"Is this a fight or a beauty pageant? "
It has been a long time coming, but Platinum Games’ Anarchy Reigns is finally out here in North America (and at a sweet $30 budget price point to boot). This latest brawler builds upon the foundations laid by the the studio's first release, MadWorld, and turns them into something special.
Anarchy Reigns takes a page from the Smash Bros. school of game design, in that there’s one basic set of moves that’s performed the same way for every character, but each character’s own take on those moves has very different properties. Light attacks can be chained together and heavy attacks can be charged. “Killer Weapon” attacks use a special meter that’s filled by landing blows, and work like flashier, more powerful standard attacks. Grabs are performed or broken with the circle button, and vitality-draining 360 attacks can be especially useful when breaking combos. Your Rampage gauge constantly fills as you fight, and it can be unleashed when full to grant a short-lived burst of invincibility that is accompanied by increased speed and power. Different range, power, windup, and recovery time from one character to another make the game easy to learn while still keeping things different enough to offer real variety.
Speaking of characters, Anarchy Reigns has a (mostly) diverse playable cast. There are seventeen combatants (or even eighteen, since Bayonetta was available as a preorder bonus), and most of them possess their own unique moves and attributes… though there are a few clones. Fans of MadWorld will be happy to see some familiar faces (because goodness knows that game’s never getting a real sequel), including chainsaw-armed Jack Cayman and uberpimp Baron. Character designs are suitably flashy and insane, with a roster that includes robots, cyborgs, ninjas, and one awful pigman.
Though the single-player campaign is decent fun, it’s not enough to carry the game. There are two stories that run parallel to each other, with one starring Jack while the other features a newcomer named Leo. Each level presents as a semi-open world with both free and story missions. Completing missions earns you points, which unlock more missions. Scenarios range from mosh pits with scores of generic chainsaw-fodder enemies, to boss battles with giant monsters, to one-on-one battles between story characters. Meeting characters in story missions unlocks them in multiplayer. The story itself is nothing to write home about, which is typical for a brawler. Jack and Leo are both hunting the same man, with Jack seeking revenge and Leo trying to bring him to justice. It’s difficult to care about the actual story, though the cutscenes are generally entertaining because they’re packed with action and short enough to avoid being intrusive. While the characters are varied and fun, the writing is cheesy and the voice acting ranges from very good to terrible (Zero the ninja sounds like he’d be right at home in a World War II-era Bugs Bunny cartoon).
The story mode is worth a look, but entirely skippable if you’d rather stick to multiplayer. The real action is online. Anarchy Reigns is, first and foremost, a multiplayer game. Everything can be unlocked by playing multiplayer matches. There are tons of modes to choose from with different sets of rules. 4 vs. 4 team Death Matches, one-on-one Cage Fights, and 16-man Battles Royale are standard. You can mix things up a bit by playing team-based Survival modes, Capture the Flag, or even Deathball, a violent twist on football and soccer. Environments are interactive. A pillar may be knocked over and used as a bridge, for instance, or a giant beer mug above the entrance to a bar can be dropped on opponents. Most modes take place in levels cribbed from the campaign mode, with each bringing its own set of random events. Areas can be flooded with poisonous gas or carpet bombed by jets. Bridges may collapse or black holes may open up and swallow everything nearby, sending them to a different area. The action is always frantic, but still somehow easy to follow, which is impressive considering that the camera pretty much always needs to be manually directed before it will find a proper viewing angle.
There are 11 modes to choose from in all (plus an additional two for those who preordered), but they’re not all as active as they could be. It’s pretty easy to find a Team Deathmatch or Battle Royale game, but diversions like Tag Battle (four teams of two with the option to perform team attacks) can be tough to get going, thanks to Anarchy Reigns’ inevitable status as a niche game. Matches generally perform well online, depending on your connection and the connections of those you’re playing with, but hiccups do occur from time to time. Other players may seem impervious to your blows and you may occasionally be grabbed by some strange invisible enemy.
This brings us to the game’s biggest flaw: the total lack of local multiplayer. Multiplayer is online-only, which is simply tragic, because this game would be incredibly fun with two or even four players in one room. Matches are frantic and crazy, in similar ways to games like Power Stone and Super Smash Bros., and the inability to play with local friends is a real missed opportunity. The online community will only last so long.
It would be a disservice to talk about Anarchy Reigns without mentioning the excellent soundtrack, though. Just like MadWorld before it, Anarchy Reigns features a list of rap and hip hop songs by a diverse team of artists that make you want to punch stuff. The songs are perfect to fight to and even great to listen to outside of the game. I’m someone who doesn’t generally like this type of music, but both soundtracks have earned a permanent place on my MP3 player.
Anarchy Reigns is the kind of game that relies heavily on its core mechanics to provide a fun and interesting time, and the developers managed to pull it off. The campaign, while not great, is fun thanks to the satisfaction that comes from mowing down swaths of enemies. Landing powerful blows in multiplayer and finishing a friend off with an energy blade or flaming fan is even better. The game is easy to pick up and play, with a level of depth that some may not ever fully appreciate. Act now, though, while there’s still someone to play with…
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (January 12, 2013)
Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.
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