Anarchy Reigns' intro, with its static, single image background, no music, and no voiceover to match the text, is a proper indicator of the game's low budget design. It's somewhat uncharacteristic of Anarchy's developer, Platinum Games, a company that is also due to release Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Bayonetta 2 this year. At least Sega has priced this game accordingly, at half the cost of most Xbox 360 and PS3 games. That's not to say Anarchy Reigns should be automatically ignored. In fact, it features a number of characters from Platinum's Madworld and since both games are beat-em-ups, that pretty much makes Anarchy Reigns Madworld's spiritual sequel.
Developer: Platinum Games
Release date: Jan. 8
Anarchy Reigns’ roster of fighters hanging out in a bar in the main menu do a lot to convey the game's multiplayer leanings. I'm specifically talking about the diverse, yet predictable character designs that you expect to see in a fighting game. This includes everyone from the token large breasted female to the obligatory obese and short brawler.
That said, the game is not as deep and complex as Madworld in its moveset. At least Anarchy Reigns provides enough abilities to succeed in the campaign, from normal and strong attacks (both on the ground and mid-air) to the standard dodge roll and dash, as well as a 360 spin attack. There are a couple more powerful moves available, the most useful being the invincibility-enhanced Rampage. These enhancements can be activated repeatedly after accumulating enough hits against enemies.
This mildly diverse moveset makes it hard to find long term enjoyment from Anarchy Reigns’ Deathmatch mode and its five other variations (just with different team and player counts). It can be very easy to get trapped in a painful cycle of normal and strong punches by a moderately skilled player, reducing these kinds of matches into contests of finding rare openings to attack.
I started to wonder if Platinum also recognized the limitations of the game's melee combat, since they also added a gimmicky feature called Action Trigger Events. These so-called A.T.E.'s are merely brief and often annoying match-disrupting calamities like black holes, plane crashes, and carpet bombings. It's in other modes like Capture The Flag and Death Ball, inspired by Halo 4's Grifball mode, where there's more replay value, since these kinds of modes encourage creativity in trying to traverse the maps.
Yet this emphasis on multiplayer does not take away from the satisfactory quality of the single player component. Anarchy Reigns doesn't spread itself thin narratively by having a storyline for each character. Instead the player is initially given two characters to choose from, each with their own tale, though both stories intersect at a couple points. One is the same Jack Cayman from Madworld, an agent of a guild who sports a retractable chainsaw arm and whose built, thick-necked character design wouldn't make him feel out of place among Gears of War's Delta Squad. Then there's Leo, who is clearly not the timid doctor with the same name from Madworld. He is an equally fit and capable warrior like Jack, though he has a more futuristic look and a much slimmer build, not that all different from Jake from Konami's Nano Breaker. The other characters do make appearances and some are even playable in some sections.
Making progress in the campaign is unusual, as it's points based, where certain values have to be reached in order to unlock new missions. Each chapter offers three story missions and three optional missions. It's in between missions that you're allowed to free roam, fight more, and farm points. These areas bear a striking resemblance to Dynasty Warriors, albeit a more tolerable version of Koei’s flagship series. Free roaming is also a reliable area to quickly build up the Rampage Gauge before taking on a mission while some of the optional missions are more effective for earning points. This method of unlocking missions is a bit tedious and feels like Platinum wanted to artificially extend the campaign experience. You can't blame them; after all, it takes less than six hours to play through both single player scenarios. Yes, the campaign, with its recycled maps from the multiplayer mode, does feel like a glorified extension of the training and tutorial modes. At least the narrative offers some backstory to the game's cast (especially to Jack and Leo), presented in adequately executed cutscenes, which was more than I expected going into this game.
Visually, there's a puzzling muddiness to Anarchy Reigns, which is surprising coming from the studio that was responsible for the eye-catching Vanquish and Bayonetta. At least there's adequate variety in the character designs. From the grunts to the larger mutants, similar sized enemy types have different functions so they're more than just reskins of each other. Then there are the bosses, who range from easy to kill giant squids to often cheap transforming mechs. Another design highlight are the maps themselves, which are almost as high as they are wide. Vents and elevators ensure fast travel to elevated areas while boost pads can shoot your across long distances within seconds.
There is a curious eclecticism about the game's mostly rap-driven soundtrack. It's an amusing playlist which often fits the themes of the missions, whether the lyrics talk about killing, collecting cash, or driving in the fast lane. At its worst, the music sounds typical for a game enlisting the talents of artists I've never heard of; at its best, some rappers do a fine job in showing their KRS-One and Outkast influences.
With all the melee combat and the urban, post-apocalyptic vibe of many of the maps, you wonder whether the folks behind Fist of the North Star (a game that was based off Dynasty Warriors, incidentally) should have a chat with Platinum Games. However unremarkable Anarchy Reigns is, you can't fault it for not having enough multiplayer modes and the core melee combat has just the right amount of moves to keep the learning curve low while making many matches unpredictable. The game's initial price point of $29.99 helps make it a decent buy for Platinum Games fans, as well as those who want experience the multiplayer these first few months while the lobbies have decent traffic. If anything, it makes for an adequate appetizer before Platinum Games comes out with the hotly anticipated Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance next month.