As unfortunate as it is, we are all judged by our past endeavours. Take J.K Rowling for example. She writes seven truly outstanding pieces of literature, and then subsequently decides to release a series of books under a pseudonym, Robert Galbraith, in the hope that she could sell the books without using her legendary name as a sales tactic. Long story short, she sold far more books when her secret was revealed, with some quoting a meteoric increase in sales of almost 150,000%. Although not on quite the same level, when some of the developers from the epic Bioshock series release a game, people tend to take notice.
The latest game from said developers is City of Brass: a first-person action adventure title. With procedurally generated environments and game over upon death, there are a few who would stop reading now. Just remember though, Bioshock developers…
Now, all talk of past experiences aside, City of Brass is a well-designed and thoroughly thought-out game. The story goes:
Become a daring thief in City of Brass, a first-person action adventure from senior BioShock developers. Armed with scimitar and a versatile whip, you’ll lash and slash, bait and trap your way to the heart of an opulent, Arabian Nights-themed metropolis – or face certain death as time runs out.
Although there is little in the way of storytelling, there is a beautiful opening cutscene which shares the goal of obtaining prized treasure from the clutches of some rather evil looking captors. My immediate thoughts upon watching was that if the graphics are as good as this in-game, we are in for a treat. As with many a video game, the graphical content whilst playing is rarely as good as the cutscenes, yet it still does an excellent job: the Arabian night-inspired locations are rich in detail and the enemies are well-crafted and full of personality.
Prior to the games release, I diligently trawled the internet in search of tidbits of information and discovered an interview with the development team whereby they explained the rationale behind the use of procedural generation. With a such a small team of developers, they felt they could provide a better visual experience by creating less structures and objects, but making them more detailed. This is certainly evident as the game looks and runs fantastically well on the Nintendo Switch, and the drawbacks of using procedural regeneration i.e. potentially less realistic environments, are rarely evident.
The gameplay itself is fairly standard for a game of this nature: run from room to room defeating enemies and collecting items along the way. Where this game differs though, and how it showcases all of its personality, is in the form of elixirs, weaponry and modifiers. As you progress through the environments, you can collect coins. These coins can then be spent at various purchase points, with a plethora of different options available i.e. spend 200 coins on summoning a companion to fight alongside you in battle, or hold out for 500 and remove all traps? The way that you spend your coins can have massive repercussions, and this adds a strategic element to the gameplay I hadn’t anticipated. As well as this, you can add these options to your wishlist if you do not have the money at the time, in the hope of coming across them again later in the game or to reduce the price. Adding an upgrade to your wish list, although promising, can prove devastating as a sneaky meddler may bump the price up. For example, I wanted to be able to remove all traps, which was priced at 500, only to then add it to my wishlist and find that the price was now 1500!
As mentioned previously, other ways this game stands out from the crowd is in its use of weaponry and elixirs. The weaponry provided includes a whip in one hand and a scimitar in the other. Combat is fluid and intuitive, and the whip and sword work seamlessly together. As well as this, the aiming is accurate and well-designed i.e. whip an enemy in the legs and it will drop them to the floor, whereas hit them in the head and it stuns them. When the main focus of a game is on its combat offering, it is imperative that the development team get this right, and for the most part they have been very successful. I did find that, on occasion, the scimitar didn’t always connect with the enemy or an enemy required me to stun them before the sword attack would register, which isn’t very realistic. On the whole, I was pleased with this element of the game and had a lot of fun making use of the whip as a mode of attack.
Elixirs can be found throughout the game, funnily enough feeling somewhat reminiscent of Bioshock Infinite, and these provide special powers for a limited amount of time. This can be offering the ability to: see through walls to locate items; electrocute enemies by standing near them, or, as a curveball, poisoning you to death!
Death, rightly so, results in the game being over. This can happen frequently as you only have four measily hearts for health, and the opportunity to revitalise these is hard to come by. If you die before reaching the end of the level, which is timed by the way, it means that you restart the game from the beginning. The XP you have earned is kept so that you can level up, but you can guarantee you will see the opening scenery again…and again…and again.
No game review would ever be complete without discussing the audio, and fortunately, City of Brass has made full use of this resource. Due to the challenging nature of the game and the lack of health available to your character, it can be quite a tense affair. This is heightened somewhat by the sound included, as the enemies never sound too far behind and there is very little in the way of music. Combining unusual noises with an eerie silence is a recipe for terror, and I was fully appreciative of what had been achieved – especially with headphones in!
My time with City of Brass has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I particularly liked the weapon choices, as using R and L to use each weapon independent of the other was great. I found the tense atmosphere to be one I thrived in, and when in the mood for a challenge, it is an excellent way to spend your time. I was also pleased with the procedural generation, mainly due to the fact that I did die A LOT and it rarely felt too repetitive – although I can see the potential for it to become so for some.
As much as I liked the challenge, I also found that it then became a game which I could play only when in a certain mood. For those looking for a calmer, more relaxing first-person adventure, I would advise to stay well clear. This game takes no prisoners, and one wrong move can have all your hard work undone. There is an argument for the game being too difficult, and I know many have described it as so before, however the fact it kept me coming back for more has gone some way to convincing me that this is an issue for the individual gamer, and not for the game as a whole.
City of Brass has taken inspiration from a number of excellent video games and conjured up their own gaming elixir filled with both invention and challenge. Yes, it will not be for all, but for those who are keen to test their mettle in this Arabian world will feel right at home. It brings a smile to my face to see yet more developers break away from the ‘AAA’ development cycle and scale it right back to the very heart of console gaming: indie titles.