Rogue-like games are an interesting bunch to me. I’m always up for a challenge in my gaming, and the repetitive loop of trying and dying is something we all do in any game, so having the mechanics built around this specific element should hit the spot. However, the ones I’ve played tend to fall somewhat flat in practice and unfortunately City of Brass doesn’t buck this trend. It starts out well enough, a brief tutorial laying out the abilities open to you in an effective manner, whilst also setting up the lore nicely.
An ancient city that had amassed treasure from all over the globe has been cursed by diabolical genies after being forced into servitude, the people of the city getting above their station going mad with wealth. You are there to try to reach the center of the city and gain the wealth for yourself. Beyond this opening however, very little story was presented. You are soon dropped into the game proper, armed only with your sword and whip, and let loose. If you are anything like me, death will find you quickly though. Enemies are numerous, but not especially exciting or fun to engage.
Upon spotting you they will mostly run straight at you and not stop until you have put them down. Using your whip, you can aim at specific parts of the body to elicit different results; Head whips will stun them for a moment, foot shots trip them up. It’s also possible to disarm some enemies by aiming at their weapon hand, which just makes them use fisticuffs instead. There appeared to be zero intelligent AI, no tactics or co-ordination, just blind charge until one of you dies. Traps litter the randomly generated environments too.
Again, enemies will pay no mind to these, blindly charging into a spike pit or exploding barrel as long as you are on the other side. Of course, it’s easy to get yourself caught up in these as well, especially if you are attempting to outrun being overwhelmed. Part of the design I’m sure, it’s often very difficult to even spot the traps, let alone avoid them easily due to the random nature of the layout. And of course, upon death you merely restart at level 1, back to basics, save for a basic idea of what to expect, come each level.
Dotted around the levels to help are various Genie shops, for lack of a better term. Each one offers various items and perks, from extra health to new weapons and ethereal guardians to aid you in combat. Gold is required to use these, though saving up enough can be quite the tiresome task. The gold itself is in fairly healthy supply, but I found it tedious walking around each floor hammering X to pick it all up. A perk you can acquire will do some of the heavy lifting for you, drawing the gold to you and picking it up automatically, but there’s zero benefit to not picking it up so having it be such a manual process irks somewhat.
I know a lot of games fall foul of this too, but it’s still something that stuck out to me. Speaking of perks, these come in a few varieties too. There’s the aforementioned genies that you can buy them from, but in a neat solution to the quite steep challenge the game initially lays out, before setting off you can choose from several options that will help or make things a bit easier. I initially was reluctant to use them, but after dying to yet another unseen trap while escaping some powerful foes, I activated a few.
From doubling health to lowering enemy counts and even removing the frankly ludicrous time limit in play, I had a much better time with these on. The only penalty being that leaderboard scores may not be counted, was a price I was willing to pay to get a bit further and see more of what the game had to offer. It’s a great way to get you into the flow of the game, and each time you restart you can choose to add or remove some depending on how confident you are feeling.
It is possible to also unlock perks that make the game harder, such as more enemies or respawning ones for the truly sadistic among you. Some of the genies allow you to also store items or perks for a next run through, at the expense of losing it for the rest of your current run. I found this to be another very helpful addition, allowing me to almost build a load-out of sorts across several runs before beginning anew and having kick-ass stuff from the off. Of course, when I died the whole lot was lost but it allows some vague, and long term, tactics.
If you are reading this, chances are you know whether or not a rouge-like is up your alley. The first person melee combat is handled well, it’s just a shame there aren’t more interesting combat encounters to use it with. Death will find you, often via a cheap shot or unseen trap rather than you failing to overcome the odds, and it all gets a little stale a bit too quickly. The randomly generated levels don’t help, with the building blocks pretty obvious, meaning you relying heavily on the directional arrow rather than the environment to progress.
The perks system is a great idea, allowing you to customize the experience to your preference. However, making it even easier just shows up how fairly dull the actual gameplay is. Visually it’s quite nice to look at, though nothing outstanding, with some lovely lighting in particular. The audio could use a spruce up meanwhile; enemies seem to have used all their wealth on a 100 a day smoking habit, prone as they are to stand around coughing constantly.
City of Brass remains visually pleasing throughout and houses some interesting ideas, such as the perk system and the shops. However, tools to make the experience even easier just showcases how fairly dull the actual gameplay is. The lack of a polished structure only leads to unnecessary cheap deaths, which when grouped with the enemy’s substandard AI, emphasizes how frustrating and boring this adventure can be.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.