What exactly is Anarchy Reigns? That’s one of the things I often found myself thinking. It’s very hard to quantify the game as any one thing in particular. Is it a fighter? Well, yes, but no. Is it a party game? Again yes, but at the same time, it isn’t. It is in the same vein as Super Smash Bros. and the more recent PlayStation All Stars Battle Royale? Yes, and yet again, no. If you’re confused about what Anarchy Reigns is, hopefully this review will both give you a bit of insight and help you determine if you should pick up the game.
I recall many, many years ago my first foray into the brawler genre. I didn’t exactly realize what it was then, but Power Stone on the Dreamcast absolutely captivated me. I found myself playing for days at a time, with and without friends. It only had a handful of characters and the events in the game were pretty repetitive, with a few stages, yet I couldn’t bring myself to put it down. That’s when you just know that a game is fun. You don’t have any one real reason in particular to keep playing the game. It’s just an overall enjoyable experience. In fact, I still sometimes plug up ol’ faithful and play through one of the Power Stone games. The classics never get old, and I get the very same feeling every time I put in Anarchy Reigns. It is by nature a much needed, updated version of Power Stone for the current generation of systems — only this one has a few more fighting game elements to it. There are other brawlers out there, but none I feel that manage to do it quite so well this generation.
Graphically speaking, the game does nothing impressive. The movies that play during the main story look great, but the rest of the game is more on par with older games such as Bayonetta and Vanquish, which is fitting considering all three are made by Platinum Games. Anarchy Reigns implores a certain art style that, for the type of game it is, simply fits. They’re not going to make you sit back and tell yourself that it’s the best thing you’ve ever seen, however they accomplish what they’re setting out to do and it doesn’t look particularly horrible; just somewhat dated, compared to newer games and character models. Part of me feels like this is a necessity, and I’ll get more into that in a minute. First, we’ll dive into story mode.
Without spoiling much, the story revolves around two separate parties seeking to find one missing individual by the name of Max. When you first begin, you get a choice of the “Black” side or the “White” side. In no way does this represent a good or evil campaign. Black side puts you mainly in the shoes of bounty hunter Jack Cayman of MadWorld (also made by Platinum Games) popularity and his double-bladed chainsaw Gator Tooth, while the White side places you in control of Leonhardt “Leo” Victorion, a cybernetic badass wielding four positron blades and working for the police force. Both characters have their own distinct reasons for looking for Max, and after you beat one’s campaign you’re immediately thrown into the shoes of the other. Completion of both campaigns will net you the final “Red” side in which you take control of whoever you chose first in a battle against the final boss.
There isn’t much to story mode aside from filler content. It’s set up entertainingly enough, allowing you to run around the open world of ten levels (five for each character) in which you search for collectibles and beat up randomly-spawned waves of enemies Final Fight-style for enough points to unlock the next side and/or story mission. The levels themselves are big enough to suit their need, though there really isn’t too much to explore. Each level consists of five or six small areas for you to run about, which gives it just enough replay value to not seem too annoying. The side missions vary enough, from something as simple as defeating a number of enemies within a given time frame to racing around a track or shooting enemies with a rifle. I’d have liked to see them expand more on the story itself. As it stands, unless you’re a completionist, there’s little reason to run through it aside from unlocking all the characters and getting practice in. That, and the multiplayer, is where the game shines.
The characters in the game are nothing short of well designed. There are four from MadWorld including Jack Cayman, voiced by talent Steve Blum in only the way that Mr. Blum could pull off, Black Baron, Mathilda, and Big Bull. Bayonetta also makes an appearance as a downloadable character, free if you managed to pre-order the game. The rest of the characters each have their own uniqueness that you’ll be hard pressed to find in any other game. While the characters themselves look different, it’s perpetuated with the edition of the character’s “killer weapon,” an object that further makes each character unique. Whether it’s the bacon-loving Oinkie and his Bane-inspired toxic weapon simply called “The Juice” or the lovely cybernetic beauty Sasha with her Snow Spikes, everyone has something different to bring to the table. The only characters that I’ve found to be copies of each other are the Rin sisters; three simply named Ai Rin, Fei Rin, and Rin Rin. They’ve got the same move sets down to their throws, save for their killer weapons and their element of choice as lightning, ice, and fire respectively. For a roster that boasts 16 originally designed characters, I’d say that’s not too bad.
The meat of the game and by far the greatest success thereof is its multiplayer. There are plenty of game types to suit everyone’s need, whether you enjoy a good 1v1, 2v2, or 4v4 brawl or just want to scrap in a large 16-player FFA match. Like in the aforementioned Power Stone, random events will occur in game. There will be enemies spawned, sometimes even large bosses from the main story like a giant Kraken, that make it their sole duty to get in the way of some of the fights. Random items such as shields, rifles, or rocket launchers will be dropped into the level and sometimes you’ll fall victim to bombing runs, tornadoes, and a nuclear warhead being shot at the center of the level. As much as I’ve played, none of these ever get old. If anything, it’s absolutely hilarious to see sixteen people brawling it out in the main area of a map and have a warhead land between them all. When this occurs, you have thirty seconds to vacate the area before it explodes and kills everyone there. Almost instantly do people drop what they’re doing and take off running, getting potshots in whenever they can. There are co-operative modes as well that allow you and two others to five up to ten waves of enemies with a surprise boss at the end depending on the stage that you pick.
There’s also a competitive football/rugby-type game known as Death Ball. It’s a 5v5 match wherein the objective is to grab a ball in the center and run it to the opposing team’s goal. The only catch is that the goal is locked and you have to hold the ball for a certain amount of time before you can score. If you hold it long enough, you can perform a special shot that has a different attribute depending on the character you pick. Zero, the cybernetic ninja character of the game, splits the ball in half and it curves about to the goal. These shots can be blocked, but the opponent has to enter a correct QTE in order to do so. You can also pass to team mates and intercept the ball from others, as well as kill the enemy players. Don’t worry, though. If you die, you respawn within a certain amount of time. I was actually impressed with how well this game type was done. It’s probably one of my favorites.
Combat is simplistic enough for anyone to pick up, and yet intricate enough for veterans to pick up and try to figure out the best combos and how to punish others. There is a heavy and normal attack, along with a heavy and normal Killer Weapon attack. Attacking an enemy using your basic attacks will build meter. Normal killer weapon attacks will use one meter, while the heavy weapon attacks use two. Characters usually start with about four bars, and you can easily build at least two bars with a typical combo. You can chain normal attacks into heavy attacks, normal moves into Killer Weapon moves, give pauses, air juggle, and all the standard things with most fighting games. Only, this time, there’s usually a few other people on screen that will do what they can to interrupt or save the person you’re beating on. Not all characters hold the same stats, either. Some of the larger characters can grab two opponents at once, while their strength and health is increased in order to make up for the lack of long combos and slow moves. Others are fast, but have low health or strength and can chain incredibly long combos together. There is blocking, though it will be broken and you will be completely open to attack if you abuse it. There’s dodge rolling as well, though three consecutive dodges will slow you down and also open you up to attack. Once a player deals or takes a certain amount of damage, they can overload themselves and become invulnerable to damage for a set period of time. At this point, you can use as many Killer Weapon attacks as you like without using meter. Most people just run from you, unless they decide to also overload themselves. Then it comes down to whoever can mash a particular button the fastest with the loser being immediately knocked out of their overload state. This isn’t necessarily the best way to handle this in an online setting, but thankfully I haven’t ran into much lag.
All of this is set to an incredible soundtrack. It may not be your choice of music, a mix of electronic and hiphop, but there’s no denying that it fits. Artists such as Dilated Peoples and Doujah Raze lend their musical talent to many of the songs that play during brawls, and it just works. It’s one of the few soundtracks that I found myself going out and purchasing without having any real care for the genre of music itself. It’s THAT good.
The game isn’t without its faults. I spoke earlier about the dated graphics. Again, they’re not bad by any means, but I feel that they had to be dumbed down in order to fit all of the chaos on screen at once. This doesn’t necessarily detract from anything, but it does make me wonder why they didn’t put in a split screen mode even just for the cooperative gameplay. The game itself retails at about $30 bucks, which is a steal for something like this, so it doesn’t feel TOO bad when you tell your friend to go out and buy it. If you don’t have a way to play online then you’ll miss out on what makes this game so great. Playing offline by yourself against bots can only be fun for so long. Overall, I think the game manages to deliver on several long-lost aspects of gaming and it shouldn’t be faulted for the that.