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Developer: Platinum Games
Release Date: 01/08/13
Platinum Games has been in a weird position, since the company came into existence, of not really quite paying off the potential the company was thought to have. While Bayonetta was an excellent (if derivative) experience, Madworld and Vanquish were largely aesthetically pleasing but otherwise basic games that were interesting, but not very involved. Infinite Space, on the other hand, ran into the opposite problem, as it was very involved, but confusing and frustrating to a lot of people. It’s not that these were bad games, but when one looked at God Hand and Okami, those games implied that the games following them would likely be improvements over those experiences, and Platinum Games… hasn’t quite gotten to that point yet. Anarchy Reigns, unfortunately, continues that trend, as it’s an aesthetically pleasant game that takes classic concepts and slaps an artistic front end onto them… without anything else to back that up. It’s certainly very pretty and very fun, and for its budget price it’s worth checking out, but in simple terms, it’s a modernized attempt at Power Stone or Spawn: In the Demon’s Hand, which is fine, but that’s about it.
The plot of Anarchy Reigns is based in the same world as Madworld, though outside of using a few characters from that game, it’s essentially an unconnected storyline. The game begins with a confrontation between mercenary Jack Cayman and some government enforcers from the Bureau, essentially this universe’s cyber police, which goes poorly for Jack, before offering the player the option of starting off as either Jack or Leo, one of the Bureau enforcers. Both sides are looking for former Strike One (the Bureau team Leo belongs to) leader Max Caxton, with Leo and company doing so in hopes of finding answers for why Max went bonkers, and Jack doing so because Max’ daughter recruited him to do so. The plot of Anarchy Reigns is adequate in carrying the game along, though it has the problem of being both confusing and clichéd, which is generally not a good place for your plot to end up. The plot is clichéd in that every character acts in exactly the way you’d expect them to, to the extent that nothing is ever a surprise, while it’s confusing in that elements of the plot are either not explained at all or are explained to poorly (Max’s psychotic episodes being a primary example) that you’re left to wonder what the hell is even going on. That said, the characters are all well written, interestingly enough, to the extent that you’ll quite like everyone you meet, even if their world is confusing and predictable, so call it a wash; the characters are strong enough to carry along the plot through its otherwise awkward paces, so while not a win, it’s close enough.
Anarchy Reigns looks pretty solid, as it manages to hold onto the personality of Madworld while bringing the visuals into full-color, removing the noir aspect of the visuals without losing the personality or charm. The various different characters all look very interesting and different from one another, as each character, even the more uniform Bureau team members, has a style all their own that brings them to life. The character animations are also well handled and flow into one another well, and the various environments are appropriately evocative of the post-apocalyptic wasteland the world is supposed to be at this point. Aurally, the soundtrack is, as one would expect from a Platinum Games title, absolutely awesome, featuring lots of powerful rock and rap styled tracks mixed in with solid electronic and orchestral bits now and again that give the game a unique and interesting feel. The voice work is all fantastic, and it adds to the personality of the characters well, as each actor and actress delivers their lines convincingly, even second tier characters like the Rin sisters and Garuda who show up for two battles and bugger off, which is a pleasantly consistent effort. The various aural effects are also well assembled, so explosions, chainsaws and general combat noises all sound pretty effective here, and battles always sound interesting at the very least.
Anarchy Reigns can essentially be described as a modern 3D beat-em-up in the purest fashion possible, as you’ll spend roughly ninety percent of your time playing making things stop living with your fists. The left and right sticks control movement and the camera respectively, X and Y act as weak and strong attacks, A jumps and B initiates and counters grabs as well as picks up and catches environmental objects to use as weapons. Pressing the Left Bumper allows you to lock onto a target, which you can then cycle with the right stick, while both the Right Bumper and Right Trigger can be used to block when used alone, or to evade by pressing A while holding one down. You can also pick up and use up to two items at one time, which will be mapped to the left and right D-Pad directions. The items will stay in reserve until the direction is pressed, and will either kick on when using something like cloaking or a shield, or map to the Left Trigger to be used in the case of weapons like guns or grenades. You can also press X and A simultaneously to perform a three hundred and sixty degree spin attack to knock back enemies, at the cost of some vitality, in a cute nod to old-school beat-em-ups that offered the same sort of invincibility moves. The game offers an extensive tutorial mode as well as a training mode to learn the fundamentals of these moves, so none of this should be hard to grasp, and the loading screens also frequently show off the button map in case you still manage to miss out on something.
The two interesting combat mechanics Anarchy Reigns brings to the table are the Killer Weapons and the Rampage system. Killer Weapons are engaged by holding down the Left Trigger, which will kick the weapon on while held. While doing so, you can press X or Y to perform light or heavy attacks with the weapon, and each attack (whether it connects or not) drains one bar from the meter on-screen. You can have four attacks charged at one time, and attacks can be recharged by landing normal attacks on opponents, so the Killer Weapon attacks are frequently available but not so much so as to be abusable. After you’ve dealt and/or taken enough punishment, you’ll see an icon in the bottom left corner charge and turn yellow, indicating Rampage is available. By pressing in both sticks simultaneously you’ll kick Rampage on, which turns you briefly invincible, regenerates your health, allows infinite use of Killer Weapon attacks and turns your normal attacks into some Fist of the North Star style pummeling attacks. When fighting normal cannon fodder this is useful for recovering, but the catch is, if you’re fighting another named character, they can also kick in Rampage, and if both of you attack simultaneously with Rampage engaged, you’ll enter into a pummeling duel of sorts. At this point a button map will pop up on screen and you’ll have to smash the lit button on-screen to win the duel, with the winner dealing the final blow in said duel. It’s a cute system that’s evocative of, as mentioned, Fist of the North Star and similar martial arts anime, and while it’s basically an Active Time Event system, it’s the only obvious one in the game, so it’s not that bad.
The Campaign mode is where you’ll likely spend your time at first, and you’ll want to clear it twice to see everything the game has to offer. When you start the campaign you’re asked to choose either the White (Leo) or Black (Jack) path, and upon completing one, you’re then taken down the other path to the final Red path, which puts you back in control of the starting character for the final battle. Either way, the sequence of events is roughly the same, however. You’re dumped off into one of four locations, each of which is a largely open world environment, and asked to earn points to unlock missions. At the start, nothing is unlocked, so you’ll have to beat on enemies to earn points which unlock the first mission you can take on (though this doesn’t take terribly long at all), and each mission earns you a significant amount of points toward your next point goal and subsequent unlocked mission. Missions come in two flavors: Free, which are repeatable for points and contain little to no story to speak of, and Main, which are plot advancing missions that must be completed to move forward. Once you complete the three main missions, whether you do all the free missions or not, the game moves to the next location, where the cycle repeats until you’ve completed both paths and the final Red path. Each starting character has their own Red path, so you’ll have to go through the full campaign twice to see both, though there are reasons to do this thing aside from seeing both endings. Doing so unlocks characters and Abilities for use in multiplayer, and there are also various Achievements tied into doing this thing if nothing else.
Eventually you’ll move onto the Multiplayer, which is largely similar mechanically to the Campaign, but against (or alongside) other players. You can choose to jump into Ranked, Player and Private matches, with Ranked improving your overall Leaderboard scores and denying you invite options, Player allowing you to invite friends but not moving your Leaderboard status, and Private essentially allowing you to make a â€œFriends Onlyâ€ room that can also be filled with bots if needed. Multiplayer offers a fairly wide variety of modes, each with different objectives, player maximums, and so on, so you’ll see free-for-all modes like Battle Royale, Deathmatch, and Cage Matches, as well as team-based modes like Tag Battle, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag. There are also some more abnormal modes like Death Ball (team based mode where the object is to score goals with giant balls) and Survival (three player Horde Mode, essentially) to round out the play options, so you’ll see plenty of variety here. Playing in Ranked and Player matches earns you experience based on how you do, though this mostly seems to unlock Abilities and such, which you can equip in some modes to improve yourself slightly, so don’t expect leveling up to make a lot of difference. If you want to play in Private Matches all the time you’re totally within your rights to do this thing, and you can unlock a decent amount of Abilities just through the campaign anyway.
That’s actually probably for the best, though, because playing online in Anarchy Reigns is kind of a hassle a lot of the time unless you play in Private games. Now, at a base level the game feels like something like Spawn: In the Demon’s Hand or Iron Phoenix, in that some things can be exploited, there are some mild balancing issues, and so on, but the environmental chaos makes the experience fun if you don’t take it too seriously even so. However, actually playing can be a pain in the ass, since the various modes often require you to have a set amount of people and all of them have to declare that they are ready before things move along, so you can spend fifteen to twenty minutes just waiting to get into a game in the first place. This is honestly really rather weird, to be frank about it, as the online matches don’t seem to allow any kind of drop-in play (or none that I saw anyway) and there’s no obvious reason not to include bots in Player matches, since the rankings don’t change anything here anyway. Doing something to streamline the matchmaking process in Player matches would have made the online a lot easier to deal with, as the delay in Ranked matches is at least somewhat understandable, but having to wait nearly half an hour to play one game when you can be into a game inside of five minutes in most online games is frustrating.
Beyond that, the campaign is laughably short, and you can blow through an entire session of the campaign inside of four hours if you’re good. This would be fine if there were some kind of system akin to Bayonetta where you could improve anything at all about your characters, but the game is the same from start to finish, aside from a few wacky setpiece battles, and there’s no reason to come back to the campaign once you’re done with it. The game does the same weird thing Vanquish did, in fact, where it assumes you’ll either want to come back to the campaign â€œjust becauseâ€ or to clear out Achievements, and so ties in Achievements to either being really damn good at the game or, failing that, playing through the game a bunch of times to unlock everything. Platinum Games didn’t seem to learn anything from Vanquish not being a success, so for the record: this works no better in Anarchy Reigns, and will never work in general, because if the player has no motivation to play your game six times beyond â€œto earn Achievements,â€ the majority of them are not going to. The game also lacks any kind of local co-op and, aside from unlocking Abilities, seems to offer no significant reason to bother leveling up playing online either. This is fine in a fighting game, sure, but Anarchy Reigns doesn’t have the kind of depth of that sort of game, so without the depth of an online fighting game or the option to earn upgrades of an online FPS, it’s a game you just play to play it, which gets old sooner rather than later, especially with half hour waiting times to play one round.
That all said, the thirty dollar pricetag mitigates most of the major complaints; as a sixty dollar game, Anarchy Reigns would be a disappointment, but as a thirty dollar game, the game easily does enough right to be worth owning. The game looks and sounds absolutely fantastic and the characters themselves are very well written, even if the plot they’re running through is both predictable and confusing. The gameplay is very simple to understand, mechanically solid and fun, and there are a whole lot of online modes to play around with if you’re patient or can get your friends to pick the game up for private play. It’s true that playing online with strangers can make sessions take an extremely long time to start if no one’s ready to start (and they almost never are), the online play lacks significant depth, the single player options are laughably small, and there’s no local multiplayer, and in a full priced release these would be significant concerns. For the price, however, Anarchy Regins is definitely worth looking into, because all of its flaws are easily mitigated by the fact that it’s a slick, fun game and its lack of depth can be dismissed by its budget price point. If you’re a fan of pounding things into hamburger in the digital realm, Anarchy Reigns allows you to do this very well, and for the price it’s a hell of a lot of fun as long as you work with what it offers.
Short Attention Span Summary: Anarchy Reigns is a fun budget beat-em-up that has some frustrating lack of depth in places, but the majority of the complaints one could levy against it are entirely cancelled out by its budget price, leaving the game worth picking up for its thirty dollar price tag. Granted, the game’s online can take a while to get into if you’re playing a pickup game against strangers, the single player campaign is short, the plot is messy and predictable, and there’s a general lack of depth to the game overall. However, for the thirty dollar asking price, what you do get is a very fun beat-em-up that’s simple to play, mechanically solid, full of well written and likable characters, and features some interesting mechanics that could be a lot of fun for a group of friends to play online in private matches. Anarchy Reigns is by no possible definition perfect, but for its price point the majority of its flaws are easily forgiven, and the game is fun enough that it justifies checking out if you’re a fan of beat-em-up titles or just want to punch someone in the face with an arm mounted chainsaw once in a while.
Mark B. is the Senior Editor at Diehard GameFAN, mostly because he’s been on staff for a decade. He has previously written for 411Games, InsidePulse Games, Not a True Ending, Retrograding and Beyond the Threshold, and he maintains multiple infrequent columns, as well as a Hitbox stream on Saturdays. You can check out his archives and non-game related work over at markbwriting.com, and follow him on Twitter at MarkBWriting or Facebook at MarkBWriting. (Special thanks to J. Rose for the artwork.)