Midway through Anarchy Reigns, a poignant discussion emerges between its two protagonists. The stylish and technically proficient Leo casts aspersions toward the blunt inferiority of Jack’s double bladed chainsaw weapon thing. Jack firmly replies, “It ain’t the tool compadre, it’s how you f- – – people up with it.” This charming sentiment is also basically a mission statement for the entire game. Anarchy Reigns somehow dissolves the perfunctory impression left by its lunatic concept and budget price and rematerializes as an engaging, thoughtful, and somewhat flawed piece of interactive entertainment.
This shouldn’t really come as a surprise given Platinum Games’ portfolio. Vanquish is an accomplished take on a 3rd person shooter and Bayonetta is widely recognized as this generation’s premier character-action game. MadWorld’s stylish brand of hilarious butchery (probably) failed because it was affixed to the Wii, which might be why Anarchy Reigns feels like a parallel universe version of MadWorld. A deliberate focus on multiplayer and expanded (and partly shared) roster realigns MadWorld’s ideas into a more coherent and interesting brawler.
Anarchy Reigns shares move set between all of its sixteen seventeen characters. A standard light and heavy attack mix into simple combos and are complimented by a block and throw. A 360 attack clears anyone in the immediate vicinity in exchange for burning a bit of health. A directional dodge and upward/downward moves add finesse, and meter-bound light and heavy Killer Weapons are employed when you’d like to get serious. The meter behind Killer Weapons seemed to build ridiculously fast when I wasn’t paying attention and agonizingly slow when was getting slammed, and whenever I burned it always felt like a reward. Rampage is your least frequent option and unleashes brutalizing auto-combos for ten or so seconds. Again, input is the same for every character, but their speed, damage, and feedback differ greatly.
Though it’s billed as a multiplayer game Anarchy Reigns also boasts a substantial single player offering. Two separate campaigns back Jack or Leo through four stages. Each stage is essentially a hub world for missions that appear after meeting a certain score. You can either beat the snot out of the endless denizens populating each stage, or engage repeatable Free Missions until a Main Mission appears. Main Missions are narrative heavy and typically feature either Jack or Leo squaring off against either another member of Anarchy Reigns’ cast or a gigantic boss. Free Missions venture outside the box, offering tasks like punching giant balls into cages or navigating a riding flamethrower hovercraft around a makeshift racetrack (seriously). These missions can feel crude and clumsy, but it nevertheless works – and I had to admire the insane context behind each event.
But let’s be clear, I’m not implying that Anarchy Reigns won’t routinely piss you off. Opponents like Cthulu or Cybirds, for example, seem impossible until you learn to exploit the exact same move over and over. Grabbing missiles out of the air and flinging them back at anything is way harder than it should be. More detrimental was the time I could only beat one of the Free Missions by somehow glitching outside the boundaries which instantly made me win (?). Mechanically speaking Anarchy Reigns is nowhere near as tight and focused as Platinum’s previous efforts, which early on left me screaming at my television when character animation locked me out of dodging. That’s part of the game and, of course, I learned to deal with it, but Anarchy Reigns’ combat maintains a distinct and pervasive feeling of clumsiness. Maybe that’s what happens when single player is forced to inherit obtuse mechanics designed with multiplayer in mind.
I have no idea what the hell happened in the campaign’s story. I mean, I can relay the general plot outline and maybe relay a character trait or two, but generally Anarchy Reigns weaves a fairly insane thread around its razor blade fingers and doesn’t make time for details. It’s consistent in what it does, and doesn’t make the mistake of indulging in its apocalyptic setting or kitschy humor. It feels like a mid-season episode of a TV series in its third season. In any case, Anarchy Reigns means to be a game about beating the holy screaming crap out of a lot of people, and it rarely forgets its intentions.
Battle Royal, the marquee event in Anarchy Reigns multiplayer suite, is a sixteen entrant free-for-all focused on melee combat. This defies both general logic and presumptions of how to make a successful videogame in 2013, but anarchy indeed reigns and Anarchy Reigns’ concept is actually executed with impressive results. Over time, when to block, when to string off a combo, when to perform a Rampage, and how to exploit Killer Weapons properly evolve from mindless mashing into learned skills. There’s a subtle depth the Anarchy Reigns’ combat, and it smartly favors timing and execution over input complexity and combo memorization.
Battle Royale is unconditionally preposterous at random intervals. Fire pits, ultra fast elevators, and teleporters are standard trimmings for each stage. Throughout each match it was also normal to encounter crashing 747’s, pockets of poison gas, random landmass reconfiguration, black holes, tornadoes, and (my personal favorite) a sporadic, sanctioned Duel to the Death that teleported me and my current opponent into a one-on-one cage match. Anarchy Reigns also has the good sense to offer other point-based incentives like assigning a high point total to a specific player (“Assassination”) and tossing out enemies ranging from weak underlings to campaign bosses.
Customization is limited but present. Pallet swaps are the only visual changes offered, but Anarchy Reigns also boasts a limited perk system. Adding an extra bar to my combo meter or removing damage from 360 attacks wasn’t going to make or break my character, but it provided a suitable incentive for progression. Your player level tops out at level 50, but generally Anarchy Reigns felt even kilter. I say felt because I have no idea if it’s legitimately balanced or not, but I do know that over the course of a few hours I went from getting completely eviscerated to regularly placing in the top third of matches and, more importantly, understanding what I shouldn’t be doing.
Anarchy Reigns is balanced better than one might expect, but it’s not immune to sudden instances rage igniting mania. Watching someone come out of nowhere and steal a kill after you’ve been pulverizing an opponent always sucks, but it was usually a wash after taking my own stolen kills into account. Heavier characters like Garuda seemed especially adept at kill stealing, and frustration in general, as they often had little issue with bouncing me from combo to combo like a ping pong ball.
There’s a considerable helping of other modes. Standards like Team Deathmatch, a one-on-one cage match (complete with a different UI and life bars), and Capture the Flag. Team Battle is Anarchy Reigns stab at classed based battling, boosting and decreasing certain stats to encourage a specific role (though good luck at coordinating that with people online). Survival is a basic hoard mode, pitting a three man team against waves of enemies. The most interesting mode is Death Ball, which places players on opposing teams and bends the mechanics into a reckless, ongoing game of football. Seriously, you throw this neon blue ball back and forth, beat the crap out of anyone on the field, and try to throw the ball into a goal that’s only open *sometimes*. It’s half broken and not especially deep, but I love it when developers throw in oddball modes like that.
Anarchy Reigns’ presentation is across the map. The art direction is thematically consistent and responsible for environments that are conceptually interesting, if not faintly detailed. It’s not especially great looking and has a penchant for blurring itself, but expectations should be in line for a $30 game. What works, what really works is the soundtrack. It builds (and even employs some of the same artists) from MadWorld’s high energy hip hop offering, constantly and consistently encouraging the player to smash the crap out of everything. It’s great, simultaneously exciting and entertaining – and even when the lyrics fail the beats remain impressive. In fact, I went as far as to buy the soundtrack and I’ve been non-ironically listening to it in my car for most of the weekend.
The only real knock I have against the entire package is it’s too easy to see where Anarchy Reigns could have been better. Games are made within a budget and Anarchy Reigns’ surely wasn’t much, but you have to admire the purity of its intentions. In a perfect world it would have a Call of Duty 2-like impact and birthed refined successors, but as it stands Anarchy Reigns is an enjoyable oddity pleading for an elegant sequel. If I may paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson, it’s like Anarchy Reigns is too weird to live, and too rare to die.