Anarchy Reigns is the multiplayer follow-up to MadWorld in all but name and visual motif. It’s also the distinctive product of Platinum Games – a brawler that finds time for eccentric vehicle sections, emphatic boss fights and farcical character arcs. But the shift away from the single player capers of something like Bayonetta has had a marked impact on the way Anarchy Reigns feels when compared to the studio’s previous work, and whether you’ll appreciate that will depend largely on how much time you’re willing to invest in learning the game’s deep-lying idiosyncrasies.
A double-barrelled campaign drops you into the boots of either MadWorld’s Jack Cayman or newcomer Leo Someone. Both men have bad attitudes, bad hair and campaigns that play out in similar fashion: linear romps carved into five acts made up of core missions, offbeat extra-curricular activities and far too much grinding through modestly-sized hub zones. This between-mission padding sees you thumping rowdy goons who combined don’t boast the gumption of a single gadfly caught in its death throes.
The missions themselves throw up a crush of boss fights, escort missions and timed brawls as well as more off-kilter tasks that better reflect the flair that typified Bayonetta or Vanquish. Some of the vehicle-themed levels are particularly endearing, while missions spent sniping robotic soldiers or hurling missiles at the Kraken ensure the campaign never treads through overly familiar territory. Short story made shorter? Though lacking in thrills the singleplayer acts as a decent tutorial, easing you into the systems before you embark on a death-march into the multiplayer arena.
Multiplayer is cutthroat and chaotic. Even after five or six hours spent bashing bots those first online matches are a baptism by fire that will likely claim many who aren’t wholly committed to the £20 investment.
The playlist is a grab bag of bonkers game modes – most of which have no right being here, let alone working. Cage matches and 2 vs 2 skirmishes compliment 16-player battle royales and a 3-team capture the flag mode, among others. And if that sounds silly get a load of the helicopter dogfight mode that is to Anarchy Reigns what a first-person, underwater cock-fighting game-type would be to Call of Duty.
Each of the 16 characters (17 with the special edition) are blessed with a unique and reasonably expressive fighting style. Combat here is a case of attacking with the face buttons, blocking with the right trigger and peppering the blistering attack patterns with devastating throws and killer moves. Bayonetta has her Wicked Weaves, Big Bull a rocket-powered sledgehammer and Jack an industrial-sized chainsaw that can all be juggled with the standard light and heavy attacks to violent effect. It’s easy enough to pick up, but there’s a depth here that the singleplayer betrays.
Combos can be interrupted by enemies, although you’re impervious while throwing opponents and a small area-of-effect attack ensures you’re generally in possession of a get out of jail free card. The emphasis is set squarely on learning the ebb and flow of combat, knowing when to soak up damage and when to start a combo. It’s split-second stuff that in an arena home to 32 fists drifts between brilliance and frustrati0n with drunken gusto.
It’s a captivating rule-set on paper, but the troubles all come spilling out from the name. Battles too often descend into an undecipherable muddle of punches to the back of the head, explosions, needless boss cameos, god-awful music, wobbly cameras, muddy graphics and a bit where Cthulu drops by for goodness knows what reason. The persistent wall of noise ensures there’s a dynamism to the online roughhousing, but it’s far too chaotic for its own good. The smaller scale battles fare better but even a four versus four ruckus resembles what I imagine a brain aneurysm looks like to your brain cells.
Platinum have made a name for themselves by taking genres and giving them a royal kick up the arse, and in that sense Anarchy Reigns isn’t a resounding success. It’s crass, rough as hell and lacks the panache of the developer’s earlier works, but it also offers its share of Platinum-grade moments. For some that will be enough. For everyone else, if you’ve the patience to endure a dozen or more drubbings and an undernourished singleplayer campaign you’ll eventually discover a rewarding, if rarely spectacular, multiplayer brawler here.