A dream of 1001 Arabian nights or never-ending nightmare?
The playthrough for this review of City of Brass has been done both in docked and handheld mode.
The summary text on the Nintendo Switch store for City of Brass reads as follows:
”Become a daring thief in City of Brass, a first-person action adventure from senior BioShock developers. Armed with a 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.”
Now that text promises a lot, let us see if they rubbed the right lamp and got what they wished for.
Let us start from the ground up. I am 34 years old, started gaming on a Commodore 64 and haven’t stopped since. Difficulty, limited lives, etc. have never had an influence on me liking or disliking a game. Depending on their use they can be a great advantage as the Souls series, Salt and Sanctuary or Dragons Dogma have proven again and again in the last decade. So be aware, this game’s difficulty is brutal, which is further enhanced by the rogue-like structure of the game. Fight, die, repeat is very much the motto of the day.
The problem is, the game is just not fun.
In City of Brass, you play an unnamed, bland protagonist who seeks to explore the city to find hidden treasure and that is all she wrote. If the atmosphere wasn’t missing, then this fact may have been ignored.
The 12 stage campaign pretty much consists of walking through very similar looking areas and fighting very similar looking enemies over and over again, while picking up treasures. These treasures then give you the ability to upgrade weapons or heal at specific spots where a genie greets the player with a random selection of items unless you lose all of your hearts due to the awful fighting mechanics or one of the random traps.
Graphically, the Switch version falls way off of the already mediocre PS4 and Xbox One versions. Upon booting up the game I could not shake the feeling that I had been ported back by the sands of time to an era when the PS2 was a graphical powerhouse. In addition to this, the game is plagued by various issues. One odd issue I encountered during my playthrough is that I could not deactivate the autorun section, which makes me wonder how much slower this play-through would have been without it always being on.
The protagonist and the enemies seem to be the really enjoying this game, even if you do not. After every revive he greets the player with an odd laugh that is a mixture of irony, sarcasm, and mockery. The enemies continue to do similarly until you vanquish them using your whip and scimitar or push them into one of the myriad of traps throughout each area.
If you feel that all Bethesda games combat systems were too fast-paced, accurate and exciting, then this may the game for you. Each weapon swing feels like you have mistakenly activated the slow-motion mode and lack any kind of feeling of impact. The idea of using a whip as the ranged weapon in itself may have been an interesting concept, but even when the aiming dot is right on the enemy it seems that there is little chance of hitting them unless they are standing right in front of you. This makes the ranged aspect pointless.
Overall this game could have been a game full of dense atmosphere, intriguing mysteries, challenges and adventure, but in the end, it is just a mystery how this game passed any QA test and was not dumped into the forgotten sands that once swallowed ET for the Atari. The senior BioShock developers probably should have considered going into retirement instead of producing this game and have good old BioShock turn in its grave until the end of time.