Exactly what it says on the tin.
''What the fuck just happened?!'' is something I found myself almost routinely exclaiming/shouting/screaming/gurgling during my time playing Anarchy Reigns, the latest brawler from top-quality developer Platinum Games. A sort-of sequel to the Wii-exclusive Mad World, Anarchy Reigns twists the 'franchise' upside down, trading in its single-player focussed, arena combat origins for a multiplayer brawler. Sure, there's a story campaign in here--in fact there's technically two--but that's not the reason why I would recommend you indulge in your hypothetical lust for madness.
The multiplayer serves a mostly by-the-number set of modes, including your (team)deathmatches and CTF's, but there are also such standouts like Death Ball, which essentially turns Anarchy Reigns into a game of simplified American Football. Though even the more traditional options at your disposable are made to feel surprisingly fresh and unique, courtesy of the brawler gameplay that carries it all.
The game plays with a surprisingly complex setup, but one that is easy to pickup and hard to master. You have your requisite light/heavy attacks, you have a grab, sprint attacks, air attacks, a 360-degree attack, and they all serve a purpose and can usually be worked into your own makeshift combos. Each character's unique Killer Weapon attacks, which also have their own light and heavy variant, extends it even further. Though while you can only use them somewhat sparingly because they drain your Killer Weapon meter (though is replenished by attacking folks and getting attacked yourself), mixing them into your combos or charging up your Heavy Killer Weapon attack to potentially initiate a consistently painful looking attack against another player gives you a great deal to mess around with.
However, with matches that can carry sometimes up to 16 players at once, you can often find yourself in the middle of complete and utter unbridled... well, anarchy. With so many players all attacking one another at once, it means that it can sometimes be frustratingly difficult to pull off a combo while you've got another one or two players behind you gleefully draining your health bar. Then when you add a lot of the random set-pieces that can occur, such as an airstrike, or trucks falling from the sky, or a tornado, or quick sand, or giant mutants, or the surfacing of a shitting Kraken -- again, anarchy is both literally and figuratively the name of the game here. There are also items which will randomly be dropped off into the environment for use, adding in even more variables to account for. There's such items that can turn you temporarily invisible, place a destructible bubble around your character, or even hand you a rocket launcher
This game most assuredly has a bit of a learning curve, one that can at times appear seemingly impossible to climb, especially considering there's 18 different characters that all have their own distinctive feel. The more you play and, ironically enough, the slower you decide to take things, however, and you will slowly but surely learn of its mechanics and how to use them well. Such as how best to avoid from getting overwhelmed by a player who's unleashed Rampage--a super mode that turns the player invincible while making their attacks incredibly fast--or how best to exploit player who's currently in the middle of their grapple animation ect. The 1v1 Cage Match is the mode that truly allows the intricacies of the combat to blossom and Anarchy Reigns begins to resemble a bona fide fighter. Besides throwing yourself to the slaughter, there's still the option to play against bots as well. Though it should be noted that the bots can be pretty damn brutal at that. But it's a suitable alternative all the same.
The characters too, with such a handsome selection, will hopefully have someone for everyone. They all fall under predictable types, such as your heavier characters like Big Bull and Garuda that can withstand more hits before they flinch and can even sometimes use a grab against two players at once, and the lighter, more nimble characters like Ai Rin and Zero whom are much more efficient in dodging attacks. I also have to admit that I bloody adore some of the character designs. From the beefed up mega-pimp that is Blacker Baron, to the aforementioned Big Bull, there's plenty of character on display here, even if their personalities aren't quite as memorable.
Unfortunately, it's tough to decipher how long Anarchy Reign's multiplayer community will last. There's plenty of gameplay to love here, but with little in the way of progression systems or unlockables, I can envision that there'll be nothing left but a supremely hardcore niche in a couple of weeks, leaving any possible new players lost in the dust. There'll always be the bots at least.
While the multiplayer acts as the meat of the game, there's still of course its two single-player-only campaigns that... function as the buns?.. Returning lead from Mad World Jack Cayman kick starts one campaign, while one of many newcomers Leo Victorion carries the other. They each tell their own 'story', both of which involve chasing down some guy called Max, who I guess killed Jack's daughter some time ago by accident or something. Whatever, the actual story is barely fleshed out and merely serves as justification for compiling all of these crazy, kooky characters and getting them to fight.
How the campaign is designed is you mostly wander around a small HUB world, beating up enough generic bandit guys until you can unlock the next mission. You have two types, Free and Story. The Free missions can fortunately be played over and over to accumulate more points so you can unlock the next story mission, eventually moving onto the next stage (of four) and doing it all over again, rendering the HUB practically pointless. Besides the odd collectible to find, there's nothing to do in there but beat down on cannon fodder. Fortunately the combat still excels when you're fighting lumbering lizard mutant things and small droves of bandits, but it does start to feel a little repetitive.
Besides the repetitive nature of the campaign, the biggest problem I had is the lack of playable characters. You'll primarily play as either Jack or Leo, and while you'll occasionally get the chance to play as one of the supporting characters during select story missions, you're going to have to get awfully comfortable with the aforementioned two to complete the campaigns. Because their stories aren't exactly all that interesting either, you'll most likely have no strong attachment to them from a narrative standpoint and playing as the same character fighting the same basic grunts for 4-5 hours can become a drag.
What I would have found to be more suitable is, in a noticeably similar design to the Koei Warriors series, each character has their own small campaign made up of a few missions each. Remove the lifeless HUB world completely and instead give players a more well rounded introduction to each of the 18 characters. The campaign isn't necessarily bad or anything per se, but for what is perhaps a training ground to get the basics nailed for the multiplayer, it's a shame that such a large quantity of the cast is primarily off-limits. There's no cooperative feature, either, and while the cutscenes are fun to watch, they're often shared with an equal amount of 'talking head' scenes, which are home to some rather awful lip syncing.
While Anarchy Reigns doesn't retain the cool, black & white aesthetic of Mad World, the game itself looks alright. Perhaps not Platinum's best work, but it definitely still manages to capture the Platinum style regarding its characters. The post-apocalyptic environments the game takes place in are also well detailed, if a little generic. Graphically it's fine overall, but there are some framerate drops that can occur when the game is at its most chaotic.
I can't help but have a very love/hate sort of relationship with Anarchy Reigns. The multiplayer can be utterly maddening to watch as your health bar is completely emptied in a flash while it feels like there's nothing you could have done about it. However, the complete opposite holds true and making sense of the madness that will ensue and dominating a match can be ever so gratifying. The core gameplay itself is also pretty damn good and feels powerful and full of impact. It's tricky to judge how long this game's multiplayer can last, but at its budget price, I can only hope that more new blood will be willing to help in filling up the lobbies.