Anarchy Reigns Review
Written : Thursday, January 10, 2013
By: Richard Walker
Be warned: Anarchy Reigns possesses none of the grace and elegance of Platinum Games' Bayonetta. Nor is it as compulsive and effortlessly gratifying. What it does have is a range of brawlers tearing strips off one another, pounding heads into the ground, stomping and grinding their faces into the asphalt. Anarchy Reigns is about as subtle and nuanced as Platinum's MadWorld was on Wii, and with that game's lead protagonist, Jack Cayman once again taking a pivotal role, it's hardly surprising.
Anarchy Reigns is at its core a multiplayer brawler, and as such it's tailored to work within an online multiplayer environment. That means that there's little real sense of progression in the single-player mode, no moves to unlock and no extended health bars to work towards, lest it upset the balance in single-player. All of the abilities and tools required are open to you from the moment you begin Anarchy Reigns, which means the single-player portion of the game boils down to being a means to an end more than anything else. You certainly won't want to play it for the narrative or dialogue.
Jack shows off the hardware.
Generally, you'll play single-player to unlock more characters to take into multiplayer, with each vanquished boss subsequently showing up on the roster of playable fighters. You can alternatively unlock each character through multiplayer progression if you prefer, although the single-player mode is not without a certain level of appeal, despite the combat leaning more towards the button-mashing end of the spectrum. Tasked with apprehending rogue BPS (Bureau of Public Safety) agent Maximillian Caxton, the story is hokey, well-presented silliness with a motley cast of characters taking centre stage.
You choose between the Black or White side, with the same goal of chasing down Max and bringing him in. What follows is a series of free missions and main, story advancing missions sandwiched between seemingly endless waves of wanton bad guy pummelling. Luckily, the combat system is accessible and enjoyable enough to just about alleviate the sense of grinding through the legions of scumbags and punks on the Altambra streets, though not a patch on its stablemate, Bayonetta. The problem is the inability to properly cancel in the middle of a combo, with only a fuzzy evasion move to get you out of a pinch, unless you block at the right moment.
Somewhat woolly and unreliable too is the target lock-on, which seemingly has a tendency to only work temporarily. This is especially frustrating when battling a slippery online opponent for them only to escape mid-combo. Equally irritating is being at the end of a queue of combatants eager to punch you in the back while you're desperately striving to take down a rival. Multiplayer battles can therefore descend into total anarchy, which while appropriate, can be annoying. Coming out on top often depends upon who's the fastest button basher, and our most hard-fought victories came from pinning down an opponent and busting out the Killer Weapon attacks.
Look messy? That's because it is.
Each fighter has a move set centred around the practice of the so-called 'Cybrid Arts', with their own powerful, unique Killer Weapons accessed by holding the left trigger. These are restricted to a gauge, meaning you can't spam them too much. Moves are executed using the face buttons, with fast and strong attacks to mix up and combos to unleash. It's a flexible combat system, but one with which you'll find a reliable set of attacks to exploit. The result can prove somewhat repetitive in single-player, while the suite of game modes in multiplayer keep things varied and enjoyable. Game types like Death Ball are riotous fun, as are co-operative modes like Survival in which you tackle waves of enemies with buddies.
There's a slew of multiplayer modes to enjoy, and while the single-player aspect of the game is one-dimensional, it's mercifully short and sweet, and doesn't outstay its welcome. If you want to unlock all of the characters however, you'll need to beat both the Black and White sides, which take place within the same (sort of) sandbox maps and are structured in the same way, with points accrued from slaughtering roving violent gangs earning you the opportunity to tackle a story mission and fight a boss, or amass additional points with a side mission. There's replay value if you choose to go back through the game on a harder difficulty or improve your score to garner a gold or platinum medal, but by and large, single-player is fairly disposable stuff.
It goes without saying that multiplayer is the crux of Anarchy Reigns, and with up to 16 players all diving in at once, things can get pretty damn messy. Sometimes this can be raucous, giggle-inducing fun, and at other times it can be a hair-tearing, teeth-grinding ordeal as combos are interrupted, several opponents pile in when you're at your most vulnerable, or you just can't seem to bag yourself a kill for love nor money. Modes are of the Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Battle Royal and Tag Deathmatch variety, and with 11 game-types to choose from, you're bound to find one that you'll really enjoy.
Bayonetta. Still adept at stomping the bad guys.
Unfortunately, the achievements are completely run-of-the-mill and entirely attached to the campaign. There are no multiplayer achievements in the game whatsoever, which for a primarily multiplayer title seems slightly amiss. Some may see this as a good thing of course, and to a degree it is, but if you're going to have a purely single-player list, the least you can do is put a little effort into it. Instead, we get almost half of the achievement list dedicated to completing both campaigns and a few lazy and unimaginative tasks thrown in to make things a little bit more interesting. There's one or two decent achievements in here, but for the most part this is dull and uninspired stuff.
Anarchy Reigns might not reach the heights of genre stablemates like Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, but there's still a lot to like here. The story-driven single-player campaign is throwaway yet mildly entertaining hokum, but does a fine job in introducing you to the fundamentals before you sink your teeth into multiplayer. Not especially deep, Platinum's game is nonetheless well worth a punt, especially at its budget price for this tardy western release. Anarchy Reigns is a solid brawler and proof of concept, showing that this kind of fare can almost work in an online environment.
Cacophonous jazz-funk nonsense on the menus, hip-hop noise in-game. It fits the bill, but could cause more than a few migraines after prolonged exposure.
Functional, fairly unremarkable. Anarchy Reigns' characters are cool, but the environments are mostly drab. Not the best looking game, it's not without its own eye-catching, pyrotechnic charm.
A solid, flexible combat system with Killer Weapons and a gratifying Rage state make pounding enemies fun, but it all has a tendency to feel rather repetitive. It's not nearly as refined as the likes of Devil May Cry or Bayonetta, but has its own exciting attributes.
A single-player campaign that'll last you around 7-10 hours (that's completing both Black and White sides) and a multiplayer that you could conceivably play for hours on end. Ranking up can be a long, drawn out slog though. There's 16 characters (17 including Bayonetta) to experiment with too.
As achievement lists go, this one is fairly weak. Almost half of the list is attached to by-the-numbers campaign completion, whereas the rest rewards completing certain specific tasks like killing five enemies at once with a grenade and the like. Only in single-player, mind. You'll get nothing in multiplayer.
Anarchy Reigns is good, clean fun while the appeal lasts, and demonstrates that online fighting games needn't be restricted to just versus fare. There's clearly room for something a little more... anarchic.