Developer: Platinum Games / Publisher: Sega / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: $29.99 / ESRB: Mature [Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language]
Trying to convey the spirit of Anarchy Reigns via text feels so inappropriate. Here I am, writing these nice words to you in a pleasant way. You may be sipping some tea, wearing fuzzy socks, and listening to smooth jazz. If I had the power, I would bust through your monitor, set your socks on fire, then pee in your face while screaming Sex Pistols lyrics at you. That would just about capture the essence of Anarchy Reigns.
This is a brash, aggressive, and violent game. It’s also not entirely similar to any other game, which makes generalization difficult. Here’s my best shot: take the multiplayer beat ‘em up stylings of Power Stone, toss in the item use and hectic stages of Smash Bros., and then add the intense speed and grit of God Hand’s combat and you may start to get an idea.
And then a Kraken attack interrupts your fight and sends everyone scrambling for higher ground as water submerges the entire stage and giant tentacles thrash indiscriminately.
Anarchy Reigns is king of the unexpected, both in good ways and bad. The good comes in the form of kraken attacks, impromptu bombing runs, and massive traffic accidents that send out-of-control cars raining down onto the stage. Mix this with absurd characters like Jack (directly ported from Platinum’s MadWorld) who comes equipped with a double chainsaw attached to his arm and Rin Rin–an Asian clan member who uses two enflamed, bladed fans–and multiplayer brawls become otherworldly. We’re talking Battlefield levels of mayhem, to the point that I’ve never played two matches that are remotely the same.
But there’s a bad unknown here too. Anarchy Reigns commits the same sin as most every fighting game: it tosses you to the wolves with minimal instruction about its systems and mechanics. Here’s an example: you can sacrifice some health to perform a 360 attack that hits in a full circle around you. That’s all the game tells you, and you might assume that it’s meant to generate some space if you’re feeling overwhelmed in a fight with multiple enemies.
What they don’t tell you is that you can perform this move even if you’re being hit. In fact, the 360 attack is a crucial combo-breaking mechanic. However, there’s a short windup before the attack comes out. That means that if the attacker is on his toes, he can stop his combo, roll out of the way, then pick up the combo again once the 360 attack is over. It’s a fantastic mechanic that rewards responsiveness and perception, creating a cool cat-and-mouse between fighters… and it boggles my mind that the game doesn’t feel the need to tell you that.
Learning that lesson–plus several others that are mandatory for enjoying a match online–Is a process that involves several confusing and pointless deaths. It’s natural to lose when first going online, but the sheer confusion at not understanding the systems at play is intolerable in this day and age. Hell, at the minimum an in-game text encyclopedia spelling out the game’s mechanics would do wonders. Just tell me what the rules are and at least give me the chance to understand why I’m losing. Instead, you’re left to get butt-hammered over and over with just trial and error to course correct.
However, the experience that waits over that painful hump is wonderful and worth the endurance. The game’s maps are massive, composed of several open areas for small skirmishes connected by boost ramps, elevators, and teleporters. Imagine fighting on top of a skyscraper when an errant dodge roll sends you over the edge. Your opponent follows and you exchange blows the whole way down. You both crater into the street below, only to be swept into the chaos of the six-man brawl taking place under you. This is the sort of spontaneous chaos that is commonplace in Anarchy Reigns.
Should you tire of the ridiculous carnage of battle royale, a host of additional game modes provide a range of gameplay flavors. The game’s mechanics hold up well in all these modes too, ranging from the obvious team deathmatch and capture the flag to the outlandish “deathball” that has teams vying to carry a digital ball into a goal. Speaking of variety, the multiplayer does come with a token progression mechanic that slowly unlocks new characters and cosmetic doodads. However, you probably won’t need a filling bar to keep you invested in the multiplayer experience.
There is a single-player campaign here, but it’s best viewed as a lengthy training session with a bombastic story bolted on. That’s unfortunate, because the single-player campaign could have remedied all my major problems with the game. Why not dedicate a mission to teaching you when you can and can’t be thrown? Why not use this time to give players the knowledge they need to have a slower and more controlled setting? Playing on Hard is a better instructor than none at all, but the lack of a proper tutorial is still desperately missed.
Still, this is a game expertly made. The visuals, though not astounding with poly counts or overblown bloom, perfectly convey all the information you need. Damaging attacks are properly telegraphed, and attack timings feel tight and fair. And the soundtrack? My god. The composers for MadWorld’s excellent score return, contributing a stacked playlist of dark, dirty, and aggressive up-tempo hip hop. It’s one of those soundtracks–If you play Anarchy Reigns around a non-gamer, the first comment they’ll have is that the music is amazing.
But make no mistake, this is a game for gamers: furious button mashing, intense competition, and destruction on a scale that only Platinum Games seems to understand. If you’ve smugly extolled God Hand or Power Stone, put your money where your mouth is and buy Anarchy Reigns immediately. It’s less of a known quantity for the rest of you, and its longevity on your play list will rely on your tolerance for repeated death at the hands of a cold, uncaring Internet.