Anarchy Reigns | reviews, news & interviews
Is this the vanguard of a bloodthirsty beat-'em-up resurgence?
Once upon a time (in the Nineties), Japanese game developers ruled the world. Now, with the notable exception of Nintendo, gamers seem to look more to the west for the most exciting and innovative interactive entertainment.
Happily, the setting sun hasn't stopped Platinum Games, a collective of Japanese superstar developers, mounting a last-ditch effort to create new twists on traditional game styles. Platinum people have been responsible for Viewtiful Joe (side-scrolling platforming), Vanquish (shoot-'em-up speed meets over-the-shoulder Gears of War-style combat) and Bayonetta (Devil May Cry with a lady). Now they've turned their hands to the venerable beat-'em-up.
The result, while wildly uneven, is an intriguing take on button-hammering melee that could point to a viable future for the genre. While Tekken, Dead Or Alive and SoulCalibur have pursued ever-better graphics and body physics (specifically in the female chest area), Anarchy Reigns has gone back to the multi-level chaos of series such as Power Stone for inspiration. It looks scrappier, but it's a lot more fun.
Controls are classic brawler simple – two types of attack, grab, block, jump and two power-ups earned through pulling off combat moves. Working these together, though, makes for a versatile range of attacks and counter-attacks. Plus each of 18 playable characters, while sharing the same move set, has radically different styles of melee, weaponry and timing to master.
Timing is everything in Anarchy Reigns – it's the key to landing successful combination blows or dodging out of others' grasp. The single-player mode, sparse and unfinished-feeling, is merely a training ground where you learn button timings and best fighting technique for two key characters. The real anarchy happens online.
In multi-player, up to 16 combatants simultaneously fight it out in arenas littered with weaponry to pick up, objects to jump off or smash opponents against amid interactive events (a plane crashes into the middle of one). To maximise anarchy, game modes don't just include standard all-against-all death matches, but also bloody variants on tag-team fights, Capture the Flag and even American Football.
With innovative modes based on modern online play also comes a levelling-up system of perks and prizes, stolen from first-person shooters like Call of Duty. Those perks, handed to persistent players, add to the desire to keep fighting, but do mean you'll be starting on an uneven playing field, full of battle-hardened brawlers.
The learning curve will be too steep for most people who didn't grow up with fighting games, and there's little to help even experienced players through the first few hours of being someone else's punchbag. This, combined with the tacked-on single player mode, is a serious problem. As is the simultaneous arrival of the more westernised, slicker and story-led DmC Devil May Cry reboot. Still, the cheap price and unusual approach may yet see Anarchy Reigns act as the vanguard for a new bloodthirsty and online beat-'em-up resurgence.
Anarchy Reigns is out now. Developed by Platinum Games and published by Sega. Platform: PS3, Xbox 360
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