Beat ’em ups have been all but down for the count for the better part of a decade now. Long gone are the days of Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, and Final Fight, and with them, the prominence of this once beloved faction of gaming has dwindled. After nearly a year wait, Platinum Games’ latest offering has finally made it to western shores and with it, some hope of a revival. For the most part, it was worth the wait, but has some shortcomings holding it back from being the champion this genre needs.
It begins with character
Anyone who is familiar with Platinum (Bayonetta/Vanquish) knows they have a distinct knack for visual style, and right away, you can tell that the sword this game lives and dies on are its characters. Sporting a catchy tune in the main menu, the camera zips through a bar and we instantly have a sense of every warrior we will team up or tussle with. Smart, as one thing Anarchy definitely gets right are its characters. Over the top from design to personality, main protagonists Leo and Jack, Zero the cyber ninja, Nikolai the Russian, bringer of justice, and more are there to familiarize yourself with, and any gamer will be hard pressed to find a character they don’t instantly gravitate to. Which introduces one of the problems Anarchy has: forcing you to play through the single player to unlock the majority of the character base.
The campaign offers two different characters and stories to play through. By the end, you’ll come to understand motivations and relationships in this crazy world. The characters are not deep by any stretch of the word, but every little bit helps, and the campaign fleshes them out for better or worse. You can start on either the White Side, where you will play as Leo, or the Black Side, where you take control of Jack, who was the star of Platinum’s previous game, Mad World. Regardless of where you choose to begin, you must complete both, since once you reach the end of any campaign’s fourth chapter, the narrative instantly switches to the opposite side’s point of view and you are forced to play again before reaching your original story’s conclusion. Confused? Don’t be; it makes sense once you get into it, and it pushes you to encounter the characters featured on each side and see how they fit in with each other. Building up points from beating up baddies earns you two types of missions: free and main. Free missions are optional, but help move the pace along to the next main mission, which are obviously mandatory Strewn throughout each chapter are safes holding unlockable concept art, and defeating one hundred enemies on each level will earn you a skill that will help in the multi-player portion.
Level designs are just as over the top as the characters, so be prepared for anything from a wayward transport truck trying to run you over, to an impromptu tornado tearing anyone and everything apart. The world of Anarchy Reigns is set in a futuristic place where everything has gone to hell. The lines of justice and law are blurred, while mutants run rampant, and if you want to survive, cybernetics are something you need to get used to. Again, it’s not really important, but what is there gets the job done. Yet, while the single-player is a relatively enjoyable experience, impatient gamers who want instant access to their favorites for the aforementioned multi-player portion may become frustrated with having to plow through two four-hour campaigns before getting what they want. Regardless, it’s a necessary evil that you will either enjoy or suffer through, but combat is what you came for, and minutes in, you’ll be doling out that satisfying punishment to whoever gets in your way.
Punching something in the face through combinations of weak and strong attacks is your aim here, and you’ll be pulling off some impressive moves right away, and there is some depth to be discovered if you are willing to pull back the layers. In addition, each character features a unique Killer Weapon to *ahem* kill things with. Pulling out a chainsaw and dicing through ten enemies at once is something that never becomes old, and each character’s combat is as unique as their arsenal is varied. Don’t think your Killer Weapon is limited to the ground, either: they can be used from the air and even trigger devastating cinematic attacks when your opponent is stunned. Doing this drains a meter, but don’t fret, as it is quick to fill up, allowing you to continue your maiming. All this violence, whether you are giving or receiving, leads to filling up your Rampage meter. When unleashed, you’re rewarded an infinite meter to use as you see fit, invincibility from all damage, and new attacks assigned to each attack button. With all this at your disposal, you may be tempted to go all out with your offensive options, but defense is there to utilize and becomes nearly as important in the games higher difficulties. You can dodge, counter grabs and attacks with properly timed button presses, and block. Don’t think you can hold block for too long, though, as an accumulation of stronger attacks will break that defense you were hiding behind and leave you vulnerable for a beating. Combat is consistent and rewarding, but becomes somewhat tiring towards the end push. Not to take away from what is there, but the feeling that Anarchy was just a few combat options short of something spectacular lingered once the initial flair wore off. Further holding the combat back from greatness is the uncooperative camera. In short, it sucks, and the lock-on system doesn’t help much, either. Often, you are fighting it as much as your enemies, and it hurts the overall feel of the game. We suggest turning the sensitivity way up, as you will find yourself constantly adjusting it with the right stick of your controller. In addition, Anarchy has some slight graphical hiccups when the going gets tough and the action is the most hectic. It rears its head in the form of framerate drop, but doesn’t pull you out of the experience.
So you’ve come this far, unlocked the majority of the roster, and come to grips with the combat: now you’re ready to take your skills online, right? Anarchy Reigns’ multi-player definitely delivers and holds a ton of options for the player left wanting more. From one-on-one battles, to various competitions to score the most points in a set time, to playing some make-shift style of soccer; it’s all here and more. You can tell Anarchy Reigns was designed to be a multi-player game first and foremost. Ranked matches are tracked on the leader boards, but if you want to have a casual go with random players or a friend or two, player and private match options are offered without repercussions to your ranking. Once you join your style of mayhem, all those skills and characters you have been salivating to use are there. Have fun! At the time of this review, the community was slim at best; hopefully this changes in the near future.
Anarchy Reigns’ sound effects complement the combat well and the thuds of delivering a cyborg elbow smash or the awesomeness of unsheathing your cybrid arts blades from their holster with a quick hum really help to immerse you in the game. Strong language is used liberally throughout, and smashing someone in the face may be followed with a quick “FUCK YOU“. The soundtrack is not devoid of this either, so anyone easily offended by swearing should be advised. Speaking of soundtrack, it is heavily hip-hop inspired, so it’s a matter of taste. Don’t be surprised if you catch yourself bobbing to a few of the tracks, but again, it all depends on your style of music.
Anarchy Reigns is a respectable attempt at reviving the beat ’em up genre, and at a bargain price of $30, it’s definitely worth a pickup for even the casual fan. The visuals and style presented instantly connect the player with this new IP, but it falls short in the combat’s execution and ends up feeling like a “woulda, shoulda, coulda” scenario. Platinum Games has developed a fine blueprint. Should they decide to build upon that in a sequel, and with their pedigree, they will have a wonderful franchise to take with them to the next generation. More, more, more!
This review was based on a retail version of the PlayStation 3 version of Anarchy Reigns, developed by Platinum Games and published by SEGA.
- Respectable Attempt to Revive Beat em Ups
- Great Visual Style
- Interesting Multiplayer
- Combat Falls Short
- Slight Graphical Hiccups