City of Brass appealed to me from the moment I saw it… I mean, what’s not to love about a video game that blends together Aladdin with Indiana Jones in roguelike first-person action? With a team of ex-Bioshock developers at the helm too, it seemed like a real recipe for success.
In fairness, it does deliver an exciting adventuring experience, but one that lacks the punch to keep you coming back for more after a few hours play.
City of Brass puts you in a Persian-esque procedurally generated city, with the goal being to fight your way through dozens of enemies and carefully manoeuvre across a myriad of traps over ten levels as you look to gather treasure from the deadly locale. It’s no easy task and the game certainly doesn’t hold your hand, but you’re armed with a trusty whip and a vicious scimitar, so you’re certainly well-equipped for the adventure ahead of you.
Admittedly, the whip was one of the stand-out features of City of Brass for me. It’s an under-appreciated weapon that you just don’t see a whole lot of in video games, but it’s use here is perfect – you can use it to stun your foes, pull them towards you (or into a deadly trap if you’re particularly clever about it), reach specific grappling points of levels, or even to grab treasure for yourself. If you’re lucky, you’ll even be able to upgrade it during a playthrough in order to make it a lot more powerful as far as taking down enemies is concerned.
Of course, you’ll be relying on your scimitar a lot too, with it working well in co-ordination with the stunning effects of the whip. It’s used like a typical melee weapon in a video game and requires you to get up close and personal with your foe, but if you’re smart and use both of your weapons efficiently that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
That doesn’t mean you should expect an easy time in City of Brass though, because there are a ton of enemies that are desperate to take you down and end your adventure quickly. You’ve got the likes of skeletons, evil genies, ghost-like figures, zombies, and even tough bosses out for your blood, so you’ll need to think things through carefully and use every tool at your disposal if you’re going to have any chance of survival.
Unfortunately, a lack of real enemy variety could make this feel a little underwhelming over time – City of Brass is a little guilty of focusing more on quantity that quality as far as the enemies are concerned. Whilst the whip is undeniably cool, its novelty wore away quite quickly after using it in the same way over and over again on the same kinds of foes. The possible upgrades do spice things up a little, but none of them really change the gameplay up all that much either. There’s a high demand for precision which could be a little jarring at times too, especially when you miss enemies that seem to be in perfect range of your attacks.
At least you’re given a slight advantage thanks to the blessings you can equip at the start of each playthrough. These are all optional, but given that they might improve your stats or your combat skills, they’re certainly helpful as you try to figure everything out. Those who prefer more of a challenge can actually activate burdens instead that’ll work against you, though they can make the already tough experience a little bit too tricky – especially when you’re just starting out with the game.
There are also genies to encounter in levels that aren’t out for your blood, but rather want to exchange your hard-earned treasure for different upgrades and items. These can actually prove vital to your success (especially in some of the more trap-strewn levels) but you can’t over-depend on them either – each genie’s wares are random, and their prices can often be a little bit too high for your often empty pockets. At least they ensure that each playthrough of City of Brass plays a bit differently though.
Given City of Brass’ roguelike setup, it also features permadeath that sees you having to start your run through of the game all over again when you die. It could be death via a genie’s magic, a skeleton’s sword, or even through one of the many (often frustratingly) traps – whatever the cause, back to the start you go. At least the game does have one neat feature that allows you to teleport to certain points of the game once you’ve hit a checkpoint, which was something I could appreciate after repeated deaths.
Given the lack of variety within the gameplay, having to run through the same areas of the game over and over again could prove to be a little boring. Sure, levels are procedurally generated so you won’t necessarily see the same things time and time again, but the enemies and combat aspects start to feel so familiar that it’s hard not to tire of them. By the time I managed to finish the game (which took around three hours), I already felt like I had seen everything and that there was nothing on offer to really entice me to play through the game again. It’s disappointing, especially when other roguelike games have often hooked me in for hours on end and across multiple completed playthroughs – unfortunately, City of Brass just lacked that appeal.
One area in which it isn’t lacking though is its visual design, with City of Brass being a very pretty game to look at. The Arabic setting is packed with detail and colour, whilst the enemies themselves look great too. It’s always been one of my favourite environment styles to adventure through in a video game, and City of Brass does a good job of making sure it looks impressive throughout.
City of Brass offers plenty of thrills with its Arabian Nights roguelike adventuring, but after beating it once it doesn’t offer much to keep you coming back for more. The genre typically lends itself well to repeated playthroughs and extended challenges, but after completing the game in a relatively short time there wasn’t much there to encourage me to keep playing – a lack of variety as far as gameplay is concerned doesn’t help the situation, either.
It doesn’t make City of Brass a bad game nor does it make it one that’s not worth checking out, but players hoping to be whipping their way through malicious genies for hours on end might be left a little bit disappointed by the lack of depth on show.
Developer: Uppercut Games
Publisher: Uppercut Games
Release Date: Out Now
Format(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC