Anarchy Reigns cares very little about masterful storytelling, only disembowelment. Perhaps one of the most honest and literal titles that I’ve seen in some time, Platinum Games’ latest action-oriented brawler continues the strange developer’s quest to create some of the most indefinable, yet savagely brutal, games out there. From the moment the first loading screen pops up the entire plot of the game is distilled in a few paragraphs of scrolling text and little else: the world as we knew it has been transformed into a radioactive hell where disfigured mutants and prosthetic-enhanced humans fight to exist. Simple stuff for a game with simple ambitions; bloody deaths, done in the most creative ways possible.
The synopsis is pretty transparent and serves little more than an excuse to roam the game’s dystopian casinos and Chinatown-themed ghettos while pummeling scores of mutated street thugs and titans into grounded flesh. The concept of a otherwise outrageous brawler appears to be business as usual for developer Platinum Games, considering past output like Bayonetta and Vanquish, but this entry feels like a direct homage to their Capcom/Clover Studio title God Hand, a game that not enough people played, while also serving as a very loose spiritual sequel to the black ‘n white bruiser MadWorld.
The gameplay is reminiscent of a old arcade beat-em-up with where simple combinations of light / strong attacks make up most of the interaction, with throws and weapon-based “killer attacks” tossed in for good measure – just in case you need some flair when decimating enemies. most attacks can be charged for easy airborne juggling move and killer attack are (mostly) unique to each character, like Jack Cayman’s signature arm-retractable chainsaw or Sasha’s chainlike snow-spikes which can freeze enemies. Additional weapons and power-ups, such as sniper rifles, invisibility, and instant power gauge buildups are also available to help turn the tide as well.
You can even make use of your environment by snagging signposts, dilapidated cars, or even grab and throwing incoming missiles if that’s your fancy because, in Anarchy Reign’s world, just having energy blade arms is too pedestrian.
This revelation makes Anarchy Reigns an easy game to pick up and play but its also quite telling where Platinum Games best efforts were focused. In the single-player campaign you’ll follow either the story of Jack or Leo but realistically it’ll make no difference because they play out almost the exact same way, save for a few cutscenes. There are plenty of missions that involve beating up enemies before time runs out or escorting someone helpless from point A to point B, this is all garden variety action seen many times before. After a couple hours of making quick work of gigantic kraken bosses and even participating in a random hover-sled race the short campaign mode is just filler to help pad out the lesser parts, and I get a strong feeling that Platinum knew this as well, let alone cared.
Considering how flat the campaign is it’s no surprise that the multiplayer matchmaking is worlds better, if only by comparison. With fast and frantic arena battles this is where Anarchy Reigns truly shines. With up to 16 players able to jump into the fray in most game types, against the backdrop of occasional falling airliners or a runaway subway trains, it can be easy to forgive some of the apparent shortcomings as the experience isn’t all that deep or refined.
While it’s pretty to look at the mechanics lack some much needed finesse if you’re battling others online – it’s anyone’s guess who will come out on top in the heat of battle as, from what I can tell, there’s no real way of telling which moves will counter or reverse your challenger’s attacks. This lack of polish is on full display whenever someone directly unleashes a super move that should kill an opponent only to have it pass through them as if nothing happened; it’s frustrating because glitches like this happen far too often.
Despite these glaring faults there’s still an enjoyable – if somewhat limited – online experience here. Even with the battle royale-style battles Death Ball is the only true standout variant out of the bunch. The only goal here is to get your team’s ball into the opposing team’s goal by any means necessary; those who’ve played Halo 3 and Grifball should feel right at home as it pretty much plays the same except with way more cartoon violence.
Anarchy Reigns may be single-minded in execution and rough around the edges, but it still manages to have a charm all its own. Nobody ever accused Platinum Games of being subtle and this game is no exception. Bloody, ferocious battles take place in a dystopian world populated with many of Platinum’s biggest superstars – fans of MadWorld will be happy to see that underrated classic get a nod. It’s a shame the core gameplay is so transparently thin, often brought down by a crippling lack of balance throughout. Online multiplayer helps things come together, despite the unpolished core fundamentals and a boring campaign that’s best ignored. There may be curvaceous cyborgs and mercenaries with machinegun legs for the fans, but the insanity can only take you so far.
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