Anarchy Reigns review
Yes. Yes it does.
Think back to every multiplayer game you’ve ever played. Let all those modes and features wash over your brain as you journey back through your competitive gaming life. Suitably refreshed? Splendid. Right, now cast your mind back to all the hardcore action games you’ve ever played. Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, Castlevania… all good. Now comes the hard part – try to imagine all of that nonsense happening at the same time. Your brain may start to hurt at this point. This is perfectly normal. Assuming you’re not dead from Brainmelt, pat yourself on the back. You have just successfully imagined Anarchy Reigns. And yes, it’s every bit as stupid, chaotic, flawed and brilliant as it sounds.
Not that we’d expect anything less from those clever chaps and chapettes at Platinum, mind. This is a team that revels in the ridiculous and that either has no concept of normality or goes out of its way to avoid it. Or both. It’s kinda hard to tell. Still, even having experienced witches who turn their hair into giant demon animals to rip people apart and gung-ho powersuited crazies that use cigarettes to foil heat-seeking missiles, nothing – nothing – could prepare us for the silliness that gushes forth when the Anarchy Reigns floodgates swing open. Which, incidentally, only takes a matter of seconds after you turn it on.
With the online space dominated by multiplayer shooters, Platinum’s latest wades into the fray and, ignoring all advice to the contrary, brings a twin-bladed chainsaw to a gunfight. It’s a multiplayer shooter without (m)any guns, effectively – melee combat is the order of the day here and if you’ve played a Platinum game before, you should feel instantly at home with the commands and options. Weak and strong strikes can be mixed up, linked and delayed to produce attack strings of varying usefulness – these vary from character to character, so a spell in Practice mode is a must – while the B button lets you grab and throw opponents or debris. Larger characters can use this to grapple several enemies at once, which is as satisfying as it is useful in the middle of a heated brawl.
Continuing Platinum’s campaign to give the Left Trigger more love (it’s the Fun Button in Revengeance, activating the awesome Blade Mode), here it grants access to your character’s Killer Weapon. Uses are rationed (albeit generously) and you’ll quickly see why – light versions can generally be chained and worked into combos for decent damage while the heavy ones come out slow but trigger sensational murderations, perfect for annihilating stunned (or just rubbish) opponents. Rounding off the offensive arsenal is the Rampage gauge, a rage meter that briefly turns you into a flurry of fists capable of pulverising foes in seconds. Clash with another Rampaging hero, though, and it’ll be the person that can mash hardest that comes out on top as hundreds of fists smash together, Asura’s Wrath style.
Defensive abilities are every bit as crucial, though. Guarding is the simplest of these, absorbing basic attacks but liable to leave you stunned should you try to block a Killer Weapon attack (as well as making you an easy target for throw-happy players). The evade is far more useful with decent execution, dodging any kinds of attack safely and capable of setting up a punishing counterattack. With up to 15 other people trying to punch you in the face at any given time, the few defensive options on offer are perhaps the most important to master.
The move set is classic Platinum, then, but once you’ve got 16 players running around a sprawling arena, you’ll see why the team decided against any kind of co-op play in Bayonetta. Locking an opponent into a decent combo can be hard enough at the best of times but when the horde smells blood and comes crashing in to try and steal your kill, you’d better be sitting on a pretty damn good contingency plan. Free-for-all matches are an oddity, at once the best showcase for Anarchy Reigns’ chaotic throwdowns and its most frustrating mode – there’s slightly too much in the way of random elements to make it a proper test of skill and while good players will usually be rewarded with a decent finishing position, overall victory often feels left to chance. Or fate, if you’d rather.
This is largely due to the crazy events that take place each and every match, a wealth of possible calamities and hazards released at random into the level to make every battle unique. One moment you’ll be warned that Cthulhu is approaching (sadly, it turns out to be a giant mechanical enemy and not the tentacle-faced Elder God). The next, one player could be singled out as a fugitive, the entire population of the level turning on them in an instant in search of a quick buck. Then, the entire map might change, tectonic plates shifting to alter the layout entirely and throw everybody out of their usual patterns.
There aren’t that many unique special events but it’s not so much the individual gimmicks that make this brilliant – it’s the insane combinations that come up. Tracked on the right hand side of the screen, sets of active effects build random deathmatch poker hand after random deathmatch poker hand – some you win and some you lose. One match, a satellite laser strike might force everyone underground when you’ve got a full Rampage meter to turn into a full house of kills. But the next, you might be forced to escape from the masses out for the bounty on your head while the stage is wracked by powerful mutants and debilitating viruses. It’s not fair. But life’s not fair. Deal with it and, more importanly, enjoy it.
In solo modes, these dynamic modifiers can change everything. But in team-based modes, they’re far more balanced – allies will have your back should the bounty hunters come a-callin’, while entire enemy teams can be led to polluted areas to be weakened by the world before you slay the lot of them. While the expected array of Team Deathmatch and Capture The Flag variants are great fun, Team Battle is the clear highlight. After a short spell of regular battle, players are promoted based on their performance – top players on each side are promoted to team leaders (with enhanced abilities, at the expense of being the assassination target for the opposite team), while runners-up become the leader’s powerful bodyguards. The weakest player on each team, meanwhile, takes on the medic role, a crucial one but not one so reliant on obscenely quick reflexes. With roles changing every few minutes, poor leaders and overachieving medics soon get replaced and the team dynamic here is awesome, especially, when the world starts changing the rules and battlegrounds on the fly.
Even modes that should by rights be gimmicky rubbish work surprisingly well here. Death Ball is basically handball with a twist (the twist is death, in case you hadn’t figured it out) but on a good team, you’ll find yourselves slotting into familiar sporting roles, be it blocking the opposing team as they converge on the ball carrier or making a run into space to pick up a sweet pass and stick one home. And the one-on-one duels, which can sometimes take place amid the larger battles (for some unfathomable reason) are amazingly close to traditional fighting games – feel the other player out with jabs and safe attacks while looking for that crazy combo or fall back on your hard-hitting special moves and pay the price if and when they’re blocked or avoided.
Then there’s the small matter of choosing a character. Several are pulled straight out of underrated monochrome Wii brawler MadWorld, though the diverse cast offers all sorts of typical fighting game archetypes to choose from. Will you plump for a heavy-hitting tank like Big Bull, an all-rounder like Jack or a nimble striker like Sasha? Outside of basic size and weight and the odd move set change, they don’t really play all that differently and that’s perfect – you can pick a character to fill a gap in a team and do it comfortable in the knowledge that even if you don’t have every one of their combos memorised, you’ll still be able to use them all to at least a reasonable degree.
The multiplayer focus of the game is clear from just about everything it does, though solo players aren’t left wanting. Bot matches can be played on any mode and map, while a decent-sized (if incredibly basic) single-player campaign offers a way to unlock characters and extras without just ranking up online. For Platinum fans, this story-of-sorts mode is peppered with references and shout-outs to the studio’s other games – it’s as close as we’re likely to see to a proper port of MadWorld, sadly, and in fact, the awesome Greg Proops commentary from the Wii game would be a perfect fit for this kind of game, certainly more so than the bizarre soundtrack Platinum has elected to run with. Challenges, meanwhile, will keep leaderboard glory-seekers happy but even at this budget price point, solo silliness can only really be seen as an appetiser for the main course – online play.
A multiplayer-focused brawler shouldn’t work, but it does. And given the cheap-as-chips RRP, you’ll probably be able to pick up Anarchy Reigns for the price of an XBLA game before too long. On that basis alone, anyone looking for something a little different from a competitive online experience would do well to give this a go – you’ll never play anything else like it, that’s for sure.