Anarchy Reigns – Review
Anarchy Reigns Review
By David ‘Transient Nova’ Timms
It’s the videogame equivalent of a pub brawl that you’ve always wanted.
Sega seem to be at something of a crossroads as of late. Having not had the most stellar of financial performances in recent times, the publisher has begun moving away from the higher profile physical console and portable releases it once actively favoured, now instead opting to bank on the digital and PC markets as well as a relatively safe licensed product or two just to be sure. These are turbulent times in the games industry, and as development costs continue to climb upwards and the traditionally safe mainstream market get less certain, you can’t really blame Sega for changing their direction.
Unfortunately, there was one game that got caught up in this shuffle: Anarchy Reigns. Originally set for release in July last year, it was delayed for reasons known only to Sega (with even the developers at Platinum Games being kept out of the loop with regards to its western release, frustratingly). You could make the reasonable guesses that the publisher lacked confidence in the title’s ability to sell and that it doesn’t really fit into its new strategy, with the evidence being a poor showing in Japan and its eventual release a whole six months later at a budget price. It’s a little disheartening to think of it this way since there’s more value to be derived from this than many other full price titles, but the cheaper tag can definitely still be considered more appealing and may have actually helped it along in acquiring a wider audience in the west, which can only be a boon for a game like this.
So, what is Anarchy Reigns then? It’s a brawler with a largely distinct multiplayer focus, and arguably the spiritual successor to Platinum’s first release and Wii exclusive MadWorld (to the point where a number of characters from that game make prominent appearances). The multiplayer modes available for perusal range from your standard Free-for-alls, Team Deathmatches and wave-based Survival modes to the more esoteric Capture the Flag variants and Death Ball matches. Pick from out of seventeen core characters (some of which need to be unlocked either through playing the campaign or ranking up in multiplayer), strap on a perk and off you go to jump into the fray.
Combat works like this: each fighter you can choose from has a different style of play and personality, from light and agile femme fatales and gruff chainsaw-wielding ex-marine types to the bounciest, pimpiest of pimp lords (I’ve made pimpiest a word now) and all the way up to bulky heavy hitters with a penchant for innuendo and bull-related puns. Combos are simple to pull off and move lists restrained. A damaging and unique ‘killer weapon’ is assigned to each character with its usage governed by an individual meter, refilled by performing regular attacks or taking damage. A basic repertoire of defensive moves, dodges, grabs and counters are also available, and you can nab the odd item and environmental weapon strewn about the place. Lastly, you can build up a ‘rampage’ meter over the course of a match which, when full, grants you temporary access to lightning fast combos, unlimited use of your killer weapon and a general feeling of near-invincible awesomeness. There, you’re now equipped with the proper knowledge to go and punch someone in the face.
This is a simplistic and rough fighter. It doesn’t demand absolute precision, nor does it demand an intricate knowledge of the movesets of each character or the systems at work behind the scenes (though that can help). It’s the kind of game that shows up problems and flaws frequently when put under intense scrutiny: locking-on to other fighters is not 100% reliable, there are balancing issues between certain characters, the spin-attack can be considered a far too effective a ‘get out of jail free’ card, amongst other niggles.
But then the wild stuff starts to happen, wild stuff that justifies those large and multifaceted maps, wild stuff that happens in the middle of a massive sixteen player dog pile. A huge tornado rips through the landscape, tossing players all over the place. Large Helicopter Drones attack before being commandeered, piloted and bloody piledrived into other players from the sky. A massive sea creature arises from the depths of the sea and starts flattening everyone with its massive tentacles. A giant robot drops out of the sky before wandering around the arena to disintegrate everyone with lasers. You see all this stuff, and whatever cynicism you have about the game pretty much melts away after that.
There is a minor progression system in place but it’s not particularly integral to the experience, with its main purpose being to unlock certain perks, maybe a few characters and little else. The focus is on picking up and play; a ranking system that doesn’t detract from the matches themselves or create a real feeling of unfairness, and such a mentality is welcome in this day and age to say the least. What’s less welcome is the game’s online lobby system, which can take a while to set up in getting a ranked or player match going at times, particularly with regards to large team games and free-for-alls. I’ve seen numerous cases of poor matchmaking and bizarre connectivity problems here, which ultimately serves to make those starts even slower. You can play against CPU bots in private matches if wish should you struggle to group up with other folk, though they can never really compare to human players (I do kind of wish you had the option to bring them into player matches for the purposes of making up the numbers though). The netcode is surprisingly solid when you’re in a game duking it out, although lag can still happen when playing with people outside your region. There’s the infrequent AI pathfinding and clipping bug here and there too.
In terms of singleplayer, you’ve got a separate campaign available should you not want to take part in any multiplayer shenanigans. The story centres around two men and their separate hunts for a rouge cybernetic law enforcer named Max… and everything just kind of spirals off from there. An excuse to add flavour to its oddball cast as well as punch them repeatedly more than anything, the game’s segregated mission structure (along with some occasionally bizarre and unexpected mission design) and silly, occasionally juvenile sense of humour help ensure that there are some good times to be had, with a competitive (if underdeveloped) scoring element to chase for replay purposes if you’re so inclined. Considering the reuse of assets and maps from the multiplayer side though, it goes without saying that this was never where the heart of the game lies.
Visually, Anarchy Reigns is very kinetic, with some muddy textures and a 30fps benchmark in place to minimise the online strain that all those characters, dynamic animation work and abundance of busy arena events will inevitably do. The frankly blistering and personality-filled soundtrack helps up the tempo to no end as well, with a selection vocal electronic, rap, drum n’ bass and driving rock tracks all complementing the action in the only way they can compliment a Japanese action game: in the most unusual, entertaining and exciting matter possible.
This game is just pure, raw and rowdy fun. It asks that you don’t take it seriously; that you don’t play it as a high-level competitive fighting game, don’t think about the campaign story too much, don’t dwell on some of the rough visuals here and there. Just treat it as the wild punch-up that it is, the life of the party it aspires to be and leave a few hours later with a massive grin on your face.
At the time of writing there are still lots of players playing Anarchy Reigns on Xbox LIVE and having a whale of a time, but who knows how long that will last? So let me close by saying this: at £18, I’d absolutely jump in while you can.
Developer: Platinum Games Inc.
Players: 1-16 (online only)
Release: 11th January, 2013