The announcement of Anarchy Reigns came at a perfect time for Platinum Games, shortly after the release of Vanquish the year before, which itself followed Bayonetta earlier in 2010. While MadWorld for the Wii was an interesting title, it was these two games that put the Japanese developer on the map for gamers and the industry at large.
Anarchy Reigns seemed to include all of the personality and over-the-top action we had come to expect from Platinum, but weeks turned to months and after two release delays and a Japanese launch in 2012, the studio’s next action game, and its vision for a ‘Multiplayer Brawler,’ has hit the West. In the wake of Vanquish and Bayonetta, is this ‘the next’ Platinum Games action title we’ve been waiting for?
While anarchy does indeed reign, it’s unfortunately only a temporary pretender to the throne despite the frenetic fun I had with Anarchy Reigns.
The backstory for the singleplayer campaign in Anarchy Reigns is fairly elaborate. Taking place on an alternate version of Earth well in the future, the planet has been ruined by biological warfare and terrorist attacks, plunging its inhabitants into a chaotic world filled with rampaging mutants, brutal organised gangs, plumes of poisonous gases and general lawlessness.
It’ll be up to you to choose to play as bounty hunter Jack Cayman (the Black Side) or Leonhardt Victorion (the White Side), a soldier of ‘The Bureau.’ Both Jack and Leo are searching for an extremely dangerous fugitive, but for different reasons, which means that both stories will intersect at points that take them to a murky and sprawling port town, a neon-lit cityscape inspired by traditional Chinese visions, desert settlements, a derelict slum area, a mining facility and more.
While the two stories are different, you’ll be moving through the same areas and fighting the same collection of gangsters toting shock sticks, flamethrowers and flaming clubs, hideous mutated beasts, jetpack-equipped cyborgs, armour-plated robots, and a helicopter or two. Most of the enemies aren’t a match for Jack’s chainsaw arm or Leo’s ‘Cybrid Arts’ fighting style and electric blade, but occasionally you’ll get into a boss battle that will put your skills to the test.
Both characters are controlled identically as far as buttons and combinations are concerned, but their resultant moves are radically different. Area sweeping flurries, bone-crunching grabs and powerful punch/kick combos are at your disposal, along with their own unique weapons which can be readied at the press of a trigger and brought to life with the face buttons. These more powerful attacks will drain an energy gauge, which is fed with regular attacks, but the more you assault enemies with your special weapon, the more you build up your rampage meter which, when initiated, puts you into a semi-state of invulnerability.
Each system feeds into the other and it’s important to keep an eye on each gauge to take full advantage of your abilities, which is helped along by collectable items you’ll find scattered in the areas you visit. Shields, rocket launchers and various gadgets will help give you the upper-hand on enemies, and when used judiciously and in concert with your melee attacks, I found Anarchy Reigns’ combat to be extremely rewarding.
To make things more interesting, Platinum Games has injected an impressive variety of randomly selected ‘Active Trigger Events’ into Anarchy Reigns, disruptive and crazy occurrences where (basically) anything is possible. My favourite ATEs included chances to fight a kraken creature (which attacks from the sea and hurls chunks of concrete), a randomly spawned black hole (that sucks you and enemies in and spits you out elsewhere on the map) and the way the layout of city streets were reconfigured at the pull of a switch, but you’ll also need to avoid carpet bombing raids, crashing planes, riotous trucks, lasers from space and giant spinning blades.
It’s a real shame, then, that progression in Anarchy Reigns is such a chore, which is gated by a points system. In each area, you’ll be plopped into a very limited open world and tasked with destroying weaker gang enemies, a selection of mutants and a few vehicle types to rack up points towards unlocking a ‘Free Mission,’ which generally amounts to surviving waves of enemies, catching a special foe, killing a number of targets in a set time, vehicle races… and pushing giant glass balls into goal areas. Completing a Free Mission will give you enough points to unlock a ‘Main Mission,’ which is the only way of furthering the story and visiting the next area. Go through this process a few times and you’ll finish a stage.
While the randomly selected ATEs and satisfying, challenging combat do their part to keep things interesting, it’s a real slog to progress in this way and I’d almost give Platinum Games the benefit of the doubt and say that it’s the team’s meta commentary on progression in games in general… but that’s not likely. Bayonetta and Vanquish are very self aware of the ridiculousness that they present, but Anarchy Reigns almost feels as though it was abandoned half-way through development and taped together to get it out the door. Presentation is barebones and the game itself seems held together by bubblegum as the developers stress the engine to its limits of functionality and speed. It holds together, but its boundaries are visible.
But! I haven’t even got to the main thrust of Anarchy Reigns – the multiplayer. While the singleplayer campaign/s will teach you the inner workings of the game and even unlock a few characters and gadgets for the multiplayer, online competitive play is the real reason you would want to pick the game up. Featuring a roster of sixteen characters (plus the bonus of Bayonetta as a downloadable fighter), the game will pit you against players from around the world in a variety of arenas sliced from the campaign and structured for a host of different game modes, like regular deathmatch and team deathmatch, as well as one-on-one cage matches, capture the flag and lots more.
Gameplay is the same as the campaign and each character is controlled the same as the next, but like the singleplayer of Anarchy Reigns, each personality-filled fighter will carry out their own unique attacks and manoeuvres on command, encouraging you to learn each character’s strengths, weaknesses, ranges and timings. The game’s lock-on, block and dodge moves come in handy here, too, as real players are naturally less predictable than the AI in the campaign. In traditional multiplayer style, you’ll level up with gained experience points while unlocking more characters, items and perks to use during ranked and player matches, with a leaderboard to show who’s the best in the world.
Over a week after launch, Anarchy Reigns seems to be rather well supported online and whenever I wanted to join a match I generally found a few in a row (even if it meant waiting for a few minutes), but the unfortunate truth of the nature of the game is that any kind of lag in the connection between you and the host or server is going to ruin your fun. Similar to a fighting game (but not quite as precise and reliant on frame-by-frame accuracy), taking Anarchy Reigns online can result in frustration as other players manage to land their attacks and grabs before you do, but not relative to the on-screen action.
Very often I would be running towards an enemy only to be teleported into a wrestling grab or fall prey to an unseen special attack. I even tried mashing the buttons as fast as I could to find purchase with a punch, kick or grab of my own, but that only occasionally worked out in my favour. Hosting a match marginally remedied the lag issue, but level one opponents still pummelled me in a cage match.
The chaos of online play is exacerbated by the number of players in a match, and it’s not uncommon to see six or seven people in a group trying to catch others in their whirlwinds of spinning chains, brutish strength, martial arts moves and blade-based melee attacks. Still, when Anarchy Reigns works online, it really works and the ATEs continue to mix up the action in multiplayer, too. In a capture the flag match, for example, I took advantage of the knowledge that I would be of no use to my partner in a fight, so I scrambled to collect the flags and won the match almost single-handedly, which resulted in screams of hilarity from the other players. Go me.
As a big fan of Platinum Games, I was excited to play Anarchy Reigns and perchance glimpse ‘the next’ action title from the studio, but unfortunately this isn’t it. While combat is fun, frenetic and chaotic, and the random events help to keep you on your toes, the singleplayer campaign is gated by a tedious progression system and multiplayer is hampered with online issues… well, at least for those not in Europe and North America.
It’s a unique, interesting take on a forgotten genre of games with great characters to learn, rewarding combat to enjoy and an unexpectedly intriguing story, but Anarchy Reigns can’t overcome its base problems, despite the fun you’ll discover if you invest yourself in it. If you have a collection of friends to play with locally, however, the multiplayer is terrific when it works.