game’s plot. It’s not terrible, but when the focus of the game is on basic puzzles, and you have an interesting world that has a funky, unique sense of style, the writing would have helped bring it together for the finishing touches.

Instead, the end game is somewhat disappointing. After slow-rolling its weird mystery throughout the rest of the game, the finale quickly tries to ape Undertale without any of the necessary character work or set-up to make that kind of thread pay off. It means that the story, while enjoyable enough, is slight and threadbare; fun whilst it’s unfolding but forgettable once it finishes.

That’s something that could summarise the whole of The Sexy Brutale come to think of it. Everything here works seamlessly; it’s fun, charming, fascinating to play and, hell, simply watch the game world hum along, and it paces itself perfectly through its short runtime. The only gripe is that it ends without much impression, once the credits roll, there’s little reason to return, and its writing and characters don’t leave you with enough impact to feel as if that was the point. A handful of collectibles and notes give completionists something to hunt after, but there’s hardly a great incentive to go rooting around for anything that’s not on the main path.

The Sexy Brutale is a fascinating, intricate little clockwork puzzle of a game. It’s well worth spending time with, just with the acknowledgement that, when it’s all over, it’s a case of having more style than substance.


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