Review: Anarchy Reigns

If nothing else, they got the title for this game right, Anarchy does indeed Reign in this latest offering from SEGA, which developer Platinum Games describes as a "massively multi-player beat-em-up". That's may be giving the game too much credit, but it's not to far off.

So Anarchy Reigns takes place in a world that has turned into a mutant-infested dystopian wasteland packed to the gills with monsters, killer robots, and cybernetic ninjas. The game's two heroes - Leo, an elite Bureau of Public Safety task force member and Jack Cayman, the gruff bounty hunter Wii owners may recall from the game MadWorld - are both chasing down Maximillian, a rogue cyborg charged with murdering several people and is the man responsible for the death of Jack's daughter.

That premise by itself isn't that weird, but the game's setting pushes the "oh Japan" quota to at least an 8. It's not as outlandish as last years Asura's Wrath, but Anarchy Reigns is likewise a ridiculous and over the top game, a feature cemented by a cast of distinct, outlandish characters that are fond of anime-style melodramatic monologuing to let you in on their feelings. It's a good thing to, because the brawling gameplay - though solid - is not as fun on its own to make the game a worthwhile purchase.
Since the game has two main protagonists, the single player campaign is broken in two, with the plots of the campaigns occasionally crossing over at various points. Each level is like a squashed open world, where you're free to move about as you please, taking on various missions and occasionally knocking the spit out of some low-level grunts. Cracking skulls earns you points, which will then open up the next mission in the stage once you've reached fixed point milestones. Which highlights an odd quirk in how the game is structured, because it means if you do a real good job in a one-on-one duel with one of Anarchy's unique castmembers, you can unlock all the missions in a stage quite pretty quickly, but if you do poorly you'll have to grind through some of the optional missions. It doesn't actually feel like a grind, since the combat is reasonably solid, but it is an odd way to work your way through a beat-'em-up games plot.

Combat features a mix of basic, heavy attacks and throws which can be comboed together, along with a special rampage meter that'll charge up as you battle, giving you a power boost when full. To mix things up, you'll occasionally snag a bonus item, like a shield or rocket launcher, to give an additional advantage. The combat is pretty easy to get the hang of, with the game providing most characters with effective and accessible combos for newbies, but also offering a range of more challenging combos, and indeed more impressive combos, for veterans to master. In other words, if you're a button masher you'll get by just fine, but you may want to brush up on your fighting skills if you plan on taking the multiplayer for a drive.
Platinum's description of Anarchy Reigns as a "massively multi-player beat-em-up" is correct only if you drop the word "massively". The game is better described as a competitive multi-player beat-em-up, since its the first game I can think off that throws up to 16 players in a cage and then lets them sort it out Thunderdome-style. It's also in the multiplayer modes the that game earns the use of the word anarchy in the title; things can get really rowdy and confusing. But in a good way. The game has a number of different multiplayer flavours, featuring both co-op and competitive modes and all are universally fun to try out.

Where it falls flat though is balance. There is no enjoyment to be had when you find yourself on the wrong side of a never-ending combo and you just can't seem to break it. Or worse when several opposing players decide that you are the pinata at the party and then gang up on you to free the candy. If the game had some method breaking out of those situations, it would improve the game tremendously.
But the games really downer, though, is the camera. Normal point-to-point navigation is fun, but once you break out the knuckle-busters and chainsaws, things can get very confusing. The camera has a tendency to pick the worst possible perspective once combat is engaged and in a multiplayer free-for-all, where situational awareness is critical, staring at you feet is incredibly unhelpful. For a game that actively pushes it's multplayer, this potentially gamebreaking issue really should have been resolved before release.

With that said, Anarchy Reigns is still a solid game, packed with oodles of anime-style quirkiness and accessible and solid gameplay. The multiplayer is chaotic fun, though let down by a unnecessary camera issue.


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