OK. Let’s get this out the way. SEGA are idiots. Delaying the game’s release from the middle of the summer in a month where it would have had literally no competition to slap bang in the middle of an already bursting first quarter of 2013 is only going to damage its chances of success.
Thankfully for those of us that don’t wish to wait there is the option to import a copy from Japan. Both the 360 and PS3 versions are region free and more importantly as the developers stated; fully translated into English, French, German, Spanish and Italian. This isn’t just menus and subtitles but the full game including audio. The game even pops up with the Western title ‘Anarchy Reigns’ as opposed to the Japanese ‘Max Anarchy’ on the dash of your 360 or PS3.
If I had to describe the game in a word I would have to say it’s mad. Yes, mad suits it down to the ground. It’s characters are crazy, the situations you find yourself in are ludicrous and the plot is paper thin, melodramatic and barmy to say the least. Sound familiar? That’s because it kind of is. Anarchy Reigns is the sequel to MadWorld. Just with a different name and a much more substantial multiplayer element.
So how does it stack up next to its critically acclaimed but universally ignored predecessor? I have to say as a sequel it’s a mixed bag. Stylistically it’s not so great. Gone are the buckets of gore, Sin Cityesque black and white visuals and game show styling’s that characterised the original. Replaced with a relatively drab post apocalyptic wasteland, slightly more restrained violence and thankfully an even larger roster of Colourful ne’er-do-wells and psychos which more than make up for the drab surroundings.
The campaign this time around is literally a game of two halves. You initially play as either Jack; the original hero from MadWorld. Sent on a mission to bring back Max; a rogue agent from the department of justice at the behest of his daughter. Or Leo Max’s former team mate and pupil who unbeknownst to him is part of a team sent to kill him.
The game world itself is broken up into several small hubs which also double as the maps in the multiplayer mode. Within these hubs you can then access the games missions or just aimlessly run around beating up goons. These will spawn in packs of varying strengths depending on the time of day and oddly enough the weather. Weak packs of common thugs roam the streets during the day, while hulking mutants appear at night and whenever it rains.
This changes things up nicely and adds a sense of urgency to the proceedings. To put it simply, you really don’t want to be caught in the rain or out when it gets dark.
Although the game show trappings of MadWorld are long gone the basic points mean prizes mechanic remains. From the hub levels there are two types of Missions available; Free and Story. Free missions can be played over and over in order to build up enough points to unlock each hub’s Story missions which, wait for it. Continue the story.
Luckily there isn’t too much of a grind required. Completion of the free mission more often than not rewarding you with more than enough points to play the next story mission. However they can be replayed as many times as you like in order to improve your score and get a better ranking.
The variety of free missions run the gambit from simply killing everyone in sight to some truly odd ball events like driving what can best be described as a flying forklift around a track while setting fire to as many thugs as possible with its onboard flamethrower.
However it’s the games sheer random nature that keeps you entertained. You can’t fathom what’s going to come next. Standout moments include Fighting a group of Transformers and what has to be one of my all time favourite boss fights ever; A Kraken. That’s right you get to fist fight a giant squid, in a multi tiered boss fight that starts on an air craft carrier and ends with you fighting for survival on driftwood.
The controls are a simple affair much like MadWorld. Attacks are either light or heavy. These can be stringed together to form combos, these build up a gauge in order to use each characters Killer weapon; Such as Jack’s Chainsaw. These deal significant amounts of damage which will usually instantly kill most low level bad guys in the campaign and are absolutely essential for dealing damage to bosses and larger enemies. The Gauge depletes with each swing so you’ll want to make sure these powered up attacks are going to connect.
Causing damage also charge the characters Rampage meter. Once full this can be unleashed whenever you want by a click the thumb sticks. Rampage mode enables you to let fly with flurries of punches and kicks that would put Ken Shiro to shame and also lets you use your killer weapon as much as you like for as long as the mode lasts. This can have a major impact on a fight, helping to turn it in your favour and is really useful in a pinch.
Although the combat appears simplistic it is in reality incredibly nuanced. Randomly spamming the same attack might cut it in the early stages of the single player but once put up against an experienced human opponent or playing the game on higher difficulty settings you’ll very quickly find yourself on the receiving end of a severe beat down. You can’t just hold block and wait either as it wears down over successive hits which will then leave you wide open. Also unlike Bayonetta you cannot cancel an attack by blocking otherwise no one would ever get a hit in.
Figuring out when best to attack or use your weapons and rampage meter, whether to stick with small combos or go all out give battles a brilliant sense of back and forth. Being mindful of your characters animations and ticks is the key to success.
This brings us swiftly onto the games Main event; the multiplayer.
But first I have a confession. Although I’ve played through all of the games different multiplayer modes at present it is incredibly difficult to find anyone to play against online on the xbox 360. However from what I’ve read there is a much larger community of gamers on the PS3 version. Hopefully this will be rectified once the game is released in the west where a lot more people own 360s.
My only experience against actual people online was brief and painful underlining the importance of playing the games single player first to get to grips with the flow of the game as well as mastering some of the finer points of combat.
As a naive young pup I dove straight into a ranked Battle Royal match to be faced with three opponents that were all level 50. They had a great time beating the crap out of me for ten minutes straight. This didn’t put me off the game though, actually quite the opposite. It inspired me to improve, If at first you don’t succeed, fight against bots they’re not quite so mean.
That’s right. You don’t need anyone else to play multiplayer. If you’re feeling anti-social or in my case, there’s nobody there. Every game mode can be populated by bots within a private match. The AI itself is pretty well rounded too. Tough enough to present a challenge but not a complete pushover. Also to my amazement they would happily beat on each other just as much as they’d come after me.
Since the game only has a rudimentary training mode that guides you through the basics of combat and little else. I found using bots for multiplayer was a nice addition and actually helped break me gradually into the flow of the multiplayer rather than the usual shock which can come when trying to jump into a new multiplayer game and finding yourself hopelessly outclassed.
Surprisingly multiplayer has more in common with an FPS than it does other fighting games. It has a levelling system akin to Call of Duty’s which bestows perks such as extra speed or damage boosts as players progress. The match types available are also what you’d expect from a shooter. These include Capture the Flag, Team Battle, Survival (horde mode) and Battle Royale (deathmatch). The only exception to this is Cage Match which offers one on one brawling.
Battle Royale is on paper a standard deathmatch scenario. Sixteen players face off against each other. The player at the end with the most kills or in this case points is deemed the winner. However when you take away the guns new life is breathed into this fairly standard set up. There’s no camping, the openness of the landscape and the style of game play simply don’t let the player sit back and attack from a distance. Although getting something chucked at you from somewhere off camera or getting snuck up upon and hit in the back of the head by another opponent is a fairly common problem in larger games.
Constant vigilance is the name of the game. At any one point you can find yourself attacked not only by other players but the environment itself. The map might randomly change exposing new areas or poison gas might be released forcing you to climb to higher ground or harriers may decide to perform a bombing run where you’re standing forcing everyone to run for cover. Anarchy literally Reigns. If I were hard pressed to compare the experience to any other game it would be Power Stone. But on a scale you wish Capcom could have achieved on the Dreamcast all those years ago.
However if you want something a little more restrained and closer to a traditional fighting game there is Cage Match mode. One on one fighting, no weapons, no item drops, locked in a Cage. No escape. Pure unadulterated fisticuffs with Chainsaws strapped to its arms. It’s a testament to just how well realised the basic mechanics of the games combat are that it is just as entertaining in a huge free for all as it is in intense one on one battles.
This potentially leaves Anarchy Reigns multiplayer in a difficult position. Who is it for? On the surface it’s too simplistic and chaotic for the hardcore fight crowd and I can’t see your average Call of Duty player bending over backwards for it either. Maybe the better question to ask is; does it really matter? I have to say it really doesn’t. Nothing else out today compares to it.
Can I recommend this game? Yes, it’s another fine outing from Platinum with everything you’ve come to expect from them. Fantastic game play, a unique hook and a passion for the ridiculous.
Should you import it? No. As fantastic as the game is, the busy holiday season means the wait for its eventual western release should pass swiftly and it will serve as a better message to SEGA that these kinds of offbeat games can be profitable outside of their homeland and should continue to be translated and released outside of Japan.