Platinum Games’ Anarchy Reigns was originally previewed back at Eurogamer Expo 2011. The four player deathmatch presented a dense introduction into what promised to be a barrage of intense and captivating carnage. Now it’s finally hit UK shores at a budget retail price, and it’s proven to be a clever move.
Strictly a brawler, this is served up as a game of two halves. The campaign is split between the points of view of two opposing characters. Jack, the chainsaw wielding lunatic of MadWorld, and Leo, a typically broody and pretty young man who lives for truth and justice. So on and so forth. They’re established as the two leads as it all kicks-off in a seedy bar and you’re able to continue the path as either one, branded the black and white side respectively.
A decision between the meathead built like a tank with a chainsaw, hairy chest and dressed in leather or some kid who’d tumbled out of FFIX was easy: muscles and leather everytime. Leaving the shabby bar puts you in the first of four hub environments or stages as Platinum Games refers to them. That hints at how old-school this is. And it most certainly is, from the repetition of character models that occasionally vary in a new exciting alternative colour, the low resolution and clipping graphics, scripted dialogue, and soundtrack.
I’m a strong believer that there is no such thing as ‘so bad it’s good’. But, and here’s the but, there’s something really rather charismatic about the Dreamcast-era video game hip-hop. I blame nostalgia. Then there’s the option and menu screen sounds that clash and twinkle in a wonderful last generation panache. As aforementioned, it’s decidedly old-school.
“eternal waves of dim-witted punks”Back outside that bar, Jack has been hired to takedown a man named Maximillion, providing a good-hiding to eternal waves of dim-witted punks wearing identical garments on the way there. To advance through each locale a number of missions must be unlocked by achieving the obligatory score. As your score increases available missions are highlighted on the map. Travelling there then allows the mission to be started. These can range from side missions to kill X amount of X with XX:XX timeframe, escorting a bartender, hijacking an attack helicopter and more, to main quests which branch the storyline.
An inauguration side mission was to eliminate a local gang. A mixture of light and heavy attacks sorted them out, with the occasional grapple thrown in for good measure. The combat is responsive and you’re soon learning to time the small combos and counters based upon the set animations. Defensive items or weapons can be collected and used, from a protective shield to pulling a rocket launcher out from a back pocket, to continue the onslaught, and this brings randomisation into the repetitive conflicts.
Every main character also has a ‘killer’ weapon equipped that is powered up by using standard attacks. Unleashing these often absurd weapons tears through foes with ease and grace. Using this ‘killer’ weapon then fuels a special meter, along with standard attacks at a slower pace.
As the meter was filled following a powerbomb so physically powerful it planted a scumbag into the pavement, light flames appeared around Jack, akin to Ken in Fist of the North Star. And like the cult anime, activating this power allows a hyper-flurry assault that wipes through hordes of mutated gang members or hammers bosses into submission.
Each main battle is complimented by cutscenes and exposition which provide backstory on events to date and what’s at stake. By playing through the campaign on both sides you begin to piece together what’s happening and gain greater insight, occasionally having the opportunity to fight as another character. That’s not to say that the plot and characterisation isn’t without issues. Leo mopes about the place, Jack is either swearing or growling women!, and Sasha, Leo’s Russian partner in the force, is incessantly caressed by the camera as it leers at her wobbling chest and perfectly reared rump.
In-between what to a Western audience is stereotypically Japanese in characterisation, a tale of the loss of innocent life, drug abuse, the concept of justice, anger, and social class is intertwined. These notes are played straight but suffer when the throwaway dialogue then falls back into cliché.
“it’s competent and responsive”A few of the most important battles end with you victorious in battle; however, a short cinematic sequence then interrupts that suggests otherwise. It’s jarring to have the rug pulled out from under your feet in such a manner, and would have worked better for the sequence to play out before victory was apparently yours. Most opportunities for pre-battle cutscenes however are replaced by conversations shot in profile, the lip-sync completely out and evident of lower production values.
As a brawler it’s competent and responsive, as is to be expected from the already renowned developer, and this flows over into the surprisingly large multiplayer element; the second half of the game. There are numerous varying modes available, from a 16 player battle royal to a horde skirmish. Yet most surprising and welcoming is the tight netcode, something often missing from the genre and its relatives. Matches launch in a timely manner, lag is rarely visible, you can check your connection to other players and there was no evidence of people being disconnected.
In these modes you can play as any of the characters you’ve unlocked during the campaign, and in some scenarios you’re able to augment your choice with an additional power-up (also unlocked in the campaign). This decision provides a tangible reward for playing through the campaign as both sides, achieving new warriors and skills. Its shame then that local play is not included and these modes rely on a community maintaining itself online.
What does make the multiplayer harder to control is the camera. You’re able to lock-on which aids in directing attacks without spinning the camera. The trouble is that during larger battles the lock-on can have a mind of its own. It appeared that following certain moves it would reset to the closest person, which wouldn’t always be the one in question and would leave you vulnerable.
Anarchy Reigns may be the first retail release of 2013 but it’s a strong contender for dumbest fun of the year. The campaign is repetitive but the brawling keeps it tight. The lack of local multiplayer is an oversight but online there are plenty of options and reliable netcode. Whilst lower production values may turn off a younger audience, for those that spent considerable time bashing through Streets of Rage and Power Stone this is a no-brainer for the asking price.