When you hear that some of the team that developed Bioshock have got a new game coming out, immediately there is a sense of anticipation for such a title. City of Brass is that game and it is something a little different to Bioshock, in fact it’s so different that if you didn’t know that it was developed by some of that team then you’d be none the wiser. City of Brass is a first person rogue-lite game consisting of hack & slash, looting, permadeath and much more. It takes place in an Arabian Knights style setting and the aim of the game is to make it to the heart of the city in order to lift its curse. Standing in the way of you doing this is waves of undead, ghostly warriors, guards and hefty bosses.
The gameplay of City of Brass will be very familiar to players of games similar to Dishonored as the movement and combat is very much the same. Unfortunately though this is the department where the game is really let down as the gameplay is not only sluggish but very unresponsive at times and in a game where permadeath is a key factor, the gameplay needs to be on point but here it is severely lacking. Overall movement is slow and feels very heavy, even if Y and X axis sensitivity are turned all the way up, it somehow still managed to feel sluggish and clunky. The jumping mechanics are inconsistent especially when trying to leap on to higher platforms and the combat is slow and heavy.
Armed with a sword and a whip, the combat is more of a hit and hope rather than a precisely timed swipe. The whip has its uses, being used to pick up treasures and loot, along with whipping enemies to stun them, but even that sometimes is more luck than judgement which is mainly due to the slow and clunky movements of the game. There is a clock counting down with a set time limit to complete each level and when you have gameplay mechanics that are this slow and unreliable it makes getting to the end of each level frustrating and not much fun. As mentioned earlier, permadeath is a main aspect of this game which means there are no checkpoints or save game options which means if you happen to make it all the way to the last boss but fail in defeating him, you have to start all over again from the first level.
There are some difficulty settings that can be adjusted to remove things like the countdown timer or the amount of enemies that spawn etc but that kind of defeats the object of the game in a way. These settings are called ‘Blessings & Burdens’ with the blessings toning everything down and the burdens adding even more difficulty to the whole experience, not that you would want to as this game is difficult enough, even with all the blessings applied. Apart from the obvious difficulty, adjusting these blessings & burdens doesn’t impact much else other than a few specific leaderboards and a few end game achievements, especially if any blessings are applied but apart from that there really isn’t much else that penalises you for having these turned on.
There are little portals throughout the game that offer perks in exchange for treasures that have been looted. While these can be beneficial, choosing the most useful ones can be rather tedious. There are no descriptions that give any kind of clue as to what they are so half the time you’re guessing about what you’re actually buying. Some are pretty self explanatory like the extra health ones and the disable traps perks but the majority are just names with diagrams with no information whatsoever as to what they are or what they mean. Health is the one that I would advise focusing on buying if you can as it could make the difference in how far you progress, especially with no checkpoints or save game points.
Visually City of Brass isn’t a bad looking game, but it’s not a great looking one either. It utilises HDR and is Xbox One X Enhanced but even at a standard 1080p the game still looks decent. It isn’t the prettiest game you’ll ever play but it’s vibrant and colourful, making great use of the HDR capability but it’s sadly let down by repetitive copy & paste level design that lacks any kind of personality and character that the developers were clearly trying to create. I did find a few glitches in the game and at the time of writing these still remain but there could be a day one patch applied or a possible update later on. The main bug that I came across was with the companion perk, this is where a ghostly sidekick can be purchased to help you on your quest, but 3 out of the 7 times I unlocked him, he would just decided to walk in to a wall and get stuck there making him useless until I progressed to the next stage, that’s if I even made it.
I can see what City of Brass is trying to do here and the developer have clearly tried to offer something a little different to the norm but they have unfortunately fallen short in the vision of what they have tried to achieve. City of Brass is clunky, buggy and incredibly frustrating but not because of the fact there is no save game option but more because it just doesn’t play very well. With a game like this there needs to be a certain standard of polish to make sure that things like permadeath are justified but when things happen because of the clunky, sluggish gameplay mechanics that cause death resulting in the game having to be stated again, it starts to lose its appeal pretty quickly. While I appreciate what the developers have tried to achieve I just didn’t have much fun with City of Brass at all which is a shame considering the previous credentials that were associated with the development of it.