It seems to me that roguelike first person games are presently in vogue. The number of review opportunities that dash across my desk featuring some form of roguelike gameplay (and in this case first person, to boot) appear to be rising. This time around, the game is City of Brass – but this one comes with an intriguing hook. City of Brass is a collective baby from Bioshock developers at Uppercut Games. Of course, Bioshock is one of my favorite FPS games of all time, so to turn down a review opportunity felt foolish. I went in to City of Brass with a conception of what I’d find, and I was pleasantly surprised at how right and wrong I was.
When I was a kid, roguelike video games never truly appealed to me. Hell, this non committance to the genre prevailed until I was married. I’m not sure what changed my opinion, but I think it had to do with a mixture of not having as much time to play games and enjoying a greater challenge. Since I played Ziggurat, the FPS roguelike was something I kept my eyes open to. City of Brass follows in similar footsteps, but cleans up much of what was wrong with Ziggurat.
In City of Brass, you play a thief. You learned too late that, upon entering the titular city, you’ll become cursed; and cursed you are, doomed to fight through waves of enemies to make your way to end of the city. Death dooms you to begin again, equipped with whatever bonuses you’ve gained from leveling up. And here is where City of Brass starts its intrigue. Unlike most roguelike games I’ve played, City of Brass offers players a choice: Players can choose to equip beneficial perks or detrimental ones in an effort to make the game easier and/or more difficult. These consist of things like disabling all traps, making enemies respawn, eliminating the timer, and the like. Additionally, as you level up – much like a traditional roguelike – you gain stronger weapons, armor, and perks.
Typically, first person melee combat is not my thing. I struggle through games like Skyrim because I always felt the look and feel of these games are awkward. A lot of the awkwardness persists in City of Brass, but aside from some wonky swings of my sword, the combat is addictive. You’re equipped with a sword (which upgrades as you level) and a whip (something you can use to stun enemies, trip up enemies, pull enemies, or grab treasures), along with whatever armor you may find along the way or begin with. R2 swings your sword while L2 cracks your whip, and depending on where you aim the latter will decide what happens to your foe. A whip to the head stuns and enemy, while a well placed foot whip will knock them over. Likewise, you can pull weapons from hands or grab bombs or other hazardous projectiles and then toss them at your enemies. It’s a system well worth investing in, and it only improves as you continue to level up.
As you continue through each level (there are a series of levels you need to get through, each series ending with a mini-boss fight; after three or four levels, you’ll earn a checkpoint), you’ll come across various genies. At each genie station, you can choose to spend your gold (earned from picking up loot or opening treasure chests) on various weapon upgrades, armor improvements, gauntlets that add special abilities, insurance, and more. These temporary (they last until you perish) upgrades will assist you through your current life and provide welcome reprieve if you can afford them.
While carousing the streets of the ruinous city, you’ll notice how pretty the setting is. Granted, the city of brass is torn and worn from abuse, greed, and war, but the grandeur of every nook and cranny you crawl through paints a picture of the incredible city that once was. Now, the streets, populated with the undying souls of the greedy and powerful who used to thrive there, lay quiet. Even the enemies in the game provide spurts of colors, as the enemies glow with blue or red lights, and your own genies, should you use one of your wishes, thrive with green. The graphics may not reach the pinnacle that visual titans like Final Fantasy XV or God of War, they do hold a certain charm and compare well to your average game. I suppose you could relate the visuals to what the characters in Bioshock looked like, as a point of reference.
The weakest aspect of City of Brass lies within its sound direction. Sound effects and world noises are fine, and what little voices there are do a fine job, too. What little music roams the streets is forgettable, however, and the game felt a little bare because of it. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I often appreciate the subtle realism of a quiet street instead of some pounding city theme, and the quiet also helped me figure the direction of enemies.
Overall, City of Brass is one of the best first person roguelike adventures I’ve ever embarked on. The veterans from Bioshock at Uppercut Games put their gameplay knowledge to wonderful use, and it shines as the strongest aspect of this game. As far as the roguelike genre goes, I felt that City of Brass really offered up an innovative approach, as the entire game felt fresh and provided a lot of value. For $24.99, the price may initially appear fairly steep, but you’ll probably get more gameplay hours out of this “campaign” than your traditional first person game at a full $59.99. If adventure is what you’re seeking, City of Brass provides that in bunches. There’s nothing better than facing off against an army of the undead, utilizing your whip and whimsy to take down your foes.