I’ve played a lot of character-action games and action-RPGs in my years of gaming, which was why when I went into my hands-on session with Scarlet Nexus, I figured that I pretty much knew what to expect. But Scarlet Nexus surprised me with a style of combat that was both fast-paced and deliberate, while also still managing to combine that with an endearing cast of characters that already had me invested in their relationships and struggles even in just the four hours that I got to play. Add on top of that a unique “Brainpunk” aesthetic and the core mechanic of being able to throw cars at your enemies, and Scarlet Nexus is standing out in all of the right ways.
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Scarlet Nexus’s world is one that runs largely due to the powers of the brain, hence the “Brainpunk” label. People communicate telepathically, there are augmented reality pop ups and advertisements all over the city, and most importantly, many of its inhabitants are gifted with special mental abilities. The two playable protagonists, Yuito and Kasane, are equipped with Psychokinesis, which gives them the ability to move objects with their minds. But through the usage of what’s known as the SAS (Struggle Arms System), they’re also able to temporarily borrow the powers of those close to them.
This forms the main framework of Scarlet Nexus’s combat. Both Yuito and Kasane are able to fight with traditional attacks using their preferred weapon of choice – for Yuito that’s a sword and for Kasane it’s a handful of knives that she sends out and calls back telekinetically – but in addition to that they’re also able to seamlessly toss anything that’s not bolted down at their target for big damage. The catch is that using your psychokinesis takes a great deal of mental power, and the only way to restore that quickly is by getting back in the thick of it and landing regular attacks.
So you’re encouraged to mix in regular and psychokinetic attacks regularly, and thankfully, there’s a really great flow to the combat where you’re able to toss an object and then immediately press the attack button to dash in towards your target, land some hits to fill up your meter, and then when you try to throw an object again, you’ll automatically jump back out of the fray. The mobility aspect of it is important, because unlike many other action games, you have to fully commit to either attack or defense, as you can not cancel your attacking animation to roll away. So mixing in your psychokinetic attacks with your regular attacks is actually an important way to be defensive while also still being on the attack.
The final wrinkle in the combat system is the addition of your party members, each of whom have their own special mental power, and can be called upon to temporarily give you their ability. Yuito’s childhood friend Hanabi, for instance, has pyrokinesis and is able to imbue each of your attacks with flames. This is especially important because most enemies have elemental strengths and weaknesses that you’ll need to exploit in order to deal with them effectively. Beyond that, you can also utilize elements of the environment to put on some extra hurt, like using your psychokinesis to grab an oil barrel to douse an enemy in gasoline, and then borrow Hanabi’s pyrokinesis to ignite them for pyrotechnic damage.
What was most impressive about my three hours of playtime, which started at the very beginning of the game, is how quickly I was exposed to a huge variety of both characters and powers, and the ways in which they synergize with your psychokinesis. One of my favorite examples involved a time I was partnered with a character that could use invisibility while we traversed a subway. When we came up on a group of unsuspecting enemies, I was able to turn invisible, run right past them, and then telekinetically pull a train along the tracks to wipe them all out in one satisfying go.
Other powers were more meant to deal with very specific enemy types, like the ability to slow down time, which was used to counter fast enemies that would just move out of the way of traditional attacks; or the ability to use clairvoyance and spot invisible enemies; or the ability to harden your body and protect yourself against otherwise unavoidable attacks from an especially strong foe.
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The most promising aspect of this whole system is the fact that your party members’ abilities can be strengthened via a persona-esque bond system that has you deepening your relationships with each individual character, which in turns adds new properties to their abilities. What’s even more impressive about this system is that there are two playable characters, and their playthroughs are almost entirely different.
And that’s probably the aspect of Scarlet Nexus that excites me the most. I spent the majority of my playtime playing as Yuito, but I also had time to run through the first hour or so as Kasane and was shocked at how different things felt. This is absolutely not a case where there’s a male and a female option of the same character; Kasane and Yuito are entirely different characters with distinct personalities, different motivations, different relationships, and different combat abilities.
Yuito’s combat style, for example, is focused on short range sword attacks that excel at dealing a lot of damage to a single enemy. Kasane’s on the other hand is more of a mid-range style that is a bit slower, but has the advantage of adding a bit more AOE to her attacks. Their skill trees develop their abilities very differently as well. Yuito gets the ability to quickly recover when he gets knocked down very early, allowing to quickly get back into close range; while Kasane’s earliest power-ups enhance her ability to do air combos. She gets an early double jump and air dash that she can use to extend her air combos in ways that Yuito can’t until much deeper into his skill tree.
The differences in their campaigns are even more profound. While their paths do cross occasionally, leading to similarly structured missions that both characters share, the two are on completely different platoons of the OSF (Others Suppression Force), which means you’ll be consistently interacting with a different set of party members depending on whether you’re playing with Yuito or Kasane.
As impressive as this all was, there were still a few disappointing bits. Even though Yuito and Kasane go on different missions with different characters, they generally traverse the same locations, which does make a lot of the missions feel very same-y, even though the context and dialogue of the missions are very different. It’s an issue that’s made worse by the fact that the levels themselves are very bland to look at. I saw lots of empty streets, parking lots, and construction yards with very little personality.
Of course, these are all just impressions after just about four hours into a game that seems like it has quite a lot of meat on its bones. Nevertheless, I left my preview very eager to dive right back into Scarlet Nexus and learn more about its characters, worlds, and see how deeply I can sink my teeth into its fast and frantic telekinetic combat.
Mitchell Saltzman is an editorial producer at IGN. You can follow him on twitter @JurassicRabbit
Source: IGN Video Games All