Review: Anarchy Reigns
By Brad Simons on January 21st, 2013 (17 comments)
Anarchy Reigns might be the most innovative and daring project yet released by Platinum Games. While the studio certainly houses accomplished veterans of the characters action genre, bringing this type of game into the online arena has been rarely attempted, and almost always met with complete disaster. Similar to fighting games, the character action genre is defined by tight controls, deep mechanics, sick combos, and ridiculous amounts of flair and spectacle. The challenge lies in keeping the combat tight and fun while beating up on someone when there are multiple other players attempting to do the same thing to you, at the same time, and in the same small space. And then do all this with virtually no lag. The good news is Platinum Games has finally cracked the code. The bad news is this online brawling bliss is buried under a lackluster campaign, and sandwiched in between other online modes that are more frustrating than fun. But if you dig in the right spots, you might find the supremely addictive and rewarding experience I've spent countless hours playing these last couple of weeks.
Title: Anarchy Reigns
Developer: Platinum Games
Release Date: January 8 2013 (360, PS3)
I do believe that someone could approach Anarchy Reigns in such a way that their experience is nothing like mine – terrible even. I don't now how to review that game, only my own experience. And while the same could be said about any game, I do think Anarchy Reigns is more susceptible to this. So instead of writing a traditional review, I will instead attempt to describe my experience with the game. I feel like only then, will people understand how this game went from incredibly disappointing to one of my favorite games in recent memory.
My first experience with Anarchy Reigns actually began early last year. I had the opportunity to play an import copy, and luckily, the game had already been fully localized on the Japanese disc. Since it was an Xbox 360 copy of a game only yet released in Japan, it was no surprise that game had little to no online player base. Thus, I only played through the campaign.
If you are familiar with the predecessor to Anarchy Reigns, Mad World, then you already understand the unique structure of the levels in this game. The player is dumped into large hub areas filled with enemies. Beating up on baddies yields points, and hitting score goals will then unlock various side missions. These side missions are truly a grab bag of zaniness starting simple with wave based survival, but quickly escalating to activities such as flame-throwing forklift racing, helicopter hang gliding, and monster riding. These side missions yield even more points, and eventually main missions begin to pop up. Story missions are usually cut-scenes followed by brawls with one of many of the game's colorful cast of characters -- with emphasis on colorful in all meanings of the word. Combat isn't quite as deep as games like Bayonetta or Devil May Cry, but the blows feel weighty and satisfying, and the special items scattered around the stages are fun to use.
The problem is that there isn't much challenge(or even penalty for death) as you mow through dozens of fodder enemies while trying to unlock missions. And because there isn't anything to discover in the hub worlds outside of uninspired gallery fluff, I found myself terribly bored between missions. The levels in Mad World were alive and filled with traps, the enemies were challenging, and the combo system for building points was well developed. On the contrary, Anarchy Reigns' between mission fighting feels about as mindless as Dynasty Warriors. And unfortunately, the story missions against key characters are poorly balanced and often over a couple of minutes after the fight begins. The whole campaign just feels sloppy and rushed.
And while I'm not usually one to harp on visuals; I feel it necessary here as Anarchy Reigns is the successor to one of the most style soaked and artistically bold video games ever made. Mad World's high contrast black and white world punctuated with bright red blood made for a unique and memorable look. In Anarchy Reigns, the comic book presentation has been benched in favor of a muddy and unremarkable feast of color. It seriously looks as if the artist took inspiration from a recently regurgitated bag of skittles. How a game so colorful can look so brown is so paradoxically mind boggling.
It was with the North American release of the game that got me to finally give multiplayer a chance. And it's no surprise that the real creativity and innovation in Anarchy Reigns in its online play. The large playlist of modes ranging from 16 player free-for-alls, team deathmatch, to wave based surivival might seem common in your average shooter; but these are all new experiences for the character action genre. It's astonishing just how committed Platinum Games was to making a fully featured online space. With a level-up system, unlockable characters, equipable perks, and special challenge medals, there is plenty of carrot to keep the player addicted to multiplayer for weeks. But it really does seem like they went the extra mile with modes like Deathball, capture-the-flag, and an actual class based team mode (yes, even with medics). This amount of content would be impressive in any modern online shooter, much less a genre that has barely even been online in the past. It's truly commendable, especially from a Japanese studio.
As someone who used to take fighting games very seriously, it's no surprise that I gravitated towards the less chaotic multiplayer modes in Anarchy Reigns. I've spent about 20 hours online with friends, and most of that was in 2v2 matches with full party chat. It's here that I began to appreciate the subtlety of the game's tight combat system, and the strategies that it allows for. Bating my opponents into using their punishable counter, keeping constant pressure with quick pokes, or setting up launchers using spacing traps – I found myself using techniques often I use in fighting games. I do get a laugh at the pure chaos of larger brawls, but I'm one of those “Final Destination with no items” type of Smash Brothers players at heart. I still really like the slightly controlled chaos of the smaller battle arenas. You might have an occasional train driving through the stage, but none of those instant kill events, battle ruining black holes, or npc bosses of the larger stages. I feel it necessary to mention where I spent most of my time online, because I can see new players getting quickly frustrated if they only ever try the larger 16 player brawls. If you are new to the game, start with the smaller team based modes, and for the love of GOD, put on your mic.
Deathball is another creative addition to the online roster that I had a lot of fun with. Pitting teams against each other in a small soccer-like sports arena seems a perfect fit for the brawler genre. At a first glace it's a “beat the shit out of whoever has the ball” type sport, but then you start to realize that being more organized will get you far. Having people waiting down the field to block shots, distracting key players, or having defenders run along to block for the ball carrier, are the kinds of organized strategies that are required if you want to have a successful team. So again, PUT ON YOUR MIC!
The true flaw with the multiplayer is the really weak lobby system. You can't hop into player matches with teams, so it's a real pain if you want to rank up while playing with your friends. This involves creating a lobby, inviting all your friends, and praying that random players don't take up those spots before your friends show up. The is no option to boot random players, so if a friend can't get in, the only choice is to leave and create a new room. Also, the host is not able to change the game type or even choose the map in between these player matches. If you want to have these options, you need to start a private match. But if you do that, no one ranks up. I understand they probably want to prevent power leveling, but it makes the whole experience needlessly frustrating. A patch could solve a lot of these problems, but at the time of my review, nothing has been changed.
The hard part about this review is scoring a game balanced between what is bad and how much fun I'm having playing it. Because I do think there is a lot wrong here. The campaign is pretty awful, I only have fun with about half of the online modes, and there are legitimately terrible flaws with the online lobby system. But I'm having fun. Way too much fun. Fun because the mechanics are well designed, fun because the characters have a ton of personality, and fun because I've never played this type of game online before. None of the flaws are keeping me from wanting to play more of this game. Anarchy Reigns is one of the best multiplayer experiences I've had in years, and I want to play more. A lot more.
(Great - Only very minor issues get in the way of greatness)
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