The best combat systems flow like water. There's perfect pacing throughout the heat of battle, with the player jumping back and forth between offensive action, defensive positioning, and everything in between. Action games really succeed when they empower the player, while never letting enemies become tiresome bullet sponges, so you don’t feel like you’re whacking your head against a brick wall. Scarlet Nexus absolutely nails this power balance between abnormal abilities and enemies that can take a beating.
Bandai Namco's latest anime action game takes place in the near future, where cadets are enlisted to protect humanity from ethereal beings, while commanding telekinetic powers with ease. You can pick up and lob bikes, lorries, cement blocks, and countless other objects in rapid real time battles, pelting enemies from afar with a vast array of otherworldly abilities. Playing off this are the assortment of close quarters combat moves, where your character can swipe, slash, and uppercut foes. It’s a fairly simplistic set of tools, but it works brilliantly for teaching the player all the moves they’ve got to work with in a very short period of time, and getting them to learn which move to use in the appropriate situation.
Learning from the best
Scarlet Nexus feels like it takes inspiration in part from PlatinumGames' Astral Chain. The excellent 2019 action game was spearheaded by NieR Automata gameplay director Takahisa Taura, sublimely combining combat moves of your average anime protagonist with your hulking mechanical partner. In many respects, Scarlet Nexus is following in the footsteps of Astral Chain by brilliantly combining two main combat system components, and the result is two distinct features working in fantastic tandem together.
What's key here is that Scarlet Nexus provides you with a very limited quantity of mystical energy. It begins recharging only after you've dashed in to deal a few close range attacks, so it's never a case of sitting back and letting your telekinesis powers take over. But when you do cast your eyes over the outskirts of the combat arena for the next conveniently placed building material to pelt your enemy with, you’ll notice there’s an encapsulating city surrounding you. I can't quite put my finger on it, but there's something strangely endearing about the anime backdrop surrounding your adventures in Bandai Namco's new game. Perhaps it's the fact that it's the near future and, unlike Cyberpunk 2077, human beings still function as people, going about their everyday business and commuting to the jobs you and I still hold in this present day.
Night City never gave us a proper glimpse of the "everyday" person. There's no sewage workers, no delivery drivers, no corporate suits striding to and from their offices down bustling city streets. Scarlet Nexus posits that, in the near future at least, with all these telekinetic powers used by the elite forces of humanity and the world being invaded by shadowy monsters, humanity is still relatable by the mundane nature of their everyday existence still being firmly in place, and it does an incredible amount of lifting for constructing a believable space around you.
Simply observe the encroaching city you're thrust into following the conclusion of Scarlet Nexus's prologue chapter, and you'll see strangely relatable scenes. There's stressed-out suits worrying about work, and sightseers sauntering around a nearby shrine, reading up on the history of the local area. It might sound overly simplistic, but that's what Scarlet Nexus's portrayal of humanity excels at: making anime human beings relatable in a world where monsters drop out of the sky by having them do the same old tasks and day-to-day routine that we're used to today. It's a minor detail, but it works wonders for immersing you in Scarlet Nexus' otherworldly design, proving that there’s more to this action game than hyper-stylish combat. .
Scarlet Nexus launches next month on June 25, for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S, and Xbox Series X. From the limited number of hours played so far, it's shaping up to be a frantically energetic escapade in a fairly engrossing futuristic cityscape.