It’s been a foregone conclusion for a while now that Anarchy Reigns wouldn’t be as good as Platinum Games’ other offerings. It looked a bit dodgy when it was first unveiled, with muddy visuals (which remain pretty hideous in the final product) and unfocused combat, and little of what I’ve seen or read since the game’s Japan launch has boded particularly well. The game has been left to die at local retail, dumped out unceremoniously last week in limited numbers and at a budget price. At least it didn’t hit in the same week as Devil May Cry, I suppose.
This is a roundabout way of establishing Anarchy Reigns’ dual role as both a pleasant surprise and a disappointment. It’s Platinum Games’ worst game, its least interesting and least ambitious creation, but it’s far from actually being bad. It is, I hope, about as bad as the studio could get, in that it’s merely quite good rather than their usual bring-a-change-of-pants level of greatness.
This is Platinum’s first shot at a multiplayer title, and it’s made clear from the get-go that it’s in these new multi-modes that they’ve put most of their effort into: after the start screen, ‘Multiplayer’ is the first thing that lights up on the main menu, despite actually being below ‘Campaign’. There are 11 multiplayer modes (13 if you redeem the DLC inside the case), and they’re all pretty fun, ranging from all-out brawls to classic team games to horde mode rip-offs and one sports-based mode (Death Ball) that reminds me of the underrated PS3 classic Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars.
All of them are based around the game’s fighting system, which is fairly easy to pick up. Each character has different attacks, but they’re all mapped to the same basic button combinations, and the system has been designed so that anyone who has just picked up the game can master the controls, if not quite all the nuance under the surface, within 10 minutes. It’s not a deep system, but it’s a good one nonetheless.
Anarchy Reigns isn’t the sort of game you’re liable to play particularly competitively, which will probably dull long term appeal a bit. It doesn’t feel well balanced, with some characters clearly performing better than others in certain modes, and the various elements at work at any given time can be a bit disorientating for newcomers. Despite how easy it is to work out the controls, you should still expect to have your butt handed back to you the first few times you leap in, especially if anyone who either imported early or lives in Japan shows up in your game. In fact, you’ll be lucky to get into games already – the problem probably isn’t quite so severe on PS3, but on Xbox 360 some modes are already being left largely alone, although there’s been a healthy population for free-for-all matches and Death Ball. You can play the game with bots, which is great, although offline the stakes just feel a little too low to bother beyond a few rounds.
None of this means that it isn’t hugely enjoyable though – every single game I got into was fun, and the franticness of it all means that even if you’re terrible you’ll have a chance to land a few good hits and feel good about it. It’s most reminiscent of Power Stone on the Dreamcast, with huge arenas and several events that can briefly change the whole game up (for instance, in one map a Kraken may appear during a free-for-all, and if all the players put their differences aside to take it down they’ll get a score bonus). It’s been a long time since we’ve had a brawler that plays as well as Anarchy Reigns does in multiplayer.
If you’re here because you want another single-player campaign on par with Bayonetta, you’re looking in the wrong place. Anarchy Reigns’ campaign is intermittently extremely fun – especially when you’re pounding the absolute hell out of a giant boss, of which there are quite a few – but it’s also incredibly disjointed and undercooked, a clear afterthought outside of some moderately lavish cut-scenes and a wonderfully eccentric soundtrack. For a tacked-on component it’s relatively lengthy (expect about 10 hours of gameplay through two different storylines), but there’s quite a bit of filler, with some stupid mission designs and a terrible progression system that means levels might not be unlocked unless you revisit previous missions and improve your scores in them. But when it clicks, it clicks, and vanquishing crazy foes with ridiculous combos and ludicrous special moves is still plenty of fun, even if the system at the heart of it all is far, far simpler than Bayonetta’s near-perfect fighting.
Anarchy Reigns ultimately feels like a game that probably didn’t quite feel right midway through development, which didn’t have the same effort and attention lavished upon it as the developer’s previous games. Still, when your very worst game ends up being this decent, you’re clearly doing something right.