“It’s not the tool, compadre, it’s how you fuck people up with it!”
This is how chainsaw-wielding Madworld protagonist, Jack Cayman, justifies his choice of weapon to the high-tech “Cybrid” lawkeeper Leonhardt “Leo” Victorion in a particularly snarky mid-battle exchange in Anarchy Reigns, and curiously enough, that seems to be the game’s design mentality.
You see, Anarchy Reigns’s combat is a little bit like a chainsaw, simple and maybe a bit rusty. It uses the tried and true square-is-light-attack, triangle-is-heavy-attack, circle-is-grab layout that we’ve seen before. Changing things up a bit is the “Killer Weapon” modifier (L2), which will activate whatever your character’s weapon of choice is, allowing you access to more damaging and wider reaching attacks as long as you have your Killer Weapon gauge filled. Light killer attacks can be chained together (costing one bar per attack out of a full gauge of four ) and heavy killer attacks cost two bars and will treat you to a fancy little mini-cutscene of your character eviscerating your opponent if it connects properly.
You’ve also got a “Rampage” gauge that fills slowly, but causes your character to burst into flame and attack ludicrously fast while giving you unlimited use of your Killer Weapon. It’s solid, if workmanlike stuff, but I never was blown away by what the combat allowed me to do. However, as Jack says, the tool isn’t what’s important, and Anarchy Reigns has a lot of interesting ways to “fuck people up.”
Anarchy Reigns is not a game that’s meant to be played alone, but it still provides a single-player campaign with a rather baffling story about governmental and legal system corruption and a revenge plot that doesn’t really go anywhere, but going through it feels disjointed. When you start a campaign, you choose which of two stories you want to play through. Black Side is about Jack and his quest for revenge against/bounty hunt for the seemingly insane ex-cop master of “Cybrid Arts” Maxwell Caxton. White Side has Leo hunting down Max as well, but their mentor-student relationship has him looking for answers instead of blood.
Regardless of which side you choose, you’ll be tasked with going through the four main maps and beating on the really weak, practically un-comboable cannon fodder enemies until you get enough points for the first side mission to show up. There are quite a few side missions where you’ll be tasked with killing a set amount of enemies in a set amount of time, with enemy difficulty ranging from the typical rabble you can kill two hits to the giant reptilian Berserkers who can kill you in two hits. The harder the enemies get, the more fun the missions become.
Cybrid Joes (a human-sized robot with a hand-to-hand fighting style aided by fire), for example, have a number of heavy-damage attacks that it’s impossible to knock them out of, so fighting them becomes an exercise in learning when to stop attacking and dodge. If you simply try to mash square against them like you can do with most of the other enemies in the game, you’ll get kicked in the head. It teaches you to be more reserved and learn to watch the enemy more carefully as you attack.
Other side missions get a bit weirder. You might be knocking giant spheres into goals, carrying a briefcase from one point of a map to another, racing a hovercraft around a changing makeshift racecourse (and running over enemies in the process), or a ride on a giant berserker that culminates in a kaiju-esque battle with a giant mech called Cthulu.
However, the side missions kind of feel like half-finished ideas and are rarely as fun as the main missions, which generally stick to the one-on-one or team battle format (with occasional injections of cannon fodder). I’ve long been a proponent of more “human-sized” bosses in action games, and the main missions are mostly a collection of just that. Aside from containing some zingy and profane dialogue, these fights pit you against enemies who basically have the same toolset you do and give you an opportunity to experiment with how your combos would work against another player. For instance, I spent a lot of time during boss fights figuring out how to properly launch a stunned enemy, start an air combo, then finish them off with an aerial heavy Killer Weapon attack throughout most of Jack’s main missions.
However, some of the shine drops away when you finish one “side” of the story and the game unceremoniously denies you an ending until you… do practically the same thing with the other character. It’s the same format all over again, with the same cannon fodder enemies, but a couple of different missions. It seems like the game would be better served with a more traditional fighting game-y progression, with each character having a shorter story, but as it stands you’ve just got Jack and Leo with occasional options to play as other characters.
That said, despite how repetitive and occasionally underwhelming campaign is, it’s basically training for online multiplayer, familiarizing you with shortcuts through each stage and unlocking (almost) every character. However, even with the extended training mode that is campaign (and mostly platinum ranks in each main and side mission), I was immediately stomped when I went online.
My first Team Deathmatch basically resulted in each member of my team lining up one by one to get destroyed by a team that worked very well. That match, I got my team’s only two kills. I also got a painful taste of what the game calls ATEs (Action Trigger Events). Every so often, something random will happen in the map. Maybe a bomber bombs on everyone or a black hole will open up and send players all around the map. It’s chaos that isn’t always welcome (because a number of them like to trigger an overlong unskippable cutscene right in the middle of one of your combos), but it kept things interesting, even as my team was decimated.
My first 16-player Battle Royale was similarly unfortunate, but I learned that being an opportunist paid off. The game marks the players with the most points (gained by hitting or killing enemies) on the map with little crowns, and killing them will transfer a sizable chunk of those points to you, a rule that carries through practically every online mode. Playing like a hyena and only running into the chaos to pick off a player with low health can be handy, especially since each kill will bring you closer to “leveling up” which extends your health bar. This in turn makes it easier for you to win one-on-one brawls, but will make you a more attractive target since you’ll net your killer more points.
But Deathmatch (4 player free-for-all), Team Deathmatch (4 vs. 4), Tag Battle (2 vs. 2 vs. 2 vs. 2) and Battle Royale (16 player), and other typical match setups are only a part of Anarchy Reigns’s multiplayer. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Survival, because it’s basically campaign mode condensed and made harder. Here, cannon fodder are actually comboable, able to take more than two hits, and they come at you across 10 waves. You have 10 minutes to clear the whole thing with two allies (optimally friends) and the last wave either a giant boss from campaign or something similarly challenging (my personal favorite was an assortment of colorful robots that posed like Power Rangers). It’s lighthearted stuff for when you’re frustrated over constant death in one of the other modes and just want to relax with friends.
Death Ball was another mode that was more fun than it had any right to be. Two teams of four battle over control of a shiny light, (which will be knocked from one player to another with a good hit) and if one team holds it for long enough, the opponent’s goal opens. From there, the person who has the ball can either run the ball into the goal or take a shot. Some shots are particularly flashy, but they can also be blocked if you get in front of the ball and mash the button that’s prompted onscreen fast enough. You’ll see strategies develop on the fly. Some players will just run around in their half of the court until the enemy’s goal opens up, some players will just try to kill the other team’s top scorers so they can’t score, and other players will just run blocks. It’s the most fun I’ve had with a “sports” game since Tecmo Bowl on the NES.
Perhaps my biggest complaint with the game is the grievous lack of local multiplayer. There’s an active online community at the moment, but the fact that I can’t just bring friends over to enjoy a game of Death Ball is tragic. I still play Power Stone 2 with my friends, and this taps into some of that same joy, but it’s just a shame that it only lets me play by myself or online.
While Anarchy Reigns might not be the most enjoyable tool from a sheer combat perspective, the game does a lot with what it has. It can be absolutely infuriating at times (coming in last in a Battle Royale while playing who are mostly rank 50 one of my earlier matches stands out, as does the slog of the repeated campaign), but it also has moments of pure, unadulterated joy.
Food for Thought:
1. I want to make note of the fantastic soundtrack. Naoto Tanaka’s hip-hop collaborations just make this game. While some of the lyrics are a bit silly, they set the tone really well for whatever game type you’re playing. I can’t imagine the game with any other music else behind it, because the soundtrack is so distinctive and so unusual for this kind of game.
2. While I didn’t particularly care for the story, the profanity-and-innuendo-laden banter got a couple of chuckles out of me, partially due to some strong voice acting. I do think that they used the “Bullshit” pun with Big Bull one too many times though.