I’m going to give you the good news first. 2013 can only get better from here. Thankfully for Platinum Games, when December rolls around and people look back at their work for the year, Metal Gear Rising and (likely) Bayonetta 2 will be associated with their name. This works out for everyone, because the sooner we can forget about the absolutely terrible Anarchy Reigns, the better off we’ll all be.
I could tell you that the focus on independently jiggling breasts reeks of misogyny (it does). I could share with you that there are terribly racist moments in the title (there are). I could even tell you that Platinum stoops to ripping off characters from other developers’ games (they do). These things aren’t excusable in games that are fun to play and offer unique concepts, and we certainly shouldn’t accept them here.
Put simply, much like the largest enemies in the game, Anarchy Reigns is a genetic mutation of everything I once loved about the beat ’em up genre. We’ve bred out shallow combat, nonsensical stories, lacy localization and manufactured inflation of play time, but somehow, Platinum Games has cultivated a monster that exhibits every single one of those horrid traits. Upon beginning, you’ll be asked to choose between the White Path (starring police officer of the future, Leo) and the Black Path (featuring foul-mouthed felon finder, Jack Cayman). These designations are unnecessary, but accurately suggest that there is very little nuance to the characters. While there is a limp attempt at character development toward the end of the game, there is simply not enough to make me care about the key players, their motivations or their final disposition.
The entire game takes place in the same four areas (though slightly reconfigured), regardless of which character you choose. These large arenas can be traversed with elevators, powerful fans, catapults and zip lines. Hidden in each are the game’s sole collectible, five safes that contain concept art. The meat of the game occurs in instanced missions. The “free” variety can be repeated, but stages that advance the paper-thin plot are only available until they are completed. In each of the four regions, you’ll have to accrue points to unlock the next objective. These typically alternate between free missions and plot-driven ones, and you will likely find yourself repeating at least one in each setting to earn enough points to advance. You can build your score simply roaming around and beating up randomly spawning foes, but that is slow going.
These “free missions” are fare that would typically be included as side challenges in most titles. Many require you to defeat the specified number of enemies before time runs out. Others require you to defeat as many foes as possible while also staying alive until a countdown expires. Occasionally, the formula will get mixed up a bit with a goofy objective, but there isn’t enough variety. Perhaps the straightforwardness of the combat scenarios could be excused if the game were designed with any measure of enjoyment in mind. However, that simply isn’t the case.
There are some elements we have come to expect of 3D brawlers. A smooth, responsive lock-on system is important. Anarchy Reigns offers one, but it is inadequate. In order to stay fixated on an enemy, you must first be facing it. Only then can you press the left bumper to toggle on the lock. You must already be facing the foe, and you cannot switch to another target without releasing the lock and re-engaging. Too often, jumping or strafing caused my camera controls to free up, leaving me circling around wondering where the enemy went. Even after increasing the sensitivity, movement of both the characters and the camera was sluggish. Changing direction of your attacks is cumbersome, and I found myself whiffing often enough that it was simply less frustrating to stop, take damage and reorient to the closest enemy.
Enemies will attack before missions officially begin, and getting hit coming out of a mid-mission introduction of a new element or foe becomes expected. Those scripted occurrences, like runaway trucks, bombers carpeting an area with explosions, sandstorms and poison gas, occur while roaming outside of the six scenarios in each stage. Many games offer unexpected occurrences to mix things up. It was one of my favorite parts of Tokyo Jungle, for instance. As an enhancement to already engaging material, it’s a device that can work wonderfully. Here, they are merely a distraction that Sega had the audacity to include as a bullet point. Not content to simply call them “random events,” Platinum and its publisher have concocted a name (Active Time Events) that inflates the significance of an otherwise negligible inclusion. If dressing up something already found in many other titles is required to flesh out your box copy, it’s time to examine the quality of what’s on the disc.
There is no progression system, making the forced grinding even more frustrating. The characters all play largely the same, just with different “killer weapons” (when you do get to make a choice). In the rare instances you have help in a fight, the AI manages to hold its own, making it the one redeeming quality of the entire experience. The two halves of the story, which can be played in any order, contradict each other at points. Even within a single character’s narrative, there are moments where I’m convinced the translation was simply sloppy, leading to individuals meeting each other for the first time on multiple occasions. In addition, there was no effort made to sync the dialog during the “talking head” cutscenes.
On top of these issues, I couldn’t shake the feeling I had played this clumsy brawler before. Identically playing characters with different skins? Check. Missions that exist within a chaotic environment? Here. Boring, sluggish and shallow combat? It’s in there. Anarchy Reigns is this generation’s State of Emergency. The only difference is that State of Emergency was good for about 10 minutes of laughs.
After finishing the campaign, unlocking the remainder of the 16-character roster (17, if you were foolish enough to pre-order to get the Bayonetta character DLC) and even achieving 100 kills in some of the areas (opening up add-on abilities that can be used online), I decided to try the multiplayer.
“The lobby is closed.”
After more than three dozen Quick Match attempts, I finally got into a game. It was the horde mode style “survival” type, which is just more of the terrible single player, but other humans sharing in the misery. The best moment of the match was when I got stuck in the environment during one of the mid-round “reinforcements” prompts that cut away to the new enemies joining the fray. After a four minute struggle, I finally freed myself. These glitches are liberally peppered throughout offline and online play.
There 11 modes (10 competitive plus survival) are too many for the meager player base. Finding matches in a specific game type is an exercise in futility, which meant I was left to trudge through Quick Match pairing hoping for something fresh. Once in a team game, further problems were evidenced. It isn’t always clear if an opponent is being victimized by a grab, making them invulnerable to other attacks. This can leave you exposed, while also wasting time. I witnessed visual issues with grabs more often than not, with enemies appearing in different places or simply disappearing from the encounter before the animation was complete.
There are problems with pop-in and draw distance, in addition to the issues with hit detection. All of this made for a frustrating experience, even when I was able to actually get a game started. The settings are bland (certainly devoid of the style that MadWorld offered), the enemy types are rehashed throughout and many of the characters are suspiciously similar to some we have seen before. Zero looks like Raiden from Metal Gear Solid and Oinkie reminds me quite a lot of Enslaved’s Pigsy. It’s unclear if the characters making a return from MadWorld are simply rehashed designs or if the stories are related.
The music is often high energy and profanity-laden, but forgettable. In fact, much of the design of Anarchy Reigns seems to prop itself up on the crutch of foul language. It serves no purpose other than to create the false appearance of being “edgy.” Main characters Jack (Steve Blum) and Leo (Jon Curry) are well-acted, with the supporting cast covering the spectrum from tolerable to downright offensive. In fact, one of the Blacker Baron’s final lines is one of the most racist things I’ve heard in a game this generation. Blaxploitation is over, Platinum.
I had a hard time finding any redeeming value in the five hours I spent playing the entirety of Anarchy Reign’s single player, and little more in the hours I spent in the multiplayer. I was delighted to put this game back in the box, and when I finish writing this review, I will be grateful to never think of it again. If you were considering a purchase and love everything Platinum does, I’d suggest waiting until it hits the bargain bin. Even the $30 budget price tag is asking too much for what’s on offer. If you are desperate to hear Steve Blum curse, just play Bulletstorm. At least you’ll have a good time.
Here’s the Rundown:
+ Steve Blum and Jon Curry deliver strong performances
– Glitches and hit detection problems
– Shallow combat
– Broken matchmaking
– Story makes no sense, possibly due to lazy localization
– Forced grinding
– Some characters seem to be “borrowed” from other games
– Racist content
1 (RIP) to 4 are varying degrees of a bad game. A 1 (RIP) being a game you would actually pay money to not play, and a 4 is something that just fails to reach even the not-so-lofty level of “mediocre.”
Anarchy Reigns was developed by Platinum Games and published by Sega. It was released on January 8, 2013, at the MSRP of $29.99. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.