I’m all for over-the-top insanity in my action games. I can appreciate ridiculous amounts of flashy, highly stylized combat mixed with a dash of twisted craziness. If I take on a giant squid and a whole lot of nasty crap happens, I’m gonna giggle. Anarchy Reigns is aptly named and you likely won’t find a game that exhibits more in the way of chaotic, ceaseless battle, which is clearly this title’s primary selling point. However, with a lackluster story, a somewhat disappointing multiplayer component, and a surprising lack of a challenge, the game falls a little short of expectations.
There’s a fair amount of fantastic design and imagery in Platinum’s latest. The designers did a great job of creating hordes of unique and appropriately intimidating enemies that are totally out of this world, and the special effects are impressive. It’s just not as polished as one would hope; even a ton of stylish goodness doesn’t allow this visual presentation to qualify as elite. There are also a few graphical miscues here and there and I’m not the biggest fan of some of the character designs. That’s mostly subjective, though, and for the silly amount of on-screen action, the developers do a fine job of generating a palette that leaps off your screen.
As one might expect, the audio effects are good and the soundtrack isn’t bad, but the acting leaves plenty to be desired. Thankfully, if you intend to mostly enjoy the game online, you’ll hear the best of what Anarchy ’s sound has to offer. There’s a minor balancing issue and again, the score – which has its moments – is going to be a very subjective aspect. I say the effects can be a little repetitive, much like the majority of the game, but they remain mostly clear throughout. And besides, the effects accompanying your most brutal attacks really pack a punch; it’s most satisfying to both see and hear the fruits of your labor.
This game is all about combat. You probably guessed that by checking out any number of gameplay videos and trailers that have been bouncing around for the past year or so. After all, this title was delayed several times and now that it’s finally here, it can be awfully entertaining to whip the snot out of some of the most ludicrous creatures you’ve ever seen. That being said, a lot of what makes Anarchy Reigns fun is overshadowed by the shortcomings, which are unfortunately quite obvious. The game just feels too one-dimensional throughout and the multiplayer, which I expected to be a potentially innovative highlight, is sorta ho-hum and underwhelming.
However, despite all the marketing and advertising that focused strongly on the multiplayer component, there is a story for the campaign-inclined. If you’re familiar with Madworld (which released for the Nintendo Wii in March 2009), you’ll know the protagonist in Platinum’s latest: It’s Jack Cayman, that same wacked-out main character who teams up with Leonhardt “Leo” Victorion and sets out to hunt down a notorious fugitive, Maximillian Caxton. Caxton is cybernetically enhanced and for some reason, his brain has taken a long walk off a short pier and innocents are dying by the dozens. Unfortunately for this guy, one of those innocents was Cayman’s daughter.
It’s clichéd but mildly interesting and if Platinum had put more effort into fleshing out various characters and story angles, it could’ve been a strong script. But really, it’s anything but strong. The dialogue is bad to the point of being comical and some of it is so stupid, it’s downright painful. You often lose the main thread of the plot as you progress, mostly because the way this story unfolds is confusing and erratic. The only upside is that due to the fact that the gameplay takes center-stage throughout, you care very little about what’s going on behind the scenes. Even Vanquish had a more cohesive and relatively intriguing story.
That all being said, provided you’re okay with that, the gameplay can deliver in a variety of ways. Besides, there’s so much damn fighting going on that it’s hard to focus on anything else. It’s violent, brutal, and oh so satisfying if you need to vent, or if you just so happen to love hack ‘n slash games that feature a ton of crowd-pleasing combos. However, don’t misunderstand— This isn’t like Platinum’s Bayonetta ; the core mechanic is much simpler in Anarchy , as there are only normal and heavy attacks, along with a simple block. But the developers do a surprising amount with that straightforward setup, and complex combos can be discovered.
You can also jump in the midst of the fray, which adds another dimension to the combat. Your attacks can differ greatly when in midair and it’s always interesting to experiment, especially when facing the diverse enemy troupe that comes your way. Cayman has a chainsaw, too, but you have to earn the use of this highly damaging weapon. It’s basically his special attack and with a full special meter, you can deliver four devastating blows before you have to start filling it back up again. Mixing in the chainsaw with your standard attacks makes for an eye-opening battle experience, especially when bigger foes and bosses are involved.
The missions aren’t too hard nor are they exactly diverse; you almost always have to destroy everything in your path, so it’s not tough to predict the goal(s). There is, however, a day-night mechanic that has weaker enemies walking around in the daylight, and more challenging adversaries stalking the areas at night. And although the missions don’t have elaborate objectives, there is some variety; some involve a time attack, others have you facing special enemies that pose all sorts of fresh obstacles, and some even put you in a crazy vehicle, ala Twisted Metal . There’s never any shortage of enemies and you’ll never be going, “Okay, I’m bored now.”
The only way you’ll say that is if you play it for too long, because you start to realize that repetition is the name of the game. The story won’t hold your attention, the single-player can be entertaining but tends to get old fast, and the multiplayer doesn’t do enough to keep you riveted. Concerning the latter, there are a few competitive modes to try, and progressing allows you to unlock new characters. Character-specific strengths and weaknesses add some much-needed diversity, and because you’re facing off against human foes, the difficulty is much higher. In truth, I think the AI is too lame-brained; that becomes more evident when you try holding your own against human players who have practiced.
As many as 16 players can be involved in the action and that can be insane. But sometimes it just gets too chaotic for my taste. So much of that great depth is lost when a bunch of people are hammering away at you, constantly knocking you out of combos and throwing off your timing. Plus, there’s not a heck of a lot of ingenuity in the online and despite the ramped-up challenge thanks to human competition, it’s very repetitive. Lastly, progress is very slow and I haven’t yet determined why I’d even bother. You don’t seem to reap many rewards for dedicating yourself to online advancement, which is a little frustrating.
Anarchy Reigns can be lots of fun, but the muddled and clichéd story doesn’t help the campaign, and neither does the general repetitive nature of the gameplay. The multiplayer offers more in the way of long-term entertainment, but it’s appeal is questionable. As I said, the whole thing just feels totally one-dimensional. Still, as far as single dimensions go, Platinum did a decent job making this one dimension sparkle. They put such a huge emphasis on making the combat as satisfying as possible that you almost start to forget about the drawbacks…almost.
The Good: Flashy special effects and slick presentation. Good overall design. Fun, accessible combat and decent control. Online multiplayer can be effectively bonkers.
The Bad: Technical elements lack polish. Extremely repetitive. Story is confusing and clichéd. Too many people online tarnishes game’s strengths.
The Ugly: “Doesn’t get much uglier than cutting on enemies with a freakin' chainsaw.”