Like some kind of video game development version of The Losers, Platinum Games is made up of former elites (Capcom's shuttered Clover Studio) who left their old outfit behind specifically so they could right what was wrong with the world--or in this case, what was wrong with video games. Their library reads like a greatest hits list all on its own: refining and perfecting 3D action with Bayonetta, making the most high-octane shooter ever with Vanquish, taking no prisoners on the RPG front with Infinite Space, and even giving the hardcore-starved Wii a standout title with MadWorld.
It's safe to say that Platinum has yet to make an actual bad game, even if MadWorld doesn't quite reach the dizzying highs of Bayonetta and Vanquish. It's unfortunate that Anarchy Reigns also falls into that camp, delivering a fun, hectic, and surprisingly balanced multiplayer suite while dropping the ball in just about every other area. Its imperfections will hold a lot of charm for longtime gamers, but there are many who will be frustrated by how incomplete it feels at times.
Anarchy Reigns is--like a fighting game--built almost completely around multiplayer, offering a free-roaming single-player story mode in addition to a basic tutorial, an obligatory survival mode, a pretty handy training mode for perfecting your skills, and a gallery full of unlockable content for completionists. Much like Super Smash Bros., there will be a small, yet fiercely loyal competitive community to give this game longevity, but unlike Nintendo's party brawler, this one is designed to be played competitively with all the features left on.
Multiplayer lives up to the game's title, with up to sixteen players fighting it out in constantly-shifting battlefields. The action isn't just limited to brawling--limited-use weapons, traps, and health are air-dropped in, black holes will launch players to different locations on the map, and random enemy spawns and runaway trucks can interrupt at any time. There are plenty of options in multiplayer--4-player free-for-all, 4v4 Team Deathmatch, 4v4 Capture the Flag, 2v2v2v2, a hilarious 16-player Battle Royale, and a three-man Survival mode where you take on waves of enemies capped by boss encounters. There's even a fun, unusual "sports" mode called Death Ball that mixes the best elements of Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag.
Online combat is a completely different world to new players. Keep in mind that I'm not bragging when I say this: I very rarely have trouble with new video games, whether in single-player or against others. Out of almost 2500 matches of Street Fighter IV in all its incarnations, I have a 60% win ratio (and that's including the several times I got publicly eviscerated on SRKlive). When I was playing Call of Duty: Black Ops II for the review, I walked off of one TDM game with an 8.1 K/D. I'm pretty good at video games, but my first few online matches of Anarchy Reigns were reminiscent of that scene in Pulp Fiction with Ving Rhames and a ball gag. You're forced to learn fast or die quickly, and one weak link will bring a team to its knees. Thankfully, Anarchy Reigns' high-level players all seem to be a pleasant bunch willing to help others learn, and I was playing against people in Japan with (so far) no lag, clipping, or connection problems of any kind over Xbox Live.
But here's what's messed up: there is no local multiplayer for Anarchy Reigns. That's right, folks! You can't invite your friends over to play this game together. If I did number scores or letter grades, this would be a huge strike against this title, as brawlers are one of the premiere couch co-op genres.
Single-player modes usually work as training for multiplayer-centric games, and Anarchy Reigns is no different. Unfortunately, you can only choose from one of two characters (MadWorld's chainsaw-armed Jack, or the acrobatic cyborg kickboxer Leo) in the "Black Side" or "White Side" of the story--completing both lets you play "Red Side" for the real ending. When you're not playing story missions that pit you against various characters and bosses, you can take on side missions where you have to defeat a certain number of enemies before the time limit, protect characters on their way home, carry sensitive cargo from one point to another, or playing Death Ball. There's a fair bit of variety in the missions, but the sheer number of them does mean plenty of repetition. Thankfully, Platinum doesn't try to shoehorn lessons into missions, making you learn by doing instead of having the game explicitly tell you how to survive.
The story itself doesn't bring anything new, as both heroes have to hunt down the fugitive cyborg Max because, uh... he's bad? And one of the people Leo's allied with is bad, too? Does anybody really care? The story revels in B-movie cheese, trying hard to play it serious while occasionally getting too goofy for its own good. The voice cast (featuring favorites like Stephanie Sheh and "I'm in everything" Yuri Lowenthal) seems to know this, and the script is appropriately overacted, although I'm honestly getting tired of hearing Steve Blum in everything ever.
The game plays great, but don't let the screenshots fool you--it looks like total ass in motion. I'm never one to complain about graphics, but Anarchy Reigns just is not a pretty game to look at. Boring environments and fuzzy character models make this game feel unpolished, but only from a visual standpoint. Once you pick up the controller and start playing, its intuitive controls and demanding gameplay will make you forget all that.
With its sloppy visuals, repetitive single-player and no local multiplayer, Anarchy Reigns has several marks against it... but the game is only $30 brand-new. Anarchy Reigns plays great, and strikes an excellent balance between the chaos of random drops and effects and the order of skill and experience. Its imperfections also bring character--it's rare to find a game these days that isn't focus-tested to hell, that makes you earn the title of "badass" through skill and quickly being able to take advantage of a situation instead of letting you look awesome in scripted setpieces. It's rare to find a game with a story summed up as "who gives a shit? PLAY THE GAME!" instead of trying to make an epic saga to be taken so seriously. I can guarantee that most of you are going to spend more money on worse games this year--I know I will, and it kinda kills me thinking about it.
+ Unforgiving gameplay is more reminiscent of a fighter than a brawler, with OTGs and tag combos
+ Absolute chaos rampages throughout the arenas, from runaway trucks to black holes to surprise traps
+ Varied cast of fighters provides plenty of options and styles for you to choose from
+ Equally-varied multiplayer modes give you lots to try in case you get bored with Deathmatch
+ $29.99 price tag gives you plenty of bang for your buck
+/- Lengthy campaign with plenty of story and side missions, but it can get repetitive
+/- Story is equal parts dead serious and inappropriately silly, with a great cast that really hams it up
- No local multiplayer for a game like this is a grievous oversight
- This game's graphics are so butt-ugly that I'm just gonna link to this page and let you fill in the blanks