Anarchy Reigns

Platinum Games has put out yet another action game, and although the results aren't as kaleidoscopically entrancing as some of their other work, it's still a great game that offers up a lot of action for a low price. Anarchy Reigns follows in the footsteps of classics like Power Stone, giving you lots of combo-driven attacks to clear out legions of enemies in big, open, 3D levels. There are a few missing links in its overall presentation and relatively bland single player structure, but nothing disrupts the wild, hard-hitting combat this game tirelessly provides.

Remember Madworld, that memorably black-and-white action game for the Wii? Anarchy Reigns is a sort-of sequel to that game, once again starring the chainsaw-wielding Jack for much of its duration. This time, he's avenging his daughter from a crazy, cybernetic meathead called Caxton, although that motivation is forgotten not long after you start. I never really did understand what was actually happening during the brief, sparse story scenes. Usually characters are introduced, grimace and possibly fight each other to lay down dominance, and are then interrupted by a new reason to leap to another location and keep the beatdowns coming. It's too bad that Anarchy Reigns can't wring a little more sense out of its story, because its characters are bright, lively-looking designs that deserve more exposition and attention. I did consider the possibilities of a more tightly wound plot, but it also didn't bother me that the game focuses on its bloody action almost exclusively.

The genre name tells the tale - brawlers are interested only in getting you knee-deep in combat and hitting enemies with as long a combo of hits as you can so that, ideally, your enemies rarely if ever in a position to attack in the first place. You've got light and strong attacks with your fists and feet, along with a block that can also be used to pick up debris around you and throw it at enemies. The shoulder buttons are used for targeting and modifying attacks for more deliberate strikes with your devastating chainsaw. When you put it all together, there's an immediately diverse pool of attacks to toy with from the outset, and the enemy design comes up with quite a few ways to make sure you deliver the right attack at just the right time to expose tender areas or weaken foes for a bloody, immediate kill. Chaining all your different attack options into a continuous offence feels awesome, and its the excellent execution of this age-old concept that makes Anarchy Reigns a hoot to play.

The campaign consists of a handful of decently-sized open areas that contain mission markers for you to mess with. There's nothing but tangential notes of story within the missions themselves, and most are presented directly as a timed challenge of your combat skills. Sometimes you have to kill a certain amount of enemies before the clock runs out, while many others give you devious mixtures of enemy types that demand a diverse use of your abilities. Sometimes you have to protect slow-moving robots from hoards of encroaching mutants, and still others implement some weaponized vehicles for some next-level monster mashing. Missions dish out points upon completion, and you need certain sums of score to unlock the next main mission, usually a boss. Side missions are repeatable, and while it can occasionally be repetitive to replay the same thing two or three times to farm some points, most hold up to repeated playthroughs just fine.

For a company with as mind-blowing a visual history as Platinum Games, it's a bit shocking and a little disappointing that Anarchy Reigns gives you a relatively flat presentation overall. The character design is excellent; characters are ridiculously festooned with meaty appendages, belt-laden get-ups, and lots of bright, bold colours. Problem is, those characters are rendered against some fairly plain, low-detail backgrounds. And although it's tough to see in these screenshots, the average horizon in Anarchy Reigns does have a little bit of a grainy look to it. Yet, these plain vistas also make the snappy combat much more agreeable to follow. Maybe it's a good thing that Platinum didn't opt for candy-coloured palettes and scramble our brains forever, because the end result is a look that doesn't pull out all the stops and probably plays better for it.

The way Anarchy Reigns paces its campaigns seems a little off at first, but I grew to mostly enjoy it. You'll have to repeat missions fairly often to reach the next milestone and progress through the game, but the manic combat is a pleasure, and more excuses to flex your skills and master new combos were nearly always welcome. If you're big into Japanese melodrama, you may be a little bummed by how few and far between new cutscenes can come up, but the focus on long, intense stretches of combat felt like a wise choice to me. It's one of the many details that gives the game a Genesis or SNES-era action vibe in all the right ways. If you're into that sort of straightforward, score-driven type of experience, then Anarchy Reigns is going to be something you'll dig. There's no movelist or any other sort of learning aid for combat, and so there's a lot to memorize and suss out as you go along. It can be a little frustrating that there's no system in place to help you figure out how to time your attacks, but mostly it puts you in a mindset where you're actively exploring your regular and special attacks for new moves, trying to gain an edge whenever you can. When you do make those critical breakthroughs, the hilarious metal and hip-hop tunes jibe with the action well. Most have prominent, vulgar lyrics that get you pumped up in an absurd way, too, a Platinum trademark.

Online, you might need a bit more patience before things pay off. For starters, you need to play through the single player stuff to make progress in the multiplayer, which is a bummer for people who aren't interested in what is essentially a long sequence of timed trials. The great, responsive fighting makes sticking with it pretty easy, but those looking for something more than that may be disappointed. Jack, along with many of the main players from the campaign, show up as playable characters in multiplayer, each with different moves and special attacks. All you need to picture is the single player I've described above, then imagine what that becomes where there's seven other equally powerful behemoths stalking around, throwing tankers at each other. This made most of the matches I got into absolute bedlam, the action on the screen barely comprehensible as you try and bang out a few combos before you either run for your life or drop dead in a blaze of glory. Several calamities occurring in a given second is almost a certainty, and although I got better over time, the multiplayer was a little too crazy for me to keep playing. Again, I played the Japanese version for this review, and was infiltrating a small, dedicated group of players who had already accrued several months experience online before I got my hands on it. The playing field is almost definitely more level for the North American launch, and I'm sure the game will enjoy a cult following. But the game is so frenetic - and the Call of Duty-esque levelling structure so slow-moving - that it didn't quite grip me like I know it will many others.

The only consistent annoyances throughout Anarchy Reign were relatively slight ones. There was some irritating voice over work, and its usually the female characters that suffer most. Quips can repeat often, and there are some some almost painfully doofy lines delivered through some cutscenes that go beyond camp value and into sheer lameness. The occasional framerate hiccup or slowdown isn't uncommon, and although it usually won't mess up your timing, it's still a noticeable and distracting issue.

Even if you're like me and don't end up getting hooked on the online, Anarchy Reigns is a rock-solid action game with combo-based combat you can really chew on, rad boss encounters, and one of the more ludicrous stories to come along in games for some time. This is a hardcore Japanese action game, through and through. Its rigid, uncompromising mission structure can be less than accommodating but nonetheless charming. It's difficult, rewarding, and satisfying in equal measure. And you can bet your ass this game grades you alphabetically on how well you're playing. If any of that speaks to you, it's more than likely that you'll find lots to like about this game. And if you're new or weary to the world of hardline action games, its thirty dollar price tag should hopefully make that a risk that's easier to take. Anarchy Reigns is a game that deserves an audience.