You find yourself in front of a magical portal; something straight out of legend. The Fabled “City of Brass”, where the citizens got so greedy that they began to stockpile gold, exploiting the local genies, who would turn against the citizens and make them suffer for an eternity. City of Brass is a game based on such an interesting premise, but it fails to execute on some of these ideas.
City of Brass is a rogue-like, and the inherent repetitive nature of the genre is worked into the lore of the game. The game puts you into the first-person as if you were this adventurer coming to the city. City of Brass is the latest game from Uppercut Games, the team behind 2015’s Submerged. The game takes inspiration from the well-known book Arabian Nights by Antoine Galland, following the mystical nature of that work. Equipping the player with only a sword and a whip, this take on a first-person action game is made very interesting.
One of the first things I immediately noticed from City of Brass is that there is a uniqueness to the four major areas. Every time you fall, the game restarts you outside the city, waking up right in front of the city’s gates. It’s almost as if the city rejects your attempts, wanting you to get better so as to understand it more. Walking back into the city after each failed attempt made me want to do better. You will see the four major areas a lot because you will die a lot. The first three areas were unique and had this sense of mystery to them. The first one introduces you to the desert aesthetic and the strangeness occurring in the fictional city. The second area is a sharp contrast to the first area which shows the sand and desert. It’s an area which features a sense of brightness. It’s an area which caught me off guard. I was not expecting to see something blossoming while surrounded by death. It’s full of gardens and brings the environment to life with the greenery. Being introduced to a place which felt devoid life, this was shocking and showed me how different my expectations were. It showcases the lush and lavish nature of the former citizens. The third major area sees you venturing into the catacombs of the city. Every minute I spent in the catacombs, my heart would be racing. The sheer nature of this was also shocking. The areas vary so much in what they put into your mind, and each presents a different state of being. It felt like a great book which hides what it is trying to tell you, and the game does this elegantly making you wonder about the lives which were being there before you came across it.
The environments in City of Brass are one of its highlights. Each environment being randomly generated, they present themselves as a puzzle. Figuring out which route is most ideal to progress through the stage quickly or finding the areas which have the most gold, allow you to experiment and determine how you want to play the game. The city is littered with traps and it keeps you on your toes. Each of the four main areas has traps which are unique to them. These traps bring a sense of challenge, from the floor falling under you to doors which act as guillotines coming down on you at a rapid speed, they progressively get more intense as you embark on your journey. This variety, however, gets a bit annoying when the randomness goes wrong. There would be corridors or certain areas which felt like an Indiana Jones scene, and then some that would feel like a little much. Not like a challenge, but just annoying. I would often find that the door needed to progress would be in a secluded corner with tons of traps around it. So, when I had to walk through these doors I had no option but to take damage. Even being able to use the whip to activate the traps, there would still be too much to activate at once. Only having four hearts, this became a major nuisance as I was making my through some levels. This same poor placement of traps applies to the boss battles. The game feels like it funnels you towards these awkward corners where you have no other option to take damage. Making it through three stages to get to a boss, and then beat the boss only to be defeated by a horde of enemies placed immediately after the boss frequently frustrated me.
Combat is one of the most exhilarating parts of City of Brass. The combat is refreshing, and it presents its own challenge. To use a term coined by Danny O’Dwyer, “Combat Chess” feels applicable when talking about the combat in City of Brass. Being equipped with just a sword and a whip present a thought-provoking combat system. There are many ways to interact with enemies with just these two items, triggering traps with your whip or pulling enemies with the whip are just two examples. Chaining a whip pull and a sword swing then pushing an enemy into a nearby trap all happens in a moment. It feels so good when executed properly. This is an aspect which works so well, and it which happens so quick it is often hard to react. There is often a proper sequence of actions to perform, but that varies with the enemies in front of you. The sequence also varies based on what you see in the environment, good situational awareness is almost necessary to survive certain combat situations. Almost every action is going to involve your trusty whip. There are so many things to be done with the whip and it became something I experimented with more than anything.
There is no proper way to engage in any combat situation. Understanding each option in front of you, and using it accordingly is up to you. The choice is varied, and there are no wrong answers. The chain may not work out how you want it to, but it’s a learning experience. Understanding each enemy and their quirks can be picked up easily, but when hordes of enemies are coming, you need to change the game plan. Snapping your whip at an explosive container to thin the horde or pushing them back to engage them one-on-one are all valid strategies. It’s how you engage with the situation that makes it so interesting. The enemy variation makes these challenges more and more enticing. Questions of how do I attack this group and planning it out would vary with the areas.
Each of the four areas all has a gatekeeper, they serve as a boss and let you progress to the next area. They all vary, and somewhat reflect the area they are based on. Ranging from a Djinn to an Archer who is able to make clones of herself. They are very spectacular, except for the final bosses. Instead of having these cool enemies who reflect their region, the final bosses are just three genies. It was extremely anticlimactic because the game shows you these gatekeepers who are all radically different. And instead of being in an open area like the others, the battle takes place in this small room. Being confined in a small space, and having three genies throw varying projectiles at you and having traps coming out of the woodwork is not felt natural to the game. The game builds these spectacles and makes you fantasize about what used to be here, but the final boss room is none of that. It feels bland and has no character to it. Going in this grand area and enemies, only to have the adverse of that was not a great feeling.
City of Brass nails its presentation and gameplay, but some of its confusing level design and useless level system bring it down. The variation of the four main stages builds out this mystical city with a lush history and lore. Feeling like Indiana Jones with a whip is such a great feeling, but some of the algorithms which put out the levels make them jarring frequently. On top of that, having a ranking system which doesn’t make any logical sense left me wanting more.
Review code was provided by the publisher and reviewed on a standard PlayStation 4 system.