In 2010 Platinum Games won the hearts and minds of many gamers with the double punch of Bayonetta and Vanquish.
Sure, MadWorld and Infinite Space had previously been received fairly positively, but it was this brace of games, Bayonetta especially, that elevated the studio into the big leagues. Each delivered something that had rarely been well executed this generation. Good, old-fashioned Japanese insanity and creativity. Now it’s 2013 and Platinum has not two but three games scheduled for release this year. However, unlike 2010, Platinum now has a reputation to live up to. Many eyes are watching, and hoping that their love for this studio isn’t misplaced. Anarchy Reigns is the first of these 2013 releases, and in many ways it is a minor miracle it is even being released in the US and Europe. Japan has already had access to this inventive and weird multiplayer brawler for a while. Until recently, SEGA had just been sitting on it, despite the localisation already being complete. Now, and at a budget price, the rest of the world can enjoy Platinum’s most risky experiment to date.
Let me get this out of the way right now. No, Anarchy Reigns does not possess the same level of polish demonstrated in Bayonetta and Vanquish. That said this multiplayer 3D brawler is a far more ambitious undertaking than either of those games. This certainly isn’t the first time something like this has been attempted. Games like Power Stone, and the under-appreciated War of the Monsters had similar ambitions, and Anarchy Reigns owes more than a little to the former especially. The level of complexity that Platinum is attempting here is pretty much unequalled in this underpopulated sub-genre. Platinum has attempted to insert the depth of a single player, combo driven 3D brawler like God Hand, into a multiplayer setting. In this regard they are mostly, if not entirely, successful.
The core controls for Anarchy Reigns are much like any 3D brawler. Light attack, heavy attack, grapple, you know the drill. One interesting addition is the killer weapon mechanic, that modifies your basic attacks to implement each character’s weapon of choice and causes extra damage. As you have no doubt already guessed, the use of the killer weapon is limited by an energy bar, that empties on use and refills as you dish out or receive damage. All of this can be strung together to create different combos with different effects, such as breaking your opponents guard, juggling them and so on. Platinum has done a great job of making each character feel unique, with all of them having very clear strengths and weaknesses. Yet every character controls quite similarly, so that while I may know both Leo and Mathilda best suit my play style, I can be confident in taking control of anyone.
As this is first and foremost a competitive multiplayer game, the concept of getting stuck in a continuous string of combos is nightmarish. So a 360 degree attack has been added here with the express purpose of breaking people out of these combo chains. This attack does very little damage, but does create enough distance between the two opponents that the player on the receiving end of an arse-whooping can recover and reciprocate. I have found however that inexperienced players will use this attack as a defensive crutch, and keep using it over and over again. Ultimately this player will eventually be killed. As I mentioned above, the attack does very little damage, and more experienced players only need a small window to unleash a barrage that is ten times more devastating. Speaking as one of those more experienced players, it does get annoying that no matter how skilled I am, such an attack can never be countered.
There are a number of different multiplayer modes included in this game, but the one that has been the most heavily marketed is the Battle Royale mode. Interestingly enough, this is by far my least favourite mode. When you have 16 players in a huge map, all fighting each other at the same time, it just descends into pure chaos where no-one knows what the hell is going on. More often than not, it felt like luck was the reason I succeeded in Battle Royale, not skill. While it is really cool that a plane can randomly crash land in the middle of the battlefield or a tornado will send players flying across the map, and I can imagine, with a large group of friends this mode would be hilarious., but on your own, it’s just frustrating. I’d personally recommend sticking with Death Match or Team Death Match if you want to get the most out of Anarchy Reigns. In these modes you only have three or four opponents to worry about, as opposed to fifteen. While things can still get a little crazy, overall these modes provide a more focused and more skill-based experience, that I ended up having a great deal of fun with. Cage Match provides an even more focused experience, pitting just two players against each other. I had a lot of fun with this mode as well, but when it is just two players, the comparisons to more traditional fighting games come more easily. Here Anarchy Reigns just doesn’t hold up when compared to the likes of Street Fighter IV or even Tekken Tag Tournament 2 for that matter.
There is also a Capture The Flag mode, but that is rendered redundant by the presence of Death Ball. Capture the flag is OK, but Death Ball is pretty much the same concept adapted in a way that better suits the game’s mechanics. Essentially a game of rugby where players tackle by kicking and punching each other until the ball goes flying into the air and everyone frantically tries to grab it. Because everyone has an objective other than mass murder, I find Death Ball to be a surprisingly controlled experience.
The other competitive multiplayer modes included are really just slight twists on the modes I’ve already mentioned above. There is also a horde style survival mode, if co-op is more your thing. Yet fighting the regular enemies, which is something I’ll go into later, isn’t nearly as much fun as fighting other players. Overall, I managed to mine a lot of enjoyment out of the multiplayer side of this game, even if it is a little rough in certain areas. I sincerely hope that someone, maybe Platinum, take the foundations laid down by Anarchy Reigns’ multiplayer and build something truly special on top of it.
You’ve probably noticed that up until now, I haven’t mentioned a thing about Anarchy Reigns’ setting, plot or single player component. That’s because, quite frankly, all of that comprises the worst parts of the game. Anarchy Reigns’ solo campaign is effectively a sequel to MadWorld, Platinum’s first game, minus its black and white aesthetic. Many characters like Jack, Mathilda, Rin Rin and The Baron return here. Of course every new multiplayer character makes an appearance at some point, a couple of which take on major roles. The narrative on display here is truly awful. I had adjusted expectations of course, narrative has never been Platinum’s strong suit. I wasn’t expecting the story of Anarchy Reigns to be particularly great, but I was at least expecting some over-the-top, campy fun. Anarchy Reigns doesn’t deliver that at all, in fact at times it takes its self a little too seriously. The plot itself lacks any sense of direction, and later on plot points are introduced but never explained or resolved. On top of all that, some of the characters here are offensive stereotypes A lot has already been said about The Blacker Baron, so I don’t really feel the need to add to that discussion. Just look up a YouTube video and you’ll see what everyone is talking about. But it doesn’t stop there! Chinese assassin Fei Rin likes to occasionally shout, “You’re sweet and sour dead!” during combat. Even Vanquish, which was pretty much a Michael Bay movie, has a more interesting and engaging narrative than what’s on offer here.
As for the gameplay, the campaign is divided into two halves. The black side sees the player take on the role of Jack, who we’re all familiar with. The white side has the player take on the role of Adam Jensen/RoboCop/anime pretty boy hybrid Leo. Both sides are structured exactly the same. The player is let loose in a open environment, which is clearly just a reused multiplayer map, with missions that appear as you score points and unlock them. There are free missions, that simply have you kill lots and lots of people to score points, or have you doing something wacky like hijack a helicopter and mow down hundreds of mutants. Then there are the story missions, that usually have you fighting one or more of the game’s cast. It’s just not very interesting. The regular enemies don’t require any strategy to take down, or pose much of threat. Even the more powerful enemy variants simply have more health and deal more damage, and that’s about it. Knowing that this comes from the studio that gave us Bayonetta, which had one of the greatest 3D brawler campaigns ever made, just makes the mediocrity of Anarchy Reigns’ campaign all the more disappointing.
As you can probably tell, I feel a bit conflicted about Anarchy Reigns. I have a lot of affection for the multiplayer, warts and all. In fact it saddens me that the servers are under-populated, and no doubt in a few months this game will become an online ghost town. I have absolutely no love for the single player, and can’t help but feel Anarchy Reigns would have been better served as a downloadable game that focused entirely on multiplayer. Despite all my negative comments, Anarchy Reigns hasn’t soured my faith in Platinum as a studio. I see Anarchy Reigns more as an interesting experiment, rather than Platinum bringing its ‘A’ game. There isn’t really anything else around quite like Anarchy Reigns these days, so I am happy a game like this at least exists.