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July 2019

City of Brass

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Developer: Uppercut Games
Release Date: May 4, 2018


PC Review - 'City of Brass'

by Cody Medellin on July 19, 2018 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

City Of Brass is an Arabian Nights themed 1st person rogue-lite where you become a daring thief in a punishing, procedurally generated quest filled with treasure, traps and ghoulish foes.

There is something to be said about expectations when it comes to games. The idea behind telling others that a new game was made by people involved in a different game or franchise is to assure them that this new title is similar in terms of quality. On the other hand, people can see that same proclamation as a clue that the new game will be similar to the previously called-out work. That's what people are going to run into with City of Brass, which is being touted as being made by some of the people involved with the Bioshock series. One look at the screenshots shows that the game is also done in a first-person perspective, but spend a few minutes with the title, and you'll see that it isn't quite what you expect it to be.

The story has you taking on the role of an adventurer who happens upon a mystical stone that acts as a key to a city that was once buried in the desert sands. As the lore goes, the city is not only home to countless riches but also evil genies sworn to protect the city from invaders. With greed winning out over caution, you head into the city and try to gather as much treasure as you can while trying to make it out alive.

If you're coming into City of Brass thinking you'll get a deep narrative, then prepare for disappointment. After the opening cut scene and character selection screen, the only other source of plot is contained in the tutorial, where the spirits of the city give you a truncated history lesson. It feels like a missed opportunity since the Arabian setting isn't done too often in games, so fleshing out an adventure in this setting would feel fresh, even if the story itself relies on familiar tropes. It also feels like a lost opportunity because of the Bioshock involvement. It can be disappointing for someone to pick up City of Brass based on the fact that some Bioshock people are involved, only to learn that the game is tremendously light on narrative.

In a game with a first-person perspective, it's interesting to see that the protagonist doesn't have any projectile weapons. Instead, you use a sword and a whip for your entire adventure. There's not much to say about the sword, since you only have one type of attack with it, and you can't use it to block attacks. The whip, on the other hand, is much more versatile. Use it on treasure, and you can yank it toward you. Use it on a hook, and you can swing over chasms.

Even though it isn't a weapon that can kill, using it on enemies is the most enjoyable part since the attacks are context-sensitive. You can pull an enemy toward a trap to hurt or kill them before you use your sword for the killing blow. Enemy projectiles can be deflected or knocked out of the air with your whip, replacing the parry technique that was expected from your sword. Hit the enemy's head to blind them, the legs to temporarily trip them up, or the arms to make them drop their weapons. That versatility goes a long way in making the adventure feel cool.

Complementing your versatile whip are the physical feats you can accomplish. Take a full-on run, and you can jump large chasms without needing to swing from a hook or go for a sliding tackle. In close quarters, you can shove enemies into a trap, and if you pay attention to your environment, you can find lots of objects that can be picked up and used as projectiles, like pots and lanterns. If all else fails, you can go to genies to buy upgrades, such as better armor, weapons, or buffs like more health or the ability to disable traps.

As far as combat goes, the whip makes the fighting fun. Your limited sword attacks make for dull swordplay, even more so because it's one of the few weapons that can guarantee enemy damage. The enemies don't react much to your attacks, so almost all of them feel like damage sponges until they collapse. They also lack any sort of tactics unless they catch you by surprise, so your only real threats come from enemy overcrowding or not realizing you walked into a spike trap. It isn't until you reach the bosses or the enemies in the later stages that fights start to become exciting, but first, you'll need to go through lots of slow, sword-wielding skeletons and foes who like to rush you.

Similar to many games nowadays, City of Brass is a first-person adventure with lots of roguelike tendencies. For starters, every stage is randomly generated, and while the stage numbers are always the same, their level layouts are way different for each playthrough. The game also has permadeath, but instead of saving items for your next run, you bank XP with your deaths. That XP levels up your character to unlock more perks, which can be purchased along with new characters with a few different weapons — all thanks to the latest patch.

What may be surprising is that the game is quite short. All roguelikes are short once you're powered up, but here, without any huge benefits from leveling up, you can effectively blow through the game in less than two hours if you play carefully. The idea of not spending a significant chunk of time exploring is reinforced by the presence of a timer in all levels, which can make genre veterans bristle at the idea of being forced to rush instead of playing at a given pace.

City of Brass has a few elements that try to compensate for the short playtime. For starters, you can employ power-ups or detriments at the beginning of your run to determine how easy or difficult you want things to be. As a result, you can have some who will turn the game into a real roguelike that's tough as nails while others will finally be able to see the end of one of these games. There are also leaderboards present, which lend credence to the idea that this is more of a speed-runner's roguelike.

As you would expect from the game's use of Unreal Engine 4, the title looks very nice. The environments look stunning and colorful, and the particle effects work. The character designs look fine, but the animations fare a little worse, especially the noticeable sliding of enemies that occurs when you bind them with your whip. Sound, on the other hand, feels like it was subject to a tight budget. Voices are almost nonexistent, and the various grunts you hear from your character sound bland and get annoying because they play after every attack. The effects for sword clangs lack any punch, while everything else sounds serviceable. Music is sparse, but it gets the job done when it plays — usually the result of a tempo ramp-up during boss fights.

Provided you keep expectations in check, City of Brass can be fun. The game is set up well for those starting out with roguelikes, and the various tweaks ensure that everyone has a chance to see the ending. For the hardcore, it can also be tweaked to be tougher, and that'll be necessary if you want any kind of challenge. This doesn't feel like a long-lasting experience, but the presence of leaderboards will be an incentive to those who might want to speed-run through the game. If you don't mind a few of the aforementioned flaws, then give this title a chance.

Score: 7.0/10

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