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City of Brass

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


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PS4 Review - 'City of Brass'

by Fran Soto on July 4, 2018 @ 12:00 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.

I'm in a dimly lit room, picking through beaten-up vases and broken relics in search of intact treasures. I slide through floor spikes and jump over trap doors to get here. Off to my left, I spy an unopened chest. If experience tells me anything, chests always hold the best loot. Little do I know that a disgruntled spirit that's hidden in the corner of the room has other plans and surprises me with an attack that's strong enough to finish me off. I should have checked my corners. Time to start again with my newly learned lesson. This is City of Brass, a first-person, rogue-lite, dungeon-crawler from Uppercut Games for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

This Arabian Nights-inspired dungeon-crawler offers procedurally generated maps, weapons upgrades and a few other features that bring a distinct experience to the game. Players start their expeditions into this cursed city with a whip and a basic sword. Fortune may smile upon you as you find rarer upgrades throughout the levels, or you could resort to bartering your newfound treasures with the genies that have taken up residence in the city. Weapon and skill customization have become a staple in dungeon-crawlers, assisting players as they make their way even further into the depths. With different weapon types, and even elemental upgrades, players are able create a loadout of their choosing as they crawl through the city. While each upgrade Abbizzul the genie sells is random, trying out different gear will unlock item descriptions for future reference.

There are various other genies throughout the city, each granting different service. (I gave Bhetun the Curative way too much money to cure my health.) Not all genies grant boons, however, as there are some who are hostile toward you until you use a wish to persuade them otherwise. City of Brass offers a mechanic in granting the player three wishes, which can be used with certain genies and even to skip levels by activating portals after defeating the gatekeepers of each area. In order to pass through each section of the city, players must confront these minibosses by using specific mechanics to defeat them. Once defeated, portals will become available for those who want to skip ahead to later areas in the city. Remember, you only get three wishes — and no, I couldn't wish for more wishes.

Combat within the game is fairly smooth, albeit basic. The whip and melee weapon combination provides quite a few possibilities to engage with enemies. Players can use the whip to stun enemies by hitting them on the head or whip the weapon out of their hand. I felt very much like Indiana Jones when I used the whip on enemies' legs to trip them up or pull them into a trap. It offers mobility to players as well, allowing them to swing from various rings that hang high above the city. The whip has quite a bit of diversity to make up for the very basic melee attack, which is assigned only to one button. Players can also push enemies out of the way in case they're trying to breeze by on a speed run. Attacks worked well, but combat felt very limited considering enemies had the ability to dodge and counter attacks while the player did not.

Basic combat creates an easier learning curve, as players who make it further into the center of the city encounter increasingly dangerous enemies. Each new area offers new traps and different kinds of enemies. Design layout was different each time and offered variety with traps and secret rooms to explore. I wish I could say the same about the sound and character design. Generic Arabian sound effects and sitar music don't exactly make a compelling atmosphere, while enemies were mostly skeletons with few variants throughout. It's a shame that the more interesting enemies don't appear until much later in the game (one in particular was a statue that moved when you weren't looking).

Ultimately, City of Brass held my attention until the second half of the game, where things started to get repetitive. Once I cleared all the minibosses, I used all my wishes to skip to the last area to confront the final boss genies in the heart of the city. It was unfortunate that, instead of starting at the beginning, I felt like it was too much of a chore and wanted to skip ahead.

At the time of starting this review, the game was in its most original build. However, a couple of days later, Uppercut Games released a patch for the game, "Sultan's Armory", as free update 1.1 . The Sultan's Armory provided a new weapon, new armor, a new whip, and nine new relics to discover. Even with this support, I felt that I'd seen everything the game had to offer in the first few levels. Even with the ability to change up gameplay with "Boons" and "Burdens" that allow the player to manipulate mechanics (like adding a timer or making enemies more difficult to defeat in battle), City of Brass quickly ran out of steam. I appreciate that it is the kind of game that is easy to pick up and put down, but nothing truly called out to me to play more than I already have.

City of Brass is a well-crafted dungeon-crawler, and even an entertaining one to a degree. My biggest issue with the title was not necessarily its quality, but the sense that the game has no identity. It plays as a very generic dungeon-crawler that just happens to have an Arabian Nights theme. Even then, the theme is only on the surface and doesn't provide a compelling or memorable atmosphere. Combat is easy to pick up and generic to the point that enemies have a better move set than you do. While enemies have different weapons like bows and shields, the player is always stuck with a whip and some form of melee weapon. Enemies also have a pretty basic character design until the later levels, but by that time, I didn't feel the need to continue further. The last big boss is just more angry genies, and I found myself thinking that the minibosses were more compelling. Some more world building beyond the flavor text found in your journal would add more depth to the game.

Additionally, some kind of multiplayer (either split-screen or online) would bring another dimension that would keep players coming back for more. The fact that Uppercut is continuing support of the game post-launch gives me some hope that it'll add new content like other kinds of enemies or new areas of the city. The new content provided in Update 1.1 adds something different and provides more variety to possible loadouts.

City of Brass brings some interesting features to the dungeon-crawling genre, but its overly generic style and atmosphere don't break any new ground. It's a game that can be picked up and put down easily, which would make it a good candidate for a Nintendo Switch port. City of Brass' qualities are unfortunately marred by its lack of personality and other technical blunders.

Score: 6.5/10

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