city of brass
A thousand and one deaths
With echoes of
Spelunky in its randomly generated treasure hunt and of PrinceOfPersia in its trap-filled, scimitar-swinging Arabian theme,
CityOfBrass is a short game that will test your patience and endurance like few others.
Although the end is only 12 brief levels and a few bosses away, the difficulty is set so high that death is always waiting around the next corner, and as is traditional in this roguelike genre, dying means you get stripped of all your hard-earned items and dumped back at the start.
You enter the city armed carrying only a basic sword, a whip, and (presumably) a humungous backpack in which to store the hundreds of gold statuettes and jewel-encrusted plates you grab as you race through the streets and buildings, pursued by howling skeletal warriors.
The levels are filled with a ludicrous amount of traps, and because the layout changes every time, you can never be sure whether a door will conceal a pit of spikes or some spears that stab up through the floor, or a vent that puffs out an extremely annoying blast of deadly sand with no obvious indication of its lethal radius. As a general rule you can consider all doorways to be probable deathtraps, and rushing through them will inevitably whittle away your precious health points.
Because it’s not sensible to run around blindly when the next floor tile is highly likely to slice you to ribbons, and by the very nature of the game, you have no idea exactly what’s coming up next, slow and methodical progress is the key to reaching the next level with enough health to get a little further. Consequently, getting mobbed by enemies is inevitable, and you’ll always have a fight on your hands.
The whip can be used to knock opponents off their feet, disarm them, temporarily blind them, or even drag them closer to get them within sword range. You can also knock them backwards into traps or smash through them while sliding on your knees, and there are plenty of explosive vases and pots of fire scattered around for taking down multiple enemies at once.
The basic combat toolset is similar to
Bulletstorm, but it’s nowhere near as slick in action. It’s all very well having multiple hit zones and a two-handed, whip-cracking, sword-slashing fighting style, but the controls are so twitchy and imprecise that it’s hard to pull off any decent combos. You might be aiming to whip a skeleton’s head but you’re just as likely to hit its body, feet or hands as it rushes towards you. If it gets too close your whip will almost certainly pass straight through it, and the same thing happens all the time with the sword— it’s not easy to judge the distance, and there’s a significant lag between pressing a button and anything happening on screen.
Of course, while you’re desperately air-slashing at furious skeletons and constantly staying on the move to avoid getting shot with arrows or magic blasts, there’s a pretty good chance of stepping on one of those traps and getting skewered. Oh, and there’s a time limit, too. City Of Brass may be very nice to look at, but it’s far from a relaxing experience to play.
Luckily there are ways of shifting the odds slightly back in your favor, mainly through the Genie shops that offer a chance to exchange some of your loot for improved weapons or other abilities. The default whip only ever stuns enemies so the fiery version is an essential purchase, allowing you to set creatures on fire and leave them to burn rather than having to finish them off at close range.
You can also buy better armor, disable the traps for a while, or hire a ghostly buddy who will follow you around and attack anything that moves until he’s eventually overwhelmed. All of this useful stuff comes at such a high price, it’s not possible to get everything you might want, and the shops only stock a small selection of items anyway. But they do make a difference, and being stripped of all your upgrades after dying swiftly becomes a massive disincentive to trying again.
The only permanent things you gain after levelling up are called Burdens, which function like the skulls in Halo and make things even more challenging. There’s an achievement for finishing the game with all Burdens turned on, which is surely destined to remain one of the rarest ones on Xbox. On the positive side, you have access to a full set of complementary Blessings right from the start, which rule you out of the leaderboards but make the game a little less arduous, with easier enemies, more health, no time limit and so on. While it might not be the hardcore way to play, it beats finding yourself with no money and on your last portion of health before you’re even halfway through. Back to the start you go. Short it may be, but City
OfBrass comes close to outstaying its welcome in very little time.
“The difficulty is set so high that death is always waiting around the next corner”
Left There’s no ebb and flow to the combat. It’s basically just frantic slashing.
Far Left You only get that many life hearts if you wimp out and play with Blessings turned on. Oops!
right The narrow field of view makes it hard to track enemies to either side.