City of Brass draws its inspiration from the tale of the same name found in the many volumes of The Thousand and One Arabian Nights. The story, written a fair few moons ago, focuses on a young thief, and the game follows the same idea.
You play a young scallywag who wants to nick as much treasure as he can while running through the city, a city that has been overrun by genies and skeletons (among other creatures). But it's also a race against the clock. The more treasure you collect and the longer you survive, the higher your score, which in turn goes towards opening up new perks! Some of these perks can be used from the start of the game to make your experience easier, such as turning off the timer or getting more life. However, if you're up for more challenge you can make the game harder, and it's worth noting that boosts can affect your overall score on the ranked scoreboard. The clock, as mentioned, might frustrate some, but the fact you can switch it off means that from the get-go the developers were looking to make a game for everyone to enjoy.
This is a first-person roguelite powered by the Unreal 4 Engine and it comes with all the trappings you'd expect from the genre. Perma-death makes this game brutal, but not so challenging to the point that you want to throw down your controller and watch Netflix. Along with the perma-death, another roguelike feature is the inclusion of a procedurally generated environments, which as most you will know, gives the game huge replayability.
We had our concerns that the worlds being created might look like the last cowboy renovation job those builders did on our kitchen, but fear not, as the environments blend seamlessly and there are no random gaps in the walls or jumps you can't reach. Each level comes with a bunch of treasures placed high and low, secret passages to find, and traps to avoid. All of it comes with eerie background music that really sets the scene nicely. The environments are lush and look like they have been pre-designed. And that's not mentioning the lightning, which really has an impact as you run from indoors to the outside, and in terms of night and day.
It's a race against time, then, and you're armed with a whip and sword. You, therefore, hack your way through a sea of interesting monsters that come with a variety of different styles of attack and variable health bars. The animation of the whip is great and gives you the ability to stun baddies or pull them into traps. It can also be used to collect treasure or connect to rings on the ceilings which allows you to swing through areas, covering great distances. One thing we loved was whipping the headgear off the heads or swords out of the hands of the enemies we encountered. We even felt a bit sad when they looked a bit glum at being disarmed. When you get bored of the whip and sword, you can pick up pots or firebombs and get throwing.
The whip can also be used to activate the traps that your feet don't, and you can avoid being killed in many different ways. It's a great feeling when you watch one of your opponents drop down a chasm or get impaled on a spike like Alan Partridge. It's not so great when you stand on one yourself, but it all adds the challenge and the fun of running through the levels, at times like a headless chicken.
If the traps get too much you can always stop at one the many genie lamps dotted around the place, which act as the in-game stores. Each genie has a random selection of upgrades that are a bit vague as to what they do. Much like Forest Gump and his box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get, so you have to hope that the thing you're craving is on offer. In other words, if you want to stop the traps, and the solution isn't there, then you'd better get dodging them or you're going to die.
The currency for the shop is the treasure you collect along the way, so you have to balance whether you want to bring home a bigger haul for a better score or make the levels easier. If you don't have enough loot to buy something, you can always use one of your wishes. If you've ever seen Aladdin in panto, then you probably know that you get three of them to use. Along with being used for purchases, they can be used to subdue some of the bigger monsters.
As mentioned before, the enemies are really entertaining and really do make some great growling, howling noises to let you know they're there. The AI, on the whole, seems pretty good, and the monsters will go to great lengths to get you, and they're clever enough to not get stuck or lost in the stunning procedurally generated environments. As you get further into the game, the enemies get more varied and some of them act as bosses that you have to defeat, such as wizards and genies. They're all very smart and well-coordinated, apart from the one type of skeleton creature who deliberately charges headfirst at you, and if it misses, bangs straight into the wall or sometimes explodes in one the fire urns dotted around the map. Talking of chickens, sometimes you can come across ghostly poultry, which can be picked up and hurled towards an enemy, distracting them. We mean, who wouldn't be a bit perplexed by a phantom chicken. It sounds bizarre, but it all adds to the fun.
And fun is the name of the game. Roguelikes, due to their mechanics and seeming randomness, can be limited in terms of story, and that's the case here. In City of Brass you don't get dialogue or backstory about the thief, so you have to draw on the game itself to get the emotion and build a link, but boy do you get one. We enjoyed the running, the jumping, the stealing, and the hacking through the beautiful environments; the variety afforded to us by the procedural generation kept things feeling fresh at no point did we find ourselves getting bored. We did at times get stressed when we couldn't defeat some of the harder enemies, but never did it stop us from going again.
To sum up, City of Brass is a well-priced and highly fun action-adventure. At times it can get a bit frustrating, but on the whole, it kept us engaged for hours as we learned its intricacies. If you're looking for a story-driven adventure or an easy-to-master experience, then look elsewhere, however, if a wholesome challenge and plenty of fun is what you're after, then it's well worth a closer look.