City of Brass Review
Release Date: May 3, 2018
Developer/Publisher: Uppercut Games Pty Ltd.
Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Steam
Long ago, the City of Brass was a thriving metropolis in the Arabian world. It's inhabitants, longing for more riches, cursed themselves via their own wealth: when everyone in the city is rich, nobody trusts anyone, and the mad search for power led to their own demise. As a thief looking to find the ultimate treasure, you make your way into the fabled city, whose layout changes with every step.
City of Brass takes the FPS genre and throws the gameplay back in time to an era of coin-op arcades. As a rougelike, every time you die you start over from scratch. Each time you die, you tally a little XP. As you learn more about the traps and enemies within, you slowly learn how to advance further each time. Along the way, you will find powerful genies who can offer you great boons, for a price. You collect wealth by looting the rooms you go through, and spend them with the genies to gain better weaponry, turn off environmental traps, or discover secrets. You can use one of three wishes to get them to offer even more powerful rewards. All this is on a timer as well, an hourglass ticks down your demise, whether you are done with an area or not.
Weaponry is arcade-simple as well. You have a blade and a whip, each of which can be upgraded or traded in via genie. Your blade does the bulk of the damage, whilst your whip can be used to push and pull enemies, grab treasures from high ledges, or vault between areas using rings on the ceiling. Whipping, sliding, and jumping makes transportationn feel very parkour-ish, and combat is kept frantic with the simplicity. Outside of your two-fisted attack patterns, you also find bricks, vases, and other projectiles to use. The environmental traps can be used against enemies as well to dramatic effect. With the frantic enemies, twitch gameplay, and score-based ranking, City of Brass feels to me like an Arabian Timesplitters (if only there were multiplayer).
City of Brass comes along with all the good and bad of a rougelike. You will die, a lot, and it will feel like you're going nowhere when you continue to find yourself back at the beginning with nothing to show for it. Randomized traps and enemies, particularly when you are starting out, will kill you simply because you have no logical way of foreseeing them. You have a minimal amount of life, and will only last a few minutes if you don't slow down to pay attention, while an hourglass dwindles (mind you, there's no numbers, so you are going on an arbitrary glass) to your demise if you don't work fast enough. As you repeatedly die, the time shifts as well. Playing in the sun is a lot different than playing in the dead of night, where it is harder to see your enemies. Also, you may come upon a powerful genie in the first room before you even get a chance to amass any money to pay him with.
The main charm of the game is how the city changes every time you play. It can be frustrating, because you can't really memorize trap locations in a city that changes it's layout, but it allows a different experience every time you play. There are set rooms, each with their own little variances, to keep the dynamic changing. Enemies are basic, with a few different varying attack patterns. Some of them are more difficult than others. I felt cheap-shotted a few times because this one armless dude screams then runs and headbutts you. With your short life, it doesn't take many headbutts to die, and no radar prevents you from always seeing them, especially if they are spawned right beside the door you just came through.
Eventually, you aren't memorizing city layouts or attack patterns, but signals. Playing on low volume or without setting up appropriate brightness levels is a big no-no. You see the patterns on the floor that mean "spike trap." You hear the wail that means someone's coming in for a headbutt, and you know you can dodge after a certain amount of time to stay alive, even if you can't see your enemy head on. You balance risk and reward: is it worth sneaking through those traps to get the money I need to power up via the genie? Can I stay hidden long enough for all the enemies to get close to that trap for a one-hit kill?
The game comes with what it calls a "Blessings and Burdens" system: in-game options that you can use to individually tweak the difficulty settings. You can increase your health, reduce the enemy count, change their attack rate, double the trap rate, make enemies spawn faster, and a whole lot of other variants to really tweak the game to where it is just the right challenge for you. Playing the game with defaults really makes it get old quickly: once you really get into the game the fun is in seeing just how much pain you can handle over the course of your time in the city.
At $20, City of Brass feels justifiably priced. It's not a full-on $60 title by any means, but this value-priced option gives you a challenge to push through and see just how far you can go, and bragging rights to get to the top of the leaderboard. It's a great way to cross modern FPS twitch style gameplay with the feel of a classic coin-op arcade. City of Brass is frustrating at times, but definitely a solid entry as a unique first-person roguelike title.
-Randomized rougelike gives the classic feeling of coin-op gameplay
-Blessings and Burdens system allows you to fine-tune the difficulty settings
-Each play is different
-Sometimes randomization fails: you may find a shop you can't afford yet. Traps may be set to where they are very hard to avoid or in a pointless place you'd never visit
-Enemies look similar, and have repetitive noises. Some are needed for gameplay, while others are just odd
-Not a game for people who hate failure: you will die a LOT, and be returned to Square One
Thanks to the developers at Uppercut Games for a chance to review this title.