Uppercut Games dropped City of Brass into Early Access last week, and after having spent a good few hours with their Arabian Nights gauntlet simulator, I’m here to give it a mighty thumbs up from the bottom of a spiked pit.
City of Brass is best described as a first-person Sassanid Spelunky. Players start outside the colossal walls of the eponymous city. Armed with a whip – again, Spelunky – and a sword, you’ve only your wits and a clutch of health to get as deep into the confines of this cursed fortress as possible.
Between you and every level exit are copious traps and pulp Persian horrors. If ‘only the penitent man shall pass’ means anything, you’re on the right track. Bottomless pits, scarifying spigots, walls and floors of triggered spikes adorn the dense network of chambers, vaults, alleyways and courtyards. The Unaware quickly become The Ventilated and The Restarted.
If it isn’t a trap, it’ll be one of the undead or ethereal residents wringing the life from a player’s few hearts. City of Brass has a good mix of enemies, from garden variety shamblers to much larger, armoured foe. Given the dense proliferation of traps, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and lose track of where those sharp bronze endoscopes are.
But by that same token, City of Brass comes alive when you start turning the town against itself. The game’s fundamental combat consists of whipping for stun or trigger. A well-placed crack can trip, disarm or temporary concuss any enemy you care to put leather to. This is offset by armour or enemy type, but it remains a constant throughout. You can also set off traps or explode volatile urns to lethal effect. The primary weapon – scimitar, saber, club and the like – is used in a very basic manner, with a simple swipe and combo depending on length of wind-up.
Compared to Chivalry or any other melee-centric combat affairs, it might appear anaemic. But City of Brass’ combat encounters shouldn’t be measured solely by bladestroke. It’s a cumulative affair. With an accommodating mantling system, Uppercut are emphasising a mobile, opportunistic method of taking down opponents and racing for the gate.
I pick up an explosive jar, whip the planks off a barricaded chamber, charge into a throng of Dervish shamblers. The jar sails into the face of one creep, taking him and his nearest comrade. I whip the sword from another’s gristly grasp, dodge the charge of a box-headed skelly and shove the accelerating goon into the path of a hissing firetrap. Managing to swipe trinkets from nearby shelving, I escape via a rear door. The remaining enemies in raucous pursuit, their cacophony is cut short by the pit trap opening beneath their unfortunate feet.
That’s a bite-sized encounter, the likes of which become instinctual moments of prowess on a rampage towards the exit. Or, you know, fleeting showcases of skill before you get perforated. The game certainly shines best when you’re confident and on the move. It’s a game of kiting and dancing. The reach of the whip, its ability snag loot from afar as well as trip traps, means players have agency to really work an area without stopping. If you’re not always moving, you’re not truly playing. If you’re not heaving pots, you’re not truly living.
Once a proud bullet point, procedural generation’s reputation as a provider of endless content isn’t quite what it used to be. In the strategy genre, it works. Other genres, particularly ones like this, perfunctory quantity is the faceless heavy lifter we could do without.
City of Brass’ technological marvel is that, yes, these levels are all procedurally-generated. And it just feels so natural.
The compressed real estate works in tandem with its overcompensation of traps and monsters. Served under pressure, these machine-conjured levels have a logical physicality, and given the timed nature of each run, there’s little time for ennui to take root or for players to pull back the curtains. Sometimes you’ll have a freer, more loot-laden saunter to the exit, other times, it’s a one-way ticket to spikesville.
There’s plenty more to come for City of Brass, but it’s made such a positive impression that I wholeheartedly recommend going in for the Early Access build at the time of writing.
It might not look like much at first glance, and believe me, I’ve seen some pretty average appraisals at face value, but once you start speaking the language, City of Brass shimmers.