After being released in Japan seven months ago, Platinum Games’ outlandish brawler is finally with us and at a purse pleasing price to boot. We’d like to think that the cheap price tag is because Sega understand that most people are feeling the pinch during January, but we very much doubt that thrifty gamers come into the equation when publishers are planning their big budget releases.
Anarchy Reigns isn’t the most straightforward game to describe, but the three people who played Mad World on the Wii will at least feel a sense of familiarly. It sees the chainsaw wielding Jack Cayman and foul mouthed pimp Blacker Baron return for a spot of free-roaming fighting, along with other familiar faces. As well as Jack, the single-player mode offers another playable character – newcomer Leo, who could easily pass off as a stunt double for Metal Gear Solid’s Raiden. Jack and Leo have their own stories to play through but they share the same goal – to capture a cybernetically enhanced agent who has gone more than slightly berserk.
The two story modes are set in the same four locations, but the level design and mission objectives are different for each. When entering a new area there’s just one mission available, but by achieving certain scores new missions open up, and you’re free to roam around the environments and pick and retry these as you please. The levels are fun to explore due to random events – such as air-plane bombing runs and tornadoes – and large groups of enemies to defeat. The odd giant mutant encounter is occasionally thrown in to keep you on your toes too, plus there are metal safes containing concept art and such to find and smash open.
Missions are delightfully varied, ranging from defeating a certain amount of enemies within a time limit, to one-on-one battles against enemy agents and gang leaders. Another mission sees Leo hijacking a helicopter and raining missiles down on swarms of mutants below, while later there’s a boss battle on an aircraft carrier against a colossal kraken. Most missions give you three lives and as such the majority can be beaten on either the first or second attempt. Being a scored-based game however the fewer lives you use the higher the score you receive at the end, which affects the overall ranking for the entire area.
Both Leo and Jack have near a identical special move list, but it’s still worth playing through the tutorial as there are lots of moves to take note of, including a very helpful 360 degree attack. It’s also worth learning how to lock onto enemies. This makes the one-on-one battles a lot easier and ensures that any projectile items always hit their target. Combat isn’t as deep as Platinum Games’ Bayonetta, but it is perhaps flashier due to the ability to unleash a barrage of punches by filling up a rage gauge. Jack also has his chainsaw, of course. It is a little odd that there are no extra moves to unlock after the outset, but the want to find out what madcap mission was going to be thrown at us next was enough to keep us interested until the ending credits rolled.
Each story mode takes around three hours to finish, and when both are done and dusted there’s an epilogue that ties the two together. Cut-scenes are mostly brief and like Bayonetta and Vanquish there’s a few witty one-liners, not to mention the liberal use of the f-word. It’s also in the story mode that characters for multi-player are unlocked. Incidentally, Bayonetta herself is available as DLC to those who buy the first print run.
We expected multi-player to be similar to Capcom’s classic Power Stone, and although battles are similarly chaotic due to the multi-tiered environments and use of weapons, they’re aren’t chaotic in the enjoyable sense. Some battles allow for 16 players, and being attacked from behind by other players without warning isn’t particularly fun, and nor is having four or five enemies surround you all guns blazing. There’s no warning when projectiles are heading your way either; being struck by one leaves your character dazed and open to attack. The game’s focus on lavish and over the top combos really doesn’t translate well to big scale battles at all.
Moreover, the balancing is all over the place – in the single-player mode it’s possible to unlock abilities for multi-player such as auto-blocking. Such a skill hardly gives the opposition a sporting chance. It’s also worth noting that although you can pick a region, most Japanese players are now at maximum rank. They’ve also seemingly discovered that the Transformer-alike Garuda is the best character to pick, as they’re able to perform a unique move that sees the mech grabbing the two nearest enemies and slamming them to the ground.
The chance to rise up the ranks and unlock emblems may provide a reason for some to spend a significant amount of time in multi-player – and there are a few neat ideas such as mode based on a futuristic sport known as Deathball – but even so we didn’t find much incentive to keep playing online.
Anarchy Reigns should be enjoyed for what it is – a bold and brash reinvention of the scrolling beat ’em up genre that’s fun in single-player while it lasts. Fans of Platinum Games’ previous efforts, and those who feel as if Streets of Rage and Final Fight are long overdue a return will find solace here, if nobody else.