A reign of regret
I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for chaos-infused multiplayer brawlers. From Poy Poy to Power Stone to Smash Bros., I’ve wasted more hours than I’d probably care to count knocking knuckles with random foes, and when I got wind of a partnership between Sega and Platinum that promised to unleash the mother of all head-to-head throwdowns in the form of the 16-player online arena fighter Anarchy Reigns, I couldn’t help but grin.
I mean, this thing promised massive arenas, 16-person battles, plenty of game modes, and a large cast of characters including Platinum favorites like Bayonetta and MadWorld’s Jack Cayman—it seemed like a recipe for the right kind of madness.
And then a series of ominous, unexplained delays hit the project, opening the door to speculation that a bit more anarchy had entered into the process than Sega would’ve liked, shaking my confidence that we’d have a slam dunk on our hands. Nearly a year later, the game’s finally here—and, as much as I hate to admit it, the countless postponements make total sense now.
For starters, there’s the campaign. A long, goon-filled road down two sides of a mysterious manhunt for a rogue security operative, the single-player side of Anarchy Reigns is an odd beast. I can appreciate the lengths Platinum went to make it something more than your typical ladder match, but the content provided is a bit of a mess.
The game offers up randomly spawned bad guys, “free missions” that are essentially time-attack battles, and story segments involving the other playable characters. Unfortunately, the mini-map is extremely unwieldy, which can make finding your next objective a bit confusing until you find the ability to single them out in the pause menu. On top of that, the narrative comes off like a slickly-produced sci-fi epic at some times, a cracked-out Saturday-morning cartoon at others. This time-tested quirky charm will undoubtedly resonate with some folks, but the inability to skip some of the more ridiculous dialogue segments combined with the map issues left me more annoyed than anything else.
But let’s be honest here: No one hopped on the Anarchy Reigns bandwagon for the single-player portion. This game, like the other multiplayer brawlers that came before it, is all about getting together with 15 of your least-favorite random Internet peoples and beating the ever-lovin’ snot out of them. As such, I hoped that multiplayer would provide a modicum of redemption for the sins of the campaign. And with tons of modes like Team Capture the Flag, Deathball, and the aforementioned 16-player slapfest, Anarchy Reigns had all the tools to do just that. Unfortunately, when push comes to shove, the gameplay’s just a bit too crazy for its own good.
So, what went wrong?
Let’s start with the core fighting engine. Anarchy Reigns offers a robust set of moves including light attacks, heavy strikes, charged versions of both, grabs, a block mechanic, directional dodges, and more, but the way it all comes together results in the fighting-game equivalent of speed dating. Just when you’ve got someone on the ropes, another character comes in and smacks you off your opponent, leaving someone else to clean up your kill.
That’s to be expected—to some degree—in a game like this. But between the tight third-person camera that leaves you blind to obstacles and other combatants, the abysmal scoring setup that gives way too much credit for kills, a horrible targeting system that frequently drops your lock on the enemy at the worst possible second, and the fact that some attacks are immune to counters and breaks, you mostly end up wondering what the f*** just happened. And that left me feeling like this game tried too hard to straddle the fence between the hardcore and causal crowds, ultimately failing to service either to any great degree.
Then there’s the lobby system, which fails to balance teams based on skill, often sends you into a lobby that’s already full, and generally fails to explain the match before you dive in. Not that this is the first Japanese game I’ve played that fails on this front, but honestly, we’re past the point in online-gaming history where this is acceptable, especially when we’re talking about a title this focused on multiplayer.
It all adds up to an experience that never quite finds its stride. As much as I enjoy Platinum’s unrivaled ability to breathe quirk and character into a genre, the gameplay side of Anarchy Reigns is a real mess at times. I expected to get in there and fight with a host of like-minded pugilists, and what I ended up with was a struggle against cameras and base mechanics that were too caught up in the chaos to make any real sense.
SUMMARY: Anarchy Reigns is one of those games you’ll either love or hate. Some folks will be able to look past the gameplay flaws and appreciate the Platinum-y goodness, but more serious fighting fans will probably wish for a more defined, discernible battlefield. I tend to side more with the latter, but I managed to have some occasional fun despite my frustrations.
- THE GOOD: So, you say you like Platinum games? Well, that.
- THE BAD: Finally discovering that there can be such a thing as “too much action.”
- THE UGLY: The number of times I got robbed just before a kill.
Anarchy Reigns is available on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Primary version reviewed was for the Xbox 360.