Since the beginning of time, man has struggled to differentiate between magic and illusion. As due to the extensive amount of trickery applied to both, one could never be certain whether what he has just seen was just a trick, or a true miracle of biblical proportions. And while in the yearly years he has struggled to assimilate to the fact that everything presented to him by a ‘magician’ is nothing but a trick – he has ultimately learned that magic, in its purest form, simply doesn’t exist.
It has taken centuries and countless atrocities such as the infamous Salem Trails, for one to realise that magic is simply not real, and all that man has ever witnessed was just an illusion. But in between the first witch burning in developing Europe, and the final Isle of Wight trail in 19th century, there existed a period where magic was ‘’real’’. And while the period of cultural enlightenment has resulted in abolition of magic’s existence, nobody could deny all these years where many have taken it for granted. And the recently re-released The Sexy Brutale, features a similar existential structure to the history of magic and subsequently illusion.
The Sexy Brutale opens with a brief, yet informative tutorial, where player is introduced to the title’s core time-bending mechanic, which allows him/her to go back-in-time, in order to stop certain events from occurring. And once one completes the tutorial in question, and is dropped right in the middle of a murderous intrigue, he/she is informed that the mansion is haunted by a horrific secret, but through manipulation of time, one can save all the potential victims, and uncover the truth.
On paper, The Sexy Brutale seems like an open world title, where one can approach all the soon to be murder mysteries in any order. However, just like magic, the freedom turns out to be an illusion, as all in-game murder-related puzzles must be completed in a particular order. And while such approach to gameplay may feel limiting, it is ultimately much more rewarding, as by preventing all the murders one-by-one, one is not just solving separate puzzles, but he/she is also uncovering the motive behind the murder plot, which is unravelling in front of one’s very eyes.
With each and every murder prevented, one receives a brand-new power, which is absorbed from masks of individuals which one has just saved. Whether the newly acquired mask grants one better hearing, or an ability to break thin glass, it is always granting one power to access a new portion of the mansion. And therefore, it makes each and every murder puzzle feel rewarding as by saving a life, one doesn’t just tick a single box, but he is also solving the grander puzzle, which is ultimately the centre point of The Sexy Brutale.
Without a doubt, the main plot is what matters most when it comes to The Sexy Brutale. And that is because, all the murders are nothing more than obstacles, which prevent one from learning the truth behind tragic events which have taken place, are currently taking place, or will take place in the future. And once one arrives at the final conclusion, and is presented with all the plot twists and facts, he/she will surely feel impressed – but not for long. And that’s because once one comes to the final credits, he/she will realise that all his/her actions, have ultimately resulted in a disappointment. As the progression acquired through all the murder-centric puzzles, ultimately turns out to be nothing but an illusion. As even once one saves all the guests, he/she is informed, right at the end, that nobody can be truly saved.
On one hand, the conclusion is as unsatisfying as it is hard to swallow, as ultimately one will feel disheartened, that all his/her efforts ultimately resulted in nothing, but a handful of unlocks, which have only led to one learning the disappointing truth. But on the other hand, the penultimate conclusion – as there is more to the finale – is more than fitting, as it teaches one that once the wheels of time have been put in motion, they cannot be stopped, even when one tries his/her hardest. And considering the core themes of the title, the metaphorical conclusion is ultimately the most satisfying, as it teaches one to accept death, no matter how harrowing or hard to swallow it may be.
The story behind Sexy Brutale is much thorough and profound in its complete form, but it cannot be detailed without revealing all its twist and turns, and therefore it is better to leave it untouched, as all should experience it first-hand. But as ingenious, or as satisfying as it might be, the presentation of it leaves a lot to be desired, as it simply feels out-of-place in the today’s market, where even one-man development teams, manage to keep the track of all the current trends.
Delivery of the rather spectacular story of The Sexy Brutale, is ultimately its only major negative point. And not because it is poorly written, or hidden within hundreds of collectibles, but because it only exists in written form. Every piece of in-game dialogue, no matter how significant, appears simply as a speech bubble. And for the four to eight hours which one will spend with the title, he/she will have to go through an abundance of speech bubbles, filled with text to the brim. And once one reaches the half-way point, they simply become a nuisance.
Lack of voice-acting, or even sporadic narration is surely problematic, but not nearly as much as lack of streamlined gameplay-sequences, and/or cutscenes, throughout the entirety of the title. And the lack of such is the most apparent whenever one is forced to sit through dozens of speech bubbles, while staring at stationary characters. As at points such as this, The Sexy Brutale comes across as devoid of life and substance, as these particular sequences come across as low-effort place holders, rather than high quality plot devices. And they are at their worst towards the end of the title, where one has to follow an NPC from room to room, while reading countless speech bubbles, instead of simply watching a short cutscene. And that’s is simply disappointing.
Ultimately, The Sexy Brutale is an exceptional title on the mechanical side of things. As its core gameplay mechanics, and their constant development can keep one engaged on hours at a time, and to a point where one can complete it in one, prolonged sitting without even noticing. But one thing which one will surely take a note of, are the archaic forms of storytelling, as they simply feel out of place in 2017. And if not for the lack of voice acting, and/or custscenes, The Sexy Brutale could easily be in contention for an indie game of the year, but unfortunately, it looks like it will have to make a way for other, more successful titles, come the end of the year.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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