With titles like Bayonetta and Vanquish, Platinum Games firmly established itself as a Japanese developer with a certain flair for combining outlandish stories with frenetic combat. Its most recent effort, Anarchy Reigns, works on a similar level but ups the stakes considerably — offering a button-mashing brawler in both a single player and multiplayer environment.
As early on as the start screen, Anarchy Reigns establishes itself as well within Platinum’s wheelhouse with its uniquely designed characters complete with outlandish, and sometimes borderline offensive, personalities. Unfortunately, in many ways Anarchy Reigns lacks the spirit or the general excitement that comes from playing a Platinum Games title, which is a real shame.
The game’s story-driven, single player campaign is split into two halves with players taking on the role of either Jack Cayman (the chainsaw-fisted hero of Platinum Games’ first title, MadWorld) or newcomer Leo. Both campaigns follow a similar path, and occasionally feature points of intersection whereby players can see the other side of the story. It’s a clever idea, but it really just pads the game’s length.
Players can choose either campaign to kick off the story, which finds Jack and Leo in pursuit of a human/cyborg hybrid named Max, but they must complete both to fully understand it. That story, in typical Platinum Games fashion, isn’t all that easy to follow, and is mainly used provide motivation for the game’s combat encounters.
As either Jack or Leo advance through the story they will arrive at four major free-roaming spaces, which each offer 6 missions (3 main and 3 side missions). Each of the spaces is wildly detailed, and surprisingly large, but their true breadth isn’t used for anything more than traversal from one mission marker to the next. And in any of the given 6 missions, the player is confined to a predetermined area wherein they usually defeat an enemy or group of enemies.
Side missions, though fleeting in their entertainment, are the real meat of the single player campaign as players will often be required to go through them more then once. Upon finishing each side mission players are scored based on their performance — a typical Platinum feature — and provided with points. To unlock the next mission marker, however, a player must hit a certain point threshold, not simply complete the previous mission. This results in a few grind-y sections where the player goes through a previously played mission again in order to accrue enough points. It’s a complete momentum killer and oftentimes calls attention to either how poorly constructed the missions are, or how frustratingly inconsistent the combat is (more on that in a bit).
The main missions, on the other hand, usually involve defeating a specific enemy — typically a major character in the story, and usually someone who is unlocked for the game’s multiplayer mode. In most of these missions the gamer will be playing as either Leo or Jack — depending on where they are in the story — but occasionally they will be offered the opportunity to control a few of the game’s secondary characters, which offers a chance to mix up the gameplay a tiny bit.
Unfortunately, it goes on like that for the entire game — play a side mission, gain points, unlock a main mission, defeat an enemy, and uncover more of the story. There’s a surprising amount of content there — about 11 hours worth in total — but ultimately it’s not the type of expertly constructed single player experience fans have come to expect from Platinum. Fans of the developer’s wildly outrageous (and sometimes extremely offensive) characters will find plenty to enjoy as far as the story is concerned, but the combat is pretty hit or miss.
Whereas games like Bayonetta or Vanquish are about combining attacks with fluid movement, Anarchy Reigns is more of a button masher with a lot of starting and stopping. Players are presented with a limited move set — one heavy and one light attack — and given a few special moves when a little extra damage is necessarily. The heavy and light attacks get the job done, but the game’s “killer weapon” attacks — a stronger attack that usually has the character using a specific weapon or power — are what give Anarchy Reigns its own style. Combining all of the various attacks into what can be considered combos is fun, but once players find which move does the most damage they’ll typically end up spamming that specific attack rather than finding a nice rhythm. And killing the enemy as soon as possible is of the utmost importance in Anarchy Reigns, not because that’s the end goal, but because letting them get even a single attack in could prove devastating.
I say that because the game’s combat is prone to inconsistencies both in its ability to let the player transition between moves (typically an attack to a block) and how the AI reacts to the player. Sometimes it works to the their advantage, and the player ends up wiping the floor with what should have been a difficult boss by trapping them in a corner with an endless loop of attacks. Other times they are the ones trapped in a never ending loop — left frustrated and ready to quit. Blocking and evading would have helped keep things balanced, but getting a block off between attacks is easier said than done.
As a result many of the game’s major enemies fluctuate between pushover and complete menace, with the luck of the draw deciding how the mission will go. Some of these pseudo boss battles are different, and are more like monster encounters where the player must attack specific weak points on a larger enemy — those are actually the most fun parts of the game. Unfortunately, they’re also few and far between.
Multiplayer — thought to be Anarchy Reigns‘ biggest selling point — is even more frustrating than single player, as it takes an experience that was already treading on thin ice and exposes nearly every flaw. Getting into a match with more than a single opponent results in plenty of blind sides and tons of moments where one player is getting hammered by several opponents with little to no way to defend themselves.
Any of the game’s 16 unlockable characters are at the player’s disposal, but only one or two provide a significant advantage. The robot Garuda, for example, has a grab that attacks two players rather than the typical one, and that makes him almost unstoppable.
Some will find that the multiplayer just works for them, though, and that taking the combat online makes for a unique experience that is almost like playing a fighting game against more than one opponent. But most will play a match or two and find that the frustration isn’t worth the fleeting entertainment.
Anarchy Reigns has flashes of Platinum Games’ signature style, but is ultimately an average button-mashing brawler with a somewhat interesting multiplayer variant and a unique set of character designs. Getting combat right, or delivering a zany, but cohesive story, could have elevated the title a bit above mediocrity. Unfortunately, the story’s fairly weak and forgettable and the combat can become extremely frustrating and, for that matter, isn’t all that engaging.
By no means is Anarchy Reigns a bad or “broken” game, it just comes across as a title where aspiration and execution never quite meet. Ultimately, there’s enough here that fans of brawlers or Platinum Games’ previous work will find Anarchy Reigns to be a moderately enjoyable, but not all that memorable, experience.
Anarchy Reigns is available now for the PS3 and Xbox 360. Game Rant was provided the Xbox 360 version for review.
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