Located in the ID@XBOX room at Rezzed, The Sexy Brutale is a game that I am absolutely in love with as a concept, and enjoyed in my brief time of playing.
Developed over the last three years by veteran designer Tom Lansdale and brothers Charles and Jim Griffiths, The Sexy Brutale documents the brutal murders that take place in a mansion - of which the game takes its name - where you are tasked with attempting to prevent said murders through puzzles, exploration, and attempting to influence events around you.
The game also includes a time looping mechanic. If you've ever seen Groundhog Day, it's exactly like that. However, the game takes more inspiration than just that Bill Murray classic. Speaking to Tom and Jim I wasn't surprised to learn that they also drew from games like The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask and Ghost Trick, but also from obscure titles like Gregory Horror Show.
In The Sexy Brutale, everything is happening at the same time. All the events that unfold over the course of a day happen whether you are in the room or not. So while you are solving one puzzle, someone else might be getting murdered, and characters will react to that. Let's say you you might hear a bell ring, or a gunshot as someone is killed in another room. You might not know what it is, but it will happen everyday at the exact same time. Equally, the other inhabitants of the house are also hearing these events, and will react to it.
Those you do manage to save will take their mask off, and you will gain their exclusive powers, for example being able to use clocks as a save point. However, regardless of whether or not you save someone on a particular day, when time resets they will die all over again. It adds a beautiful sense of futility to things. I was informed that there is a payoff though, so don't think you'll be wasting your time!
The Sexy Brutale has two categories of 'collectables' you can get throughout the game; Items and knowledge.
Items might let you solve a particular murder, but when the day resets you will lose that item. If you were to collect something at 3pm with the desire of keeping it to use at 10am, you would be disappointed.
However, much like real life, knowledge is something you build up over time. The map is highly responsive, so every room you see throughout the game gets updated, and you are able to track the movements of people you see - just like Harry Potter's Marauders Map. This knowledge carries over day to day, so as you explore more of the mansion, you will begin to build up a more complete picture as to people's location and whereabouts at any given time.
This will then be used to view multiple events at once. For example, you might go look at an event the first time round. The day then resets, and you go at a second event. On the second reset you will then be able to view both events play out on your map. It's a cool if not quirky design choice, and I'm looking forward to really exploring how that works.
James explained that writing was perhaps the most difficult aspect of creation.
"The writing nearly killed me, it was just the most impossibly complex thing to do," he exclaimed. "Development was almost stalled until the story was in place" meaning that the "writing became extremely important to solve."
This was largely down to the nonlinear nature of the game. With more linear games you know exactly where the character will be, and can write with that in mind. With the timeloop mechanic and more open exploration it's impossible to know where a player could be at any given moment.
This results in a situation where the player might see a line of dialogue early in the game, or possibly see it when the developers intended them to, or, depending on how they play, never see it at all. This puts a lot of pressure on the writing, as it is critical to explaining both who the characters are, and provide hints on how to save them, but has to be loose enough that the player can get by with seeing it out of context, or never seeing it at all.
However, he found that the further they got into the development of The Sexy Brutale, the healthier the relationship became, as the writing started to serve the design and gameplay.
But just because they writing was, on principle, finished, it didn't mean he could rest easy.
"We figured out the ending, and knew the central core of the story, knew the explanation for all the things, then it was a case of hiding a lot of the answers to create the mystery. You have to have the answers, but once you've got the answers there's a temptation to explain everything you've just done, and then you have to start gateing that off so it becomes a mystery again."
Even the name was not without query. The team explained that while it attracted a lot of positives, there were also quite a few negatives.
"It's been quite divisive when we were first pitching the idea," with lots of people asking if they were sure it's the right name, and if they'd perhaps want to change it? On playing the game though, and getting an understanding of why it's called that, they often came around and agreed that the name suits. Obviously you'll never get a complete consensus, and the team jokingly recalled a comment on the internet saying "It sounds like a low grade grainy 70s porno." I will confess that it was the name that first caught my eye when looking for games to feature at Rezzed, so it certainly does the job.
Cavalier Game Studios and Tequila Works set out to "create something original that wasn't treading on the beaten path," and from my limited play so far I would say they've done a great job. The game is beautiful to look at, with a fantastic soundtrack, and I am in love with the concept of never ending murder mystery.
The Sexy Brutale is now out for PC, Xbox One and PS4. Follow this link for more information.
A physical version will be launching on 25 April for PS4. If you preorder you will get an exclusive limited edition comic book, which was collaboratively created by Jim Griffiths and Enrique Fernandez, who created a lot of the graphics and concept art for the game. In addition to that you will also get a physical art book and manual.