Many rogue-lites have their own distinct charm and personality that makes them stand out from all of the other genres in gaming. But it's how the game developers make them that keeps it engaging for the player. Certain rogue-lites like Hades and Returnal are developed in such a way that keeps players coming back for more. Their descriptive stories and vibrant worlds allow players to keep playing them in order to have a successful run. Still, sometimes there comes a title that seems extraordinary to play through, and you find yourself attempting each run repeatedly.
City of Beats falls into the same category as those more well-known games, but its setting and gameplay have captivated me to keep me playing for nearly hours on end. With its gorgeous Cyberpunk visuals, unique color palette, thumping electro-synth soundtrack, and mechanics that make me sweat, I was pleasantly surprised by what this game had to offer.
There is very little setup, but the basic premise is that humans no longer live on Earth. Only the Androids have been left behind and unfortunately for them, they are being controlled by a rogue A.I. named the Zeitgeber. You are an unnamed bounty hunter tasked with taking out the Zeitgeber in order to save all the androids left on the planet.
While the story is formulaic at best, it provides you with the necessary information that you need as you are playing City of Beats. You meet an assortment of characters once you arrive in the Beacon, a hub world that you go to in between your runs, or "exhibitions" as the game likes to call them. There's Dizzy, a helpful A.I. little girl that teaches you the controls and what you do in the Beacon; and there is FR-3N-A, a talking monitor that provides you with traits that act as passive upgrades.
Wrench is a robot (with a wrench, go figure) that gives out extensions which can improve your odds of success when you equip them. These range from garnering better rewards upon clearing a level to a repair module that gives you much-needed health after a difficult area. Finally, there's Sub-Woof-R, a robot dog that hands out three different weapons that you can choose when going through an exhibition; one of which is the Lightning Bow that shoots out electrified arrows at robot drones. Also, there is a rest spot you can go to if you feel like you want to take a breather after each run which I do appreciate.
After you get settled in the Beacon, you begin the exhibition with your starting weapon, a rifle that shoots a consistent stream of lasers, to attack the various robot drones that are out to get you. Much of the combat relies on your ability to dodge and shoot in a rhythmic fashion that goes along with the beat of the music. In fact, you can even time your attacks to certain enemies that will strike like the drones with energy shields by listening to audio cues, almost like you are setting the drop to the electronic music that is being played.
You must constantly stay on your feet to complete each area the game throws at you. Since it's a rogue-lite, each stage is procedurally generated so you never know what's going to happen next. Each level is small and compact enough to where you never know which enemy will appear next.
As you defeat swarms of enemies, you earn a consistent stream of rewards that you use to upgrade your character. Green Fragments allow you to upgrade your combat traits in a skill tree that you can reset at the Beacon. Increased damage, health upgrades, improving your shield gauge, and building your critical damage are all options, among others.
You also have purple Bounty Tokens that you get from defeating minibosses and bosses after each world. You use these to buy new weapons, and extensions that equip passive bonuses like having better chances at higher-tiered upgrades and having the ability to regain health via your hover car transport after clearing a tougher stage.
Much of the combat relies on your ability to dodge and use your weapons to their maximum potential. You need to focus your attention on taking out all of the enemies in quick succession, otherwise, you could get killed very easily and have to start your run all over again. Each weapon has an alternate firing mode you can hold for the highest impact like turning your laser rifle into a shotgun by firing a spread shot. The levels in an exhibition provide some tight close-quarters combat that makes you have to plan out your routes in taking out all of the enemies in the area.
As you are listening to the music, you want to time your attacks to the rhythm of the beat to great effect in order to defeat each robot enemy by completing all of the stages before you reach the final boss in a given world. You are able to choose your routes wisely so that you can formulate a strategy in a given run. There are pitstops that offer additional upgrades or to regain any health you may have lost.
One of the strongest aspects of the game that City of Beats provides is its visuals. The architecture and enemies are built in a geometric fashion that encapsulates the neon-soaked colors of the environments. It's impressive that a small development team is able to achieve all of this with the Unreal Engine, oozing a cyberpunk vibe that almost makes you feel like you are in an environment like in Blade Runner or Cyberpunk 2077.
I only have a few complaints about the game. Firstly, I think there should be a checkpoint system or the option to save after completing each world. Now I understand that it is designed as a rogue-lite, but I feel like having a save feature would help break up the constant runs since not everyone has as much free time to complete a set run.
Finally, the narrative needed to be fleshed out more since it doesn't any clear reasoning as to why we should be attached to the main character along with not having a clear explanation as to why every human had decided to leave Earth by leaving all the androids behind. But that just feels like a minor nitpick on my part.
Overall, if you're looking for an energetic rogue-lite with a killer electro-synth soundtrack and gorgeous visuals then I would highly suggest City of Beats.
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