Review: Anarchy Reigns (**** stars)

I stole this from Substance TV. Then again, I wrote it!

Anarchy-Reigns

The lot is cast into the lap,
But its every decision is from the Lord.

Proverbs 16:33

Anarchy Reigns sits in a weird place within this console generation. It’s a modern throwback to an old game style, the side-scrolling arcade beat’em up, while also trying to integrate elements of competitive multi-player FPS games. In addition to that, Platinum Games continually makes some of the strangest games out there – their addition to the genre finds them taking characters from a number of their properties, including MadWorld and Bayonetta, and throwing them into gigantic arenas with random airstrikes and boss battles. Befitting the chaos, the multiplayer’s a confusing mess at times, appropriately enough. One could call it a cheekily anarchic mix of various elements juxtaposed within a basic competitive framework. Insane doesn’t begin to describe it.

Does it work? If you’re looking for a “game”, then you’ve come to the right place – AR makes not ifs, ands, or buts about what it is: fun.

Like any fighting game, you wield a variety of light/heavy attacks to create combos, juggles, and the like. The “super meter” in this game comes from “Killer Weapon moves”, done by pressing the left trigger/L2 and pressing an attack button. Divided into four segments, a light KW attack takes one bar and a heavy one takes two out of your meter; attacking gets you more meter. You can craft rather elaborate combos with this system, as many KW attacks (air or ground) spread widely and do great damage.

Like in any 3rd person action game, there’s a lock-on function that works well for the most part in focusing said combos and attacks. Of course, not all of them become practical in the game’s multiplayer component, but you can practice these and others in the single player. There’s even practice mode for all you combo mavens out there (and people figuring out abusive glitches, but we’ll get to that).

Namely, Anarchy Reigns successfully teaches the player to play the game through its Story Mode – an unexpected delight. Considering a multiplayer focused game doesn’t really need a storyline at all, it provides a surprisingly good and well-acted script. I will care not to spoil it because, hey, the game’s twenty dollars and you may as well buy it at this point. Let’s just say it is equal parts hilarious and serious in the vein of most other PlatinumGames titles, and leave it at that. At the very least, you’ll find yourself picking the character that most resonates with your aesthetic tastes anyhow. However, most remained locked at the outset, meaning you’ll need to play the Story Mode to unlock most of them. Surely you can go straight to the multiplayer, but you’ll find it a harsh winter to the Story Mode’s pleasant spring breeze.

Anarchy Reigns Screenshot

The two default characters – Jack and Leo – and their two campaigns familiarize you with the two different styles of characters (the traditional “fast/slow” dynamic of most fighting games). Then the game sends you on open-world like hubs that lead to various missions around a small area while thugs continually spawn for target practice. If this sounds a lot like MadWorld…well, that’s because the singleplayer is, in some respects, identical. Unlocking missions requires a certain point total, and you’re even ranked on your performance on missions. There’s a great deal of variety in said tasks, from fighting a Kraken to controlling a giant mutant in order to destroy a giant robot. Sometimes the game makes you do completely random things – such as races or briefcase collecting (trust me, it makes sense in the game) – along with the basic “kill all these guys” missions. Everything comes down to the simple joy of pummeling hundreds of enemies into submission. If you cannot derive any pleasure from that, the single-player will not be your cup of tea.

Most reviewers found these elements to be little more than fun diversions, but playing online showed me just how much they teach you in that campaign. The lesson is: have fun, even though everything explodes randomly or you die due to some strange mishap in either lag or having four members of the opposing team mash you to bits. Many times, bosses require you to use as many defensive options as the developers give – specifically, the Evade. Evasion requires the player to press the Block button, then left/right on the analog stick and jump. Your character will dart to the side of their lock-on target or just roll randomly for no reason – this becomes essential in avoiding attacks AND performing counterattacks. The game also gives you a 360 attack which, for a little health, hits all enemies in a wide radius around you and keeps you invincible for a short time (sounds like Streets of Rage, doesn’t it?).

Of course, that doesn’t teach you EVERYTHING. Multiplayer’s a true test of your perseverance, in any event. Like the single player, the variety in game modes boils down to “Here is an objective; defeat lots of people on your way to said objective.” The standard array of modes, such as Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Team versions of all of these, Deathball (combining killing foes with scoring systems like a sport – it’s weird), Cage matches (one on one duels), and Survival (a cooperative 3 player versus AI mode similar to the Story mode missions). There’s more to find, but it all boils down to the core mechanics – as Team Deathmatch still seems the most popular, you’ll most likely be playing that most of the time.

Playing more also reward you with perks, similar to Call of Duty’s popular system. Unfortunately, Anarchy Reigns isn’t a game that really should require perks. Imagine a fighting game where a player can activate auto-blocking at a tense mixup situations – hey, that sounds like Street Fighter X Tekken, doesn’t it? Jokes aside, some perks exacerbate a central problem with the combat: defensive options remain WAY TOO STRONG. Evades provide a window of invincibility, and have a limit of three. However, pressing the KW button for a split second between rolls resets that limit, allow for infinite evades. A perk allows 360 attacks to take no health – while you can bait and punish such moves (many character combos have delayable portions to catch people off guard), the lack of punishment for spamming said move presents a problem. The game, bizarrely enough, needs these weird glitches and cheap aspects BECAUSE blocking is absolutely useless and breaks on nearly any combo from any character. It doesn’t completely balance the proceedings, but surely makes matches an exciting match of trying to out poke and out maneuver an opponent.

Anarchy Reigns Multiplayer

There’s plenty of other glitches, though, that spoil the experience with Touch of Death combos (i.e., get touched once and you die). Obviously, they’re difficult to perform in adverse conditions, but there’s a huge imbalance in the cast (don’t pick Jack or Big Bull, pretty much) based on their movement speed, combo potential, and the ability to kill opponents. Not that there’s many times where performing such a combo becomes viable suddenly when three to four teammates/opponents zero in on your position and destroy you. Blacker Baron’s OHKO glitch (which, for whatever reason, causes a player to die if there’s any lag between two players and he uses certain moves) can ruin certain games, but I’ve not encountered that too much; most people playing prefer a fair game, all in all. Lastly, The camera can’t even keep up with it at times as it scurries around trying to give you a proper angle (it’s like God Hand, in any event, except you need 360 degree vision to live) – that’s not a glitch, but a notable point.

Or you might just randomly die and blow up for reasons you don’t understand. It’s entirely possible that this happens more often than you’d like. However, I imagine this isn’t a game designed for total competitive seriousness. Every character keeps a pretty basic move set under their belt, with only slight variations here and there. The combos look different, but control the same; execution’s not an emphasized priority. Platinum Games simply wants you to have fun in this raucous and completely insane environment. If you can accept that bad things will happen to your repeatedly and all the time, you’ll enjoy it. If you can’t, try it anyway; you may find yourself liking something new.

Humans like keeping things under control, especially in video games. We pick the titles we like, and reject the titles that offend our sensibilities (in whatever respect). We like to say that videos game in which we can know, or learn, everything about it are actually the best ones. Every once and a while, though, I like a game with elements of randomness and chance, something that comes out of left field and blindsides you with new ideas. Certainly, luck doesn’t determine everything in those cases, but it plays a major role in picking the winners and losers. Thankfully, real life isn’t like that; God is sovereign and in control. When it comes to fun, however, why not take a little chance? Isn’t that part of the tension and the excitement?

Frankly, I sometimes lament the fact that we don’t get those crazy and fun video games anymore with a delightful touch of Japanese absurdity. Anarchy Reigns continues in a proud tradition while adding the twist of Total Chaos to its potpourri of multiplayer action.

The cast lot puts an end to strife
And decides between the mighty ones.

Proverbs 18:18

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.