The Anarchy Begins
Anarchy Reigns is a strange conundrum of a game that doesn’t really know what it wants to be.
Hold on. Let me back up a bit here. Whenever we saw Anarchy Reigns at a trade show, its developers were always pushing its awesome multiplayer mode. It was supposed to finally provide the action genre with something to do online, giving players an experience that is somewhere between the cookie-cutter shooter formula, and the one-on-one twitch-based gameplay of an online fighting game.
But as a result, a lot of attention was given to the game’s multiplayer mode, and the single-player campaign suffers noticeably because of it. None of this seems strange until you realize that the single-player may actually be the best part of the game, while the multiplayer is unfortunately flawed.
Anarchy Reigns is something of a sequel to the Wii-exclusive Mad World. Once again, you control Jack, the man with a chainsaw arm, as you hack and slash your way through waves of baddies who are just waiting to die in gruesome ways. Mad World was known for its interactive environments, allowing you to put a baddie in a barrel, light the barrel on fire, skewer the barrel on a signpost, and then throw the barrel in front of a train. Unfortunately, Anarchy Reigns isn’t nearly as creative. Instead, it falls back on the standard weak/strong button mashing formula that we have seen in multiple brawlers of the past.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, because the tone of the game really supports the button mashing gameplay. The story is essentially a nonentity. It makes little sense and serves no purpose other than to ferry you between set pieces filled with blood and explosions. But that’s the best part of the game. You’ll be chopping enemies down with your chainsaw arm one second and riding a flamethrowing death car the next. The game’s set pieces come at a frequent enough clip that the standard button mashing gameplay between them never gets boring. In fact, it almost brings about a nostalgic feeling of games like Dynasty Warriors 3, which pretty much gave you no concrete goals outside of increasing your kills per minute. If you want to get fancy, you can, as the game’s combo system does allow for some flashy strings of hits. However, the combos aren’t listed anywhere and you will get by just fine by hammering the buttons randomly.
Anarchy Reigns is essentially the video game equivalent of a Quentin Tarantino movie, with a story that serves the bloody, campy, over-the-top gameplay. However, the single-player mode is depressingly short. Not only that, but it’s very easy to beat, never actually presenting the player with a challenge outside of a few cheap deaths. There are also points when this game becomes far less Tarantino and far more Michael Bay, relying on cutscenes which are far more awesome than the gameplay that either precedes or follows them. There are also some fetch quests and escort quests that slow down the pacing of an otherwise completely action-packed title.
The game pulls a No More Heroes by letting you wander around hub-worlds before you take on missions. Unfortunately, these hub-worlds are mostly there just for show. Missions are still unlocked sequentially and outside of the ability to go back and replay missions you have already completed, there is really no reason to make you run back and forth to each one. The hub-worlds are also pretty small, so you don’t really even get a feeling of satisfaction from wandering around. Cinematic scene transitions or a simple menu would have done just fine.
Still, as much as I can nitpick about certain stylistic choices here, the single-player campaign is a real treat. You have to have an immature, desensitized mind to relish in all the blood and over-the-top action, but if you’re not squeamish about gore, you’ll love every minute of it.
The multiplayer, on the other hand, has its own set of issues. It’s not poorly designed when considered in a vacuum. It allows up to sixteen players to duke it out in a variety of modes that we have seen in shooters before. The only difference is that you aren’t scoring points in Team Deathmatch using shotguns and sniper rifles; you’re scoring points using chainsaw arms!
There is a level-up system, which mirrors the sorts of progression you see in multiplayer shooters, but it’s decently balanced, preventing higher level players from immediately overpowering lower level players. Unfortunately, it may be overbalanced. The perks and bonuses you unlock aren’t all that powerful, and you level up quite slowly. It does a lot to keep the game even but doesn’t do much to make you feel like you are earning a reward.
Still, that sounds good right? Evenly balanced battles filled with awesome anime-style brawling with up to sixteen players? What could be wrong with that?
Well, it turns out that this formula isn’t particularly compatible with human behavior. You see, shooters work out well with sixteen-player matches, because you can kill your enemies at long distance. Taking cover and noticing your enemy before he sees you is the name of the game, and confrontations end with a kill—or with both parties running away—in mere seconds. Action games, on the other hand, work on a different set of rules. Kills have to be earned at close range as you’re slugging it out through combos and grapples. Confrontations can last for a while, with blocks and blows being exchanged several times. Of course, when a player sees others slugging it out, he will want to jump in to start wailing away at the side that is most unprotected, which quickly turns a one-on-one fight into a three-person free-for-all. This, in turn, becomes a four-person free-for-all when another player finds the battle, and so on, until the entire group is clustered in one little area, flailing for their lives.
The result is just a chaotic mess of button mashing and kill-stealing that is nearly impossible to navigate. Attacks fly every which way, sometimes killing people you weren’t even aiming for in the first place. You can never take an opportunity to stop and block as someone will just run up and throw you, and then someone else will attack them. It nearly renders kills meaningless, as you are never guaranteed to earn credit for all the wailing you did. Only the final blow counts. Of course, you would expect this gigantic mosh pit of arms and blades and chainsaws to thin as people die, but everyone will remember where the battle is after they die, and when they respawn they will just run right back into the fray.
So it’s not so much that the game’s multiplayer is bad, but rather that people tend to be reduced to chaotically flailing monkeys whenever they see a battle going on. When paired up one-on-one with an opponent, there actually is a pretty deep battle system that can produce some suitably epic confrontations. Unfortunately, it gets boring having to search out your one enemy on the game’s multiplayer maps, not to mention that limiting the game to 1v1 duels essentially defeats the purpose of an online multiplayer brawler in the first place.
Anarchy Reigns simply doesn’t live up to its hype. It’s not the big multiplayer brawler that finally brings action games into the online world, but it is a pretty solid action game nonetheless. You probably won’t be spending much time in the game’s multiplayer, but the single-player campaign makes it arguably worth a purchase, especially at its budget price. If you are the kind of person that loves bloody action schlock, then this may be the game for you.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
The graphics are probably the worst part of the package, as the game boasts some pretty flat and blurry textures. Still, it does a competent enough job and doesn’t detract from the gameplay. 3.8 Control
The game does devolve into button mashing, but it’s fun button mashing. It’s not deep, but it fits the game’s over-the-top tone. 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is somewhat forgettable, but the voice acting is awesome and campy, perfect for the game’s tone. 3.5 Play Value
At a budget price, this game is a pretty good buy despite its flaws. 3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best