Alongside our team-selected 2017 Game of the Year awards, each member of the PC Gamer team gets to champion one favorite from the year. We'll continue to post new personal picks until the end of 2017.
You have an unlimited amount of time. And you're almost out of time. Somehow, both of those statements are true, thanks to the clever structure of The Sexy Brutale, the extremely stylish adventure from Cavalier Game Studios and Tequila Works.
In one of those ornate and creepy mansions people always seem to get murdered in, people are getting murdered. Filled with hidden passages, dark secrets, and supernatural intrigue, the mansion is host to a costume ball where by the end of the evening every single guest will meet a grisly death. Your job is to prevent those deaths, one by one, while unraveling the mystery of how and why they happen, and why you yourself are at the party.
There's a catch: you can't interfere directly in the murders. You can't even be seen by anyone in the mansion, even the guests you're trying to save: walk into an occupied room and you'll be chased out by hostile spirits. Instead, you sneak your way around, peeping through keyholes, finding secret entrances and exits, hiding from guests and the murderous staff alike, until you've pinpointed the time and place of a murder, then the circumstances of how the murder takes place. Then, you begin working your way backward through the events leading up to it, looking for a place to indirectly intervene to save a party-goer's life.
The murder might be a straightforward one, where a guest is simply shot, but as you work your way through the guests, saving them one by one, they'll get more elaborate and bizarre, and enjoyably grim.
Time is on your side: while there's a ticking clock counting down the minutes until the end of the evening, the clock rewinds to the beginning of the party and the events play out all over again (you can also rewind the clock yourself at any point). This gives you, basically, an infinite amount of times to prevent the murders.
And yet, you're racing against the clock. If preventing a murder requires collecting one item, bringing it to another location, flipping a switch, unlocking a door, or other tasks you need to complete in a specific order, often based around dodging staff and the timing of guests' movements. You'll eventually learn the patterns of everyone along the route you'll take, when it's safe to move through doors or collect certain necessary items, the codes that allow you to unlock doors. The end result is what feels like a speed run of an adventure game, a tense, fast-paced series of actions that need to be performed quickly and efficiently in order to stop the murder before it happens.
When you successfully prevent a murder, you are given the mask of the guest you saved, and each mask gives you a new ability you'll need to explore the new section of the mansion that becomes available. One mask enhances your hearing, allowing you to eavesdrop on conversations that may give you some crucial information. Another way will allow you to shatter glass, one will allow you to see ghosts, and with each new power your investigative abilities will grow.
The Sexy Brutale is both fresh and familiar. In most adventure games you wander around, having the same conversations, visiting the same areas repeatedly until you figure what what you're supposed to do to advance. You do that in The Sexy Brutale, too, but in a way it feels more appropriate. You're reliving the same night over and over again, so of course you're going to see the same people, hear the same conversations, and visit the same locations repeatedly. The time travel hook isn't just a system to solve murders but a clever deconstruction of the adventure game genre.
Ad if you're gonna be stuck in a time loop, The Sexy Brutale a great place for it, oozing with lovely sights and loads of style. The mansion is a weird and beautiful one, filled with secrets and bizarre supernatural sights, and it's an wonderful environment just to poke around in, to absorb the history and odd nature of the place, to read every last item description even if it doesn't help you solve any particular murder. You'll have to rush to prevent those murders, but you've got the chance to dawdle as well.