Jul 31, 2017
As a fiction device, déjà vu is a difficult concept to get right; after all, the story or gameplay involved has to be compelling enough to keep the player coming back – over and over and over again. It’s something that’s been used successfully in 1999's The Matrix, Red Dwarf (White Hole), and in Star Trek, which dedicated an entire episode in season 5 (Cause and Effect) to the concept. Déjà vu is by far better known as the idea behind Groundhog Day (1993) though.

The Pitfalls of Repetition

Given that repetition is almost invariably considered a negative in video gaming (sorry, Dark Souls fans), the phenomenon hasn’t had much of an airing on the PC or any of the current consoles. There are notable exceptions to the rule though, such as in a brief scene featuring a hallucinating Max Payne and as part of the lore of 2007's Penumbra, in which déjà vu is actually a symptom of infection by the Tuurngait virus. So, it’s probably fair to say that the lack of attention paid to The Sexy Brutale (Xbox One, PS4, PC), a game released in April 2017 about a “never-ending” masked ball in a casino hotel, is perhaps due to a pre-conceived idea of how stories about déjà vu play out. Does anybody but the world’s most masochistic platform gamer really want to make the same leaps and have the same conversations ad infinitum? Does anybody truly appreciate the checkpoint method of saving games? It’s a shame then that The Sexy Brutale actually turned out to be pretty good, while featuring none of the previous pitfalls.

The Allure of the Setting

The game’s environment – the casino – sets the proceedings in Cavalier Game Studios’ title aflame from the very beginning. Writers, designers, and developers have been borrowing imagery and themes from casinos for a long time; in fact, the phenomenon seems rather widespread in the 21st century, with Al Alvarez’s book The Biggest Game in Town as contributing to the popularity of poker among literature fans, as well as Bringing Down the House, a book by Ben Mezrich, which is the blackjack player’s equivalent of a fairytale, among other literary works basing their plots on casinos and casino games. Much the same is true of video gaming too. For example, there was a roulette-based minigame featured in Nintendo’s Super Mario 64 DS entitled Mushroom Roulette. There’s even a presumed-lost arcade game called Mario Roulette somewhere out there. Mario’s rival, Sega's Sonic takes the cake for casino levels though; beginning with the Crabmeat-infested Spring Yard Zone in the first game, back in 1991, the world’s favourite blue mammal has since been to more than 10 levels with a casino theme.

Seven Hours

The Sexy Brutale is a game about stopping a connected series of events from killing hotel guests; it’s a murder mystery. The idea is that the player – here, represented by the protagonist Lafcadio Boone - strides into the proceedings like a tiny, grey-haired Commander Riker and, by spying on events as they unfold, can save the victims of the staff’s malice from an otherwise certain death. It has echoes of Capcom’s underrated Remember Me (2013), a game in which Nilin had to manipulate time and move objects or weapons into places that would have consequences for the restored timeline. The Sexy Brutale requires the player to don a bloodied mask and use the environment to solve 10 murders, tail killers around the casino hotel, and improve their lockpicking and other abilities to secure passage through the seven-hour storyline – which closes with a surprise. It might be a little expensive for some players at £14.99 on Steam, but, despite a few graphical hitches, the debut game from Cavalier Game Studios has an unexpected polish on top of the grisly remains of its characters.

It’s not easy to see why humans find the concept of déjà vu attractive and, in fact, it was only explained by science in August of last year. It’s perhaps the simple mystery of the unexplained or the echoes of a past life in which we did once walk past that bus stop that's exciting. However, it’s encouraging to see the concept used effectively in gaming; after all, many of the series on the shelves today have more of a feeling of being worn out than The Sexy Brutale does. It’s hard to get tired of shooting zombies, though.
Our score: /10

Great - An excellent piece of kit that offers value for money and adheres to high quality standards.
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