Like a tasty dish that somehow blends familiar flavors into a unique concoction, City of Brass tosses together a number of tried-and-true genres - first-person action RPG, roguelike and procedurally generated dungeon crawler - and the result is a tasty treat... at least for a while. But eventually the palate grows weary of even the most enticing flavor, and similarly, City of Brass grows increasingly familiar with each subsequent death and restart.
City of Brass is set in the world of the Arabian Nights, and the game's 12 levels run through a variety of Moorish-influenced environments, desert landscapes and underground dungeons populated by genies, djinn and skeleton warriors. The game is colorful and has a lot of surface-level appeal, albeit beset by fairly simple and repetitive textures and enemy designs that are varied in type but similarly forgettable. The job gets done and despite some well-designed architecture, City of Brass is not the kind of game where you will be wowed by the vistas and aghast at the level of detail.
Too much visual information would be wasted anyway, as the focus is always on action, puzzle solving and treasure seeking as you move from level to level, avoiding and using the diabolical traps that are seemingly everywhere and scouring the environment for hidden secrets. While there are moments of respite, City of Brass really moves the player forward and into the next encounter. One of the game's outstanding features is the way it allows the player to use the whip and scimitar in rapid combination to dispatch enemies but also to reach out ways for treasure and shortcuts. The whip is a unique and flexible weapon and tool but the bladed weapon is less precise and a lot less fun to use, even upgraded. Coming from the developers who spent years in the FPS trenches, the game's somewhat unsatisfying melee combat is disappointing. Although City of Brass is procedurally generated and the locations of enemies, traps and treasure keep changing, the modular environmental pieces that make up the levels become familiar.
Although vending machines that dispense upgrades and special abilities appear with some regularity, collected treasure and cash disappear with every death so only the most skilled and lucky players will have the coin they need. Similar to other roguelikes, an unfortunate combination of enemy types can mean an early and unlucky death and restart. Luckily, City of Brass has a large number of welcome difficulty modifiers that can help take the frustration out of the game, while still preserving the story and fundamental action and mechanics. On its default difficulty, reaching the end boss is a significant challenge.
Like a chef overusing a favorite spice, City of Brass repeats itself a bit too often. On the positive side of the ledger, it demands a refreshing amount of strategic planning and the ability to quickly read and use the environment to one's advantage. I'm not convinced that City of Brass needed both procedurally generated levels and roguelike mechanics; a well-tuned game with one or the other would have remained plenty challenging. Until fatigue with the game design sets in - which will vary from player to player - City of Brass is a lot of fun, a flavorful medley of ingredients that harmonize well.