Requesting to review a game without knowing anything about it can sometimes be just as exciting as requesting one you’ve extensively researched. When I heard that some former Bioshock developers had come together to create a brand new first person, action adventure set in an Ali Baba-esque realm, I thought that this would be a secret diamond in the rough; a real gritty, socially exploitive narrative set within a land less travelled. I’m pleased to announce that I couldn’t have been more wrong, because instead I’ve been given a dungeon crawler where I get to whip and slash menacing skeletons guarding treasures… so yeah, not what I was expecting at all.
City of Brass is a brand new first person adventure from Uppercut Games, a super studio made up of various talents who have worked on the likes of Fallout, Bioshock & XCOM. Playing as the love child of Indiana Jones & the Prince of Persia, you will whip and slice your way through the randomly generated Arabian streets to reach the centre, collecting treasure and avoiding traps as you go. Throughout the course of your 12 level campaign you’ll come face to face with armed skeletons, nefarious genies and perilous traps, each of which stand in your way in completing your goal, escaping with as much treasure and health as you can. No matter how far you go death will plonk you right back to the start, making City of Brass a real test of your … well brass, but as we’ve found in recent times there can be a fine line between challenging and punishing, so where does this latest crusade dwell?
City of Brass may look harmless with its vibrant, colourful and less than menacing enemies, but boy is it hard. In a similar way to how one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, I found City of Brass to be no walk in the park, however others may find this unnecessarily difficult dungeon crawler a piece of cake, and if you did say that I’d call you out for being a big fat liar. Each level in City of Brass can be reached without too much interference from the walking dead (honestly some can be completed within a couple of minutes), however in order to progress unscathed you’re gonna have to loot and do business with genies, who in exchange will remove traps or award you with perks. The genies in question are there to reap all of your treasure in exchange for cool perks and advantages, so making the most of that depleting hourglass by looting as much as possible will come in handy later on. The idea of essentially custom building your experience in game is great, however I feel Uppercut didn’t find the right balance between mildly helpful and too helpful. On one hand you can purchase a jar that steals the life of every enemy you kill to heal you at an eventual later date, however on the other hand you could just spend your cash on bypassing the next few levels, making the already short game even shorter; likewise there are practically 2 ways you can play City of Brass. By attempting to avoid danger and breeze through each level makes for a very boring game, but by attempting to kill and reap everything in the allocated time limit makes for a very difficult, tedious and frustrating game, so it can be a terribly unpleasant time no matter which approach you take. Considering that each landscape is randomly generated you don’t really get to learn from your mistakes, and with that hourglass depleting in eye shot you don’t have enough time to think about what you’re doing, so you can understand my frustration having to start from the beginning each time I died and being unable to better myself.
I may be dying an awful lot, but at least I die swinging, and what delightful swinging it is as the game’s combat game is pretty alright. With obvious inspiration from Bioshock’s 2 handed plasmid/weapon set up, City of Brass’ whip and sword combo actually works well, packing a rather smooth and satisfying crack. In similar fashion to a well calculated plasmid toss, the whip can be used in a variety of creative ways to give you a fighting chance, whether its striking enemies in the face to briefly stun them, whipping them in the arms to toss away their swords, or by whipping them in the legs to trip them up and buy you some time. You won’t need to be as accurate with your sword to inflict a decent amount of damage to the army of dead, but the sheer ease of mixing your offence does award City of Brass a degree of innovative gameplay which separates it from other dungeon crawlers already available. Even amidst a tirade of frustrations over the game’s difficulty and repetitiveness, at least the core component of mixing sword and whip play was pretty decent and made for a compelling experience in the brief moments I didn’t feel quite at a disadvantage.
City of Brass in premise sounds like tremendous fun, and honestly for the first hour or 2 it was, however once the difficulty got progressively more ruthless and the levels progressively less imaginative I found myself unable to continue on this journey. The combat works fairly well and the rewards for looting can be genuinely worth investing in, but chances are you’ll not experience either of these much amongst the constant death and déjà vu that is the opening level.