Review: Anarchy Reigns

Review: Anarchy Reigns

After escaping a damning delay purgatory, Sega and Platinum Games’ Anarchy Reigns is finally here. Though first scheduled to release in late 2011, the game received a jaw dropping four delays before finally sticking to its early 2013 release date. This over-the-top and stylish beat’em up marks the multiplayer debut of the developer and as such it doesn’t disappoint. The cherry on top of this sugary craziness sundae is the game’s very modest price of just $30.

In terms of story, Anarchy Reigns certainly isn’t the deepest title. The campaign is split into a black side and a white side. Main character and MadWorld protagonist Jack Cayman leads the black side of the campaign and the genetically modified good guy Leo takes over in the white side. Both sides of the campaign take you through precisely the same stages though the missions are different and you’ll also see different events or the same events play out differently.

The general story boils down to both Jack and Leo hunting down the burly Max who betrayed or defected from Leo’s organization (the BPS, basically genetically enhanced cops) and murdered Jack’s daughter. As I said before, the story isn’t wonderfully deep and it can be rather confusing at times (this might be a weakness of the developer) but it holds the game together well. It’s actually hard to spend too much time focusing on the story in this game anyways. Most players won’t be picking this title up with expectations of Heavy Rain level storytelling and character development.

They’ll come for the sheer bliss of beating hordes of baddies into a pulp and the story provides a solid excuse to do just that.

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From a visual standpoint, Anarchy Reigns is passable. It doesn’t look as visually overwhelming as Platinum’s own Vanquish, but the graphics are definitely decent. The wide variety of distinct character and enemy designs is impressive. Mathilda looks like some sort of dominatrix biker fashion model and Sasha looks like an android pop singer. The colorful cast of characters features unique and eye-catching designs across the board. The huge stages don’t seem to feature quite as much personality as the characters but are still easy on the eyes.

Variety is also showcased with the level design. There’s a skyscraper, a desert, a “casino” and several more venues in which you’ll conduct your bloody business. Some of the cutscenes look really cool. All of the combat animations look great and the fighting looks fluid. All things considered it isn’t the nicest looking game but it looks good enough and visuals aren’t where it excels anyway.

I actually really enjoyed the music in Anarchy Reigns. The upbeat hip-hop and poppy jazz tunes do the game a great service. It’s even better when you consider that this game could have easily been bogged down by generic metal and rock tracks. Running into a heated online battle or getting set to tackle a nasty horde of mutants is more exciting with the fast and hard rap tracks behind you. Some songs like “Kill ‘Em All” do exhibit some rock and roll influences, but still have a hip-hop core.

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All in all the music in Anarchy Reigns’ soundtrack is closer to dance music, which the Tekken series has taught me is the absolute best music for fighting games, though it never gets much credit. I totally prefer this kind of music for this kind of game over the uninspired metal music that frequently appears in series like Dynasty Warriors. It contributes to the game’s edgy, rebellious attitude and unique flair.

The two components of Anarchy Reigns are the single-player campaign and the online multiplayer. In the campaign, you go around as Jack or Leo completing missions and earning points. In between these missions you’re free to roam around the sizable stages and beat up thugs and hunt for safes. Finding and opening a safe unlocks a piece of concept art that you can view in the game’s gallery. I wasn’t sure how many safes where scattered around the game until I visited the gallery and saw the huge amount of locked content there. If you plan to complete the gallery, you’ll have your work cut out for you.

Each campaign consists of five stages. In each stage you’ll need to complete six or so missions to move on. Half of these missions are free missions which are only there for enjoyment and the other half are story missions, which involve cutscenes and dialogue. When characters speak to each other, you’re basically shown their faces. You can see everything from their shoulders up and this looks kind of tacky but you get used to it. The characters are hilarious and there is some witty writing.

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I was truly shocked to hear that Zero spoke with such awful engrish despite the fact that he looked so cool. The game doesn’t take itself too seriously and truly goes the distance to get a laugh out of the player. The stereotypical personality of the Blacker Baron and Jack’s cheesy one-liners are examples of this. It all maintains the easy-going ‘just for fun’ attitude of the game.

There is great variety within the missions. Perhaps a few too many were simply “defeat all enemies”, but one has you take control of a super-mutant while another gives you a rifle with infinite ammo and tasks you with defeating as many enemies as you can. The missions themselves – and by extension the campaigns – encourage you to replay them. You’re given a grade based on your performance at the end of each mission and these equate to the overall grade you receive at the end of each stage. Further, you receive another, final grade at the end of the campaign.

I could be mistaken, but it seemed like you couldn’t replay a story mission within a stage. The campaign is brief and you could clear both the black side and the white side in less than five hours. I believe that there is some variation in the scenes and events you’re shown depending on which side you start on. I started on the black side (the cursor was already hovering over it) and finished through to the white side, but things might be different if I start over on the white side. The campaigns would be much more fun in my opinion if you could choose any of the characters to play with, but you’re stuck with Jack or Leo.

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If you want to play with the various characters offline, your only options are training mode and the simulator. In training you can practice combos and setups with any character and against any character. It’s a good place to create advanced combos for use in the 1-vs-1 or 2-vs-2 online matches. The simulator is a rough offline simulation of the online mode. There are bots instead of actual players and it is somewhat fun if you don’t have the option of playing online. Of course the CPU bots are much less challenging than actual players, but it’s a good distraction from the campaigns if for some reason you can’t play online. In the gallery you can view any of the art you’ve unlocked and listen to any of the music in the game. The music appears to be unlocked from the beginning, but you’ll have to unlock the art.

Although Anarchy Reigns features a two sided campaign that’ll keep you busy for a few hours (or more if you’re trying to collect everything) and a considerable amount of single-player content, the true draw of this title is the online multiplayer mode. Everyone who picks this game up should expect to spend the bulk of their time here. There are several different game modes to enjoy and numerous things to unlock. You can choose any of the characters you wish here.

There are several game modes; perhaps a dozen or so, give or take a couple. There are even more modes to choose from if you pre-ordered the game. Tag deathmatch pits teams of two against each other and enables the powerful tag guard and tag grab options. In survival up to three players can join forces against waves of mutants. Deathball is a makeshift kind of football in which two teams battle to get a glowing ball to the opposing team’s goal. The sea of game modes provides tons of content and you can find yourself playing game after game for hours on end. This is good clean fun.
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Each of the characters has a unique play-style, even if they all control identically. There is a heavy attack button and a light attack button. Mashing on either will result in a combo and mixing them up will produce different combos. If you hold a shoulder button, your character will brandish their weapon and you can perform deadly attacks. These attacks draw on a stamina meter and when it runs empty you’ll need to refill it by performing normal attacks and combos. You can also guard, grab and attack while in midair. Once you’ve filled a special meter by dealing damage, you can unlock a powerful special attack that can immediately kill all but the most skillful players.

The essentials of combat are simple enough for anyone to grasp after just a few minutes of playing. While it may seem like a lighthearted button mashing parade, there is actually a much deeper layer of strategy to the fighting built on these simple core components. To get a firsthand view of this, you’ll need to find a 1-vs-1 match with a skilled player. All of the characters are capable of devastating, inescapable combos that deal 50% or more damage. These might be impossible to pull off in the heat of a battle royale match, but understand that these techniques do exist and that the game’s high level play is strategic and very deep.

Adding to the utter insanity of the online matches are the items. Items appear in the offline mode as well but it’s much more satisfying to launch one at another player than at a mutant.  The items vary between things like a nitrogen tank which will freeze all characters in a vicinity, to exploding barrels, to electric bear traps, to powerful long range sniping rifles and much more. Trading fisticuffs with another player is good fun, but the tide of a battle can alter dramatically if one player acquires an explosive mine.

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Helping make the online brawls even more ridiculous are the Action Trigger Events, or ATEs. The ATEs randomly add in enemies, boss enemies and or environmental hazards to mix up the fray. Even in the most heated team battle, it’s worth calling a truce to deal with the atrocious Cthulhu. A tornado or giant buzz saw may come sweeping along the battlefield, laying waste to all those too embroiled in combat to seek safety. An outbreak of poison gas forces players to quickly find higher ground. A horde of cantankerous super-mutants may appear in the game, immediately becoming a bigger threat than any player.

These ATEs keep the matches fresh and mix up the games. Even in the same stage and with the same players, a team deathmatch could play out much differently the second time around.

As you compete online, you gain levels and unlock perks. Some of the perks take quite a while to unlock, but it’s nice because it gives you something to keep playing towards. The netcode seems swell when everyone has a good connection. One thing that I didn’t like was that you are never shown a list of games when searching for a match. The game tries to immediately place you a match. You can filter the search by game mode, but you’re always shoved right into a room and you never get the option of perusing all of the current games. It was also irritating to repeatedly be told “the lobby is full” even though I’d never specifically selected a lobby.

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At the time of this writing I’d spent nearly a dozen hours playing online and thanks to the unlockables, the big variety of characters and game modes and the sheer fun of the fighting, I’ll definitely be back to spend several dozen more.

I believe this game has immense replay value. The missions in the campaign mode encourage replaying with their grades and scores. If you’re a perfectionist about that kind of thing, then you won’t be satisfied until you’ve earned a platinum rating for all of the stages. Actually doing that could take dozens of hours. Plus there are the gallery unlockables. Online play is simply irresistible and you’ll want to keep playing to unlock the perks and emblems.

Although it’s a crazy good engagement, Anarchy Reigns is not without its faults. The campaign is brief, and if you aren’t big on replaying things it’ll only keep you entertained for a short amount of time. A bigger variety of stages wouldn’t have hurt either. Also, the offline bot battles seemed like a great place for local multiplayer, but there is none. There are a couple of kinks in the online matchmaking that could have been ironed out. The option to browse a list of current games should not have been omitted. The automated way that the game partners you up with other players works most of the time, but it seems sloppy to be told that “the lobby is full” even though you only searched for a quick match.

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Still though, despite its flaws, Anarchy Reigns is what its name suggests:  a rebel. It sets over-the-top battles between stylized characters to hip-hop music. It drops a boss enemy smack dab into the middle of a heated online battle royale. It features a token black guy who elaborates his role by being a pimp and Asian fighters who speak engrish. It’s a gamer’s game and it doesn’t pull any punches. What you see is what you get: a ridiculous and colorful cast of characters and two campaigns, topped off with a generous helping of online modes for all the fast-paced fighting any action fan could ever want. And with a price tag of just $30, I’m not sure how any action fan could resist throwing caution to wind and reigning anarchy.