It’s a mad, Mad World
I’m sure we’ve all bought at least one retro arcade game collection – for me, my most recent purchase was Midway Arcade Treasures Volume 3, which contains a collection of racing games from the early-to-mid 90′s. When I initially got it, I was a little bit disappointed; all of the games included were almost insultingly easy and incredibly simple. Removed from the environment of the arcade, some of them barely even resembled games at all and were reduced down to “hold the gas pedal to win”. For those games to truly be enjoyable, I had to take matters in to my own hands and make them fun by restoring some of the nail-biting tension that the arcade’s token system imbued. After sufficiently cranking up the difficulty and switching from automatic to manual transmission, I began to have considerably more fun with games like Rush: The Rock. In a number of ways, this too applies to Platinum Games and Sega’s latest, Anarchy Reigns. It’s the kind of game where you get out of it whatever you put in; if you’re looking for a fun, entertaining brawler, you have to make sure you play it under the right pretenses.
This was a mistake I first made when I began the “Black Side” of Anarchy Reigns‘ two parallel storylines. Not really thinking, I put the game on Easy mode, because I have long-standing childhood trauma from the many Capcom and Konami games I played back on the SNES. In return, I was given a game that bored me to tears: Anarchy Reigns is a fully-3D evolution of the brawler, with similar roots in classic games like Final Fight or Streets of Rage, overlaid with Platinum Games’ typical over-the-top Japanese-style insanity. You punch your way through literally endless waves of cannon fodder until you get where you’re going – in this case, the game’s next mission marker. The combat system is incredibly simplistic, but not entirely devoid of depth – by varying one’s rate of attack at the right times and switching between weak and strong blows, minor variations in combo strings begin to emerge, though obviously nothing like Platinum’s Bayonetta. And that’s where the difficulty selection comes in to play: on “easy”, you can effortlessly cut through these generic thugs like a hot knife through butter. This becomes a pretty significant problem, because Anarchy Reigns‘ entire schtick is making you fight these thugs over, and over, and over again – the game is structured so that new missions only unlock after you acquire a certain number of “points”, and there are a number of times where the only way to gain points is to spend time grinding through these mindless, boring enemies. By turning the difficulty up, combat immediately becomes more engaging, if only because the cannon fodder becomes more willing to fight back, demanding you employ more strategy and finesse.
Some of you out there are more than likely rolling your eyes – and I don’t blame you. I was completely disinterested in opening act of Anarchy Reigns, and by the time I realized the error of my ways, I would’ve been forced to replay more than half the game if I wanted to trade up for a more stiff challenge – unlike other Platinum Games releases, Anarchy Reigns does not allow you to adjust difficulty mid-game without starting the whole campaign over from the beginning. Thankfully, there’s more to the game than just beating up endless waves of random thugs – such as what can best be described as a “very typical” Platinum Games storyline. Expect rampant swearing, frequent euphemisms to sexual prowess, crazy action and occasional ham-fisted attempts at drama. It’s definitely not the kind of plot that is for everyone, and requires an appreciation for the ridiculous, but if you found yourself laughing along to games like God Hand and Devil May Cry 3, then Anarchy Reigns will be right up your alley. That being said, the way that story gets told can feel a little lackluster – most of the game’s plot is delivered through what basically amounts to character portraits standing perfectly still in front of static backgrounds while they flap their jaws at each other; it is sadly rare to see the game utilize animated cutscenes, giving the game’s presentation a sort of cheap, budget feel.
Cutscenes typically lead in to the real draw of Anarchy Reigns: character-versus-character combat. The game features 16 fully-featured fighters, each with their own special attacks and combos, and facing off against the likes of Blacker Baron or Sasha Ivanoff in one-on-one matches (or larger team battles) is without a doubt the highlight of the singleplayer campaign. Which makes sense, given that Anarchy Reigns was primarily conceived as an arena-based multiplayer game. In reality, the singleplayer sometimes comes off as nothing more than practice to prepare you for your inevitable foray in to the game’s variety of online modes, from the completely incomprehensible insanity of its 16 player “Battle Royale” to the far more restrained 4 versus 4 Team Deathmatch. And then there’s my personal favorite: Deathball, which I can only describe as “sort of like Mutant League Football, but more violent”. With such a distinct focus on its multiplayer mode, a lot of your enjoyment will hinge on actually being able to find other players – and now, a little over a month after release, it can occasionally be difficult to find people playing online. At 7pm on a weekend, only a very small handful of games were available, seemingly populated by a core base of diehard players who have long since reached the level cap. Latency is also an issue – though rarely game-breaking, on more than one occasion I encountered players that would teleport around arenas due to lag, making them difficult to hit. The game also includes a fairly robust training mode, allowing you to play the game’s variety of multiplayer gametypes offline with computer-controlled opponents, though the complete lack of any kind of formal split-screen modes is sorely disappointing, given how things are already going online – playing Deathball on the couch together with a few friends could’ve been a blast.
At the end of the day, Anarchy Reigns is one of those games that is difficult to quantify. The more time I spent with it, the more fun I began having – and despite my own poor choice of playing through most of the game on the wrong difficulty, it does not make up for the fact that large chunks of this game’s campaign mode feel like an afterthought. You can make it more fun by playing it a certain way, sure, but the argument could be made that better games don’t need those kinds of stipulations in order to be enjoyed. Anarchy Reigns feels more analogous to something like Call of Duty, where you’re meant to blow through the mindless singleplayer campaign over a day or two and spend the rest of your time in multiplayer. Unfortunately, for one reason or another, the community seems hesitant to embrace this game. The real frustrating thing is I can’t even think of ways to “fix” Anarchy Reigns; outside of putting more effort in to the softball singleplayer campaign, there’s not much I would consider to be “broken”. Anarchy Reigns is simply a victim of circumstance, and those circumstances do not make me feel entirely confident recommending this game to anyone but fans of Platinum Games’ previous work.
(This review was originally written for TSSZnews.com and was published there on February 13th, 2013)