A year ago I could not have been less interested in Anarchy Reigns. I’m a big fan of Platinum Games, one of the few Japanese studios left whose commitment to original IPs has resulted in some unique and highly entertaining games, Vanquish and Bayonetta and the upcoming Metal Gear Rising among them. I remember Madworld too, their black-and-white-and-red-all-over take on The Running Man that serves as Anarchy’s loose prequel. I never finished Madworld because of a woeful camera, but its Sin City palette, an unexpectedly intricate story by Final Fantasy Tactics creator Yasumi Matsuno and its own wry attitude over the game’s copious amounts of bonkers violence stuck with me. Anarchy left a different kind of first impression.
As a pseudo-sequel we still get to play as the gruff chainsaw-for-an-arm biker bounty hunter Jack, which means the action involves a lot of sawing thugs and mutants in half in geyseral fits of spattery plasma, at least in single-player. Throughout the campaign Jack (and newcomer Leo) share cursory encounters with the rest of the game’s 15-odd cast members that become available for online play after you pummel the snot out of them. Usually I find single player aspects to a multiplayer-centric game, which Anarchy certainly is, somewhat lacking. Given that it also drops Madworld’s striking aesthetic and intelligently comic treatment of its subject matter (no Matsuno this time around), the previews I’ve seen at trade shows left me unfazed.
Eventually I played the Japanese demo on a whim at a friends’ house. While fumbling through the hiragana-strewn menus I wasn’t able to really grasp the finer points of combat. Yet as I ran around a large open-worldish urban blighted landscape experimenting with combos and cleaving goons in twain, it was enough to demonstrate the inherent personality Platinum exudes even on what appears to be a comparatively shoestring budget.
Bayonetta’s 60 FPS framerate and Vanquish’s insane proprietary engine make Anarchy’s squishy visuals feel like Platinum ported Madworld’s engine over to HD without really making any changes. I doubt that’s actually the case, but in some respects Anarchy tastes like a lower grade of developer meat. It’s all part of its charm, as much as a clunky mechanical bovine bellowing “Bullsh—t!” or the badly dubbed conversation scenes and the script’s goofy non-sequiturs you never quite know if you’re supposed to take seriously or not.
Needless to say, actually getting a little bit of hands-on time was enough for me to change my mind. Compared to Madworld’s more-contextually designed death-bringing, the brawling has been streamlined to accommodate the broad range of multiplayer fighters. For what it’s worth, gore is nowhere near as ridiculous as in Jack’s first outing, either, not that it makes much of a difference either way. Still, despite a few concessions Anarchy is just a lot of fun to play, especially on harder difficulty levels.
I can take or leave the silly narrative, which is as confusingly inconclusive as it is existentially suspect. I focused instead on the crazy background chaos events like black holes or rampaging, flame spewing semi trucks careening through each maps at random, or perfecting my combo chains and mastering defense and evasive techniques, whose details still somewhat elude me. Even on a budget Platinum has style to spare— instead of simply hitting the ground when falling off a tall tower my character becomes an asteroid entering the atmosphere with physics-defying force, for example.
Multiplayer is great too, though it’s in desperate need of a patch that adds more game creation options and parameters and lets us turn off individual players’ mic chat (I wouldn’t complain about local multiplayer via splitscreen, either). Anarchy’s strangely wonderful cast of characters offers an interesting array of fighting styles, from hulking bruiser pimps and Russian law enforcers to ninjas and spike-breasted dominatrices. In one sense it doesn’t matter who you choose, really, because you’re liable to repeatedly get rocked starting out. For one, when you first step foot in a larger battle type there will be a lot of juggling at your expense, especially if you’re facing off against a team that sticks together.
Of course, the bigger the brawls, the more enjoyably chaotic the experience becomes. The crown jewel here is the 16-player battle royale mode, which throws huge boss encounters and other environmental calamities at you even when you’re throwing down with a number of other combatants. Yeah, you might get swallowed by a giant squid just before you get to exact your revenge on that level 50 jerk who’s been repeatedly harassing you, if you’re not careful. That said, when you hit a stride with Anarchy’s combat, pulling off great superweapon combos after deflecting opponents’ grabs, it carries the kind of drunken swaggering high you’ll want to chase all day. You might even long for a more robust sequel. It’s always the scrappy ones, I guess.
Anarchy Reigns was developed by Platinum Games and published by Sega. Our review is based on the PlayStation 3 version. It also is available for the Xbox 360.
Steve Haske is a gun-for-hire journalist based out of the Pacific Northwest who writes for EGM, Edge, Unwinnable and a host of other publications. You can find him on Twitter @afraidtomerge.