Anarchy Reigns Review
I keep changing my mind on Anarchy Reigns. It’s one of those misleading games that isn’t what it looks like at first. When I picked it up, I was thinking it was a modern take on old-fashioned arcade beat-‘em-ups, along with a large amount of that idiosyncratic character design you get from Platinum Games.
The more I play it, though, the less I think of it as a beat-‘em-up. It’s more like Power Stone than anything else, which is an old arena-style fighting game from Capcom that they’ve inexplicably let fall down the memory hole. The online mode is the main reason to pick up the disc, and that’s a bizarre head-to-head brawler with zero death penalty and an almost deliberate lack of character balance.
Part of it is that most of the games that pursue this kind of cartoonish ultraviolence are also, well, cartoons. Anarchy Reigns looks like Devil May Cry and Gears of War had a baby; characters are either willowy ninjas or giant pillars of meat, and most of the cast are at least 25% cybernetic parts. People don’t speak with one another so much as growl, antagonize, and challenge to fights to the death, and every environment is the decaying remnant of some greater civilization. At the same time, however, people don’t die so much as explode into blood and purple gelatin, common hand weapons include small cars and stacks of tires, and I spent twenty minutes reenacting the eternal battle of bull-shaped warmech vs. oversized pimp, which as you know are natural enemies in the animal kingdom.
Basically, the art style says “all-too-serious third-person cover shooter”; the gameplay says “Smash Brothers.” It’s a dark world populated by hardcore soldiers who are suffering from great and recent losses and PTSD, but if the fights were any goofier it’d involve seltzer bottles. It’s mood whiplash at its finest.
What really slowed me down was the single-player mode. Each chapter of Anarchy Reigns sets you down in a new environment, as either bounty hunter Jack Cayman (also seen in MadWorld) or government operative Leo, and your basic goal is to accrue enough points to unlock new missions. This may mean you depopulate the area of its street gangs and assorted mutants, or you can undertake one of several missions, whether they’re simple score attacks or actual episodes in the game’s story. As a general rule, while you can just run around the map murdering everything you see until you get an actual mission, the easiest way to progress is to go through one of the optional challenges repeatedly until you hit 700,000 points and can go straight through the story to the end.
This is a pretty fun brawler overall, with a real sense of impact to the moves and a nicely linked “Killer Weapon” system. You can pop out cybernetic blades or hidden attacks with one of the shoulder buttons, which depletes an attack meter rapidly, but normal attacks refill that meter just as quickly, so it’s easy to get into a rhythm where you carve through entire small armies.
The real problem is that Anarchy Reigns treats opponents, like MadWorld did, as target dummies rather than actual challenges. Since the focus of the game is on multiplayer, that includes you, and in the campaign mode, that becomes increasingly frustrating. When the larger mutants or robots show up in pairs, it’s laughably easy for them to stunlock you, and all you can really do is stand there and take it. The same goes for some of the story mission boss characters who can land complex combos on you that last an absurdly long time and usually end with your face smeared across half a block of pavement. The game badly needs some method of breaking or evading combos, or at least some way in which you can approach a larger enemy without it managing to run you over.
The point of Anarchy Reigns is multiplayer, although it doesn’t have local split-screen, which is a travesty. This would be a perfect game for a couple of drunken nights’ parties, carving your friends up with chainsaws and generally having a good time. You can throw each other off of buildings or into black holes or through walls and it’s all good for a laugh, but it being online only removes some of the fun.
If you don’t take Anarchy Reigns seriously, it’s worth a look, and it’s got a nice discounted price tag to boot. It’s a big, colorful, ridiculous brawler about a bunch of cybernetically-enhanced idiots who don’t realize how ridiculous they are, and while the single-player campaign’s about five times as frustrating as it needs to be, the multiplayer’s decent once you get a handle on it.
Reviewed By: Thomas Wilde
This review is based on a copy of Anarchy Reigns for the PlayStation 3 provided by Sega.