Without going too far down the roguelike rabbit hole this genre has invaded almost every kind of game, and with City of Brass it’s giving the first person perspective another shot.
Games like Strafe, Eldritch, Paranautical Activity and more have all tried and all failed in some way or another. There’s just been no title with these two characteristics that have ascended to be the next hit indie darling.
What City of Brass tries to do for that title is offer up a unique setting and combination of mechanics to match. As you may have guessed by the name, you’ll be plundering a lost Arabian city of riches as an adventurer.
Instead of guns you’ll be dual wielding melee weapons (mostly swords) and a whip that you can use to stun enemies, grab items from across rooms, and swing around the level.
Starting with the actual City of Brass and it looks very impressive for an indie game at this price.
It’s a great realisation of this mystical city, but it can start feeling samey very quickly. Later levels do try and mix things up with different environments, but it’s never interesting enough for you to spend time sightseeing.
The environment also presents the game’s biggest annoyance – traps. Man, this game has a lot of damn traps.
False floors into spike pits, dart walls, ceilings that crush you… they’re all here and in ludicrous numbers. It’s like Fred from Scooby-Doo was the level designer.
In a third person or top-down game, this wouldn’t be an issue, but here you will constantly be hit by traps that are outside your field of view, or ones that blend into the environment a bit too much.
These never feel like a challenge or something you need to learn, they’re just annoyances that plague you at each and every corner.
One justification for this is your whip. You can use it to set off traps allowing you to walk over them, or to wrench enemies into them instead of you. While this is possible, traps reset indefinitely and using them to fight enemies is slow and tedious.
Outside of this, the whip is fun for the first hour or two but it, and the combat, quickly become stale.
City of Brass’ combat becomes a very simple system where everything can be defeated by first whipping it, and then hitting it with your melee weapon. Sure, you can pick up items and toss them, but this falls into the same areas as the traps were it’s an inferior option.
This is compounded by the upgrades you can find. Most roguelikes live and die by the cool stuff you can get, and everything in this game in that sense is incredibly uninspired.
There’s a whip that freezes enemies, a torch that will burn enemies, and some armour that applies shock damage when hit. There’s nothing we haven’t seen before countless times and there’s almost nothing that feels connected to the theme.
It also doesn’t help that the inventory and menus here feel very much like placeholders making navigation and management a chore.
Even more damning for this game’s rogue credibility is the metaprogression between lives. Yes, when you die you’re sent right back to the beginning of the game. It offers you shortcuts to later levels following boss kills, and the ability to bank items and gold should you come across special vendors in the game that allow this.
Aside from the level skipping, it’s a bit vapid when you consider the simplicity of the combat and the fact that, as you approach the end of the game and the final boss, the dominant strategy becomes simply running past enemies to finish as soon as possible.
This strategy works so well because defeating enemies doesn’t net you any rewards, and (slight spoiler) the final boss isn’t affected by most of the game’s collectables.
Having now beaten that final boss, we feel absolutely no draw to start this game up again. City of Brass has done very little to convince us any remaining upgrades are worth collecting, and the procedural levels are never stitched together in interesting ways.
There’s a few mechanics we didn’t mention such as your three wishes which can be used at vendors or to skip levels, but it’s a bit inconsequential. You can also increase or decrease the difficulty with certain modifiers, but you’ll probably be using them to remove some irritating elements such as the time limit on every level.
Ultimately, City of Brass has a tonne of great ideas and a really interesting premise, but it just never combines into anything outstanding or memorable. We can only recommend it for die-hard roguelike fans who will pick up anything in the genre, but even then we suggest waiting for a sale.