Developer: Platinum Games
Author's note: I originally intended this article to be a dedicated import review for Max Anarchy since SEGA mysteriously delayed the European release of Anarchy Reigns into 2013. However, both the Japanese PS3 and Xbox 360 versions are region free, fully localised into English, allow you to play on any regional servers and automatically display the correct language depending on your console's region settings. This is therefore going to serve as a full review for Anarchy Reigns, but import-specific observations will be called out in italics. - Jonathan
Half-measures mean nothing to Platinum Games. As we recently discussed in our weekly love-fest column, the veteran studio approaches development with the sole purpose of defining their target genre, to make it their own, to deliver an experience that pushes the boundaries of what it can offer. Anarchy Reigns is another case in point: a multiplayer brawler that allows sixteen simultaneous players to fight to the death as the entire world goes to hell, fighters carpet bomb the stages, tectonic plates shift beneath their feet and mutants prowl the city streets. As a three dimensional beat 'em up with a multiplayer focus, it's an odd and weighty beast, playing out much like a satisfying mix of Power Stone, God Hand and Prototype.
But Anarchy Reigns is infinitely more than just another multiplayer brawler. Instead of copying their own back catalogue and their competitors, Platinum instead decided to lavish the genre with a staggering amount of depth, enormous environments and their own trademark brand of unpredictable insanity, elevating it into a truly hardcore game that appeals directly to skilled players - and competes directly with the very best that the online multiplayer console scene has to offer. Combined with a hefty singleplayer component, sixteen nuanced characters and a personality best described as 'certifiable,' Anarchy Reigns is a very special game indeed.
In fact, it could well be the most enjoyable and fully-featured multiplayer game of the year... regardless of genre and platform.
As a third person brawler set in a gutted selection of apocalyptic cityscapes, Anarchy Reigns certainly subscribes to some familiar mechanical conventions. You'll move with the left stick, deploy some short light and heavy combos with the face buttons, block with the right trigger and evade with a quick flick of the stick. Jumps and aerial attacks are on hand, as are throws, counters and charge attacks. All characters also have access to a chargeable Killer Weapon (perhaps a double chainsaw, jet-powered hammer or seductive spiked belt), which deals out ruinous damage and can be worked into regular combos. Each attack imparts a pleasing sense of weight and power, smashing enormous craters into the tarmac floors and walls. Throws pummel foes a full foot into the ground, concrete shattering under the enormity of your blows. The action is fast, empowering, colourful, responsive and furiously mental, exactly what you'd expect from a Platinum-developed title. Especially when cars start flying through the air with gleeful abandon.
However, Anarchy Reigns is a very different animal to Bayonetta, which put the focus on staggeringly long fluid combos. In a multiplayer environment, locking players into unbreakable chains would have been a dealbreaker, and thus Platinum has changed the rhythm of the combat by introducing relatively short discrete combos that can be chained together at a moment's notice. You'll switch from swift 3-5 second melee combos to evade rolls, throws or Killer Weapon strikes as the situation demands, giving enemies a chance to block or counter while empowering you with an opportunity to vary up your tactics on a second-by-second basis. It's a tense, staccato rhythm that prioritises unbalancing your opponent and encourages unpredictability over memorising preset go-to combos.
The camera takes a little getting used to. Anarchy Reigns forces players to take responsibility of their camera angle and actually use the right stick to keep an eye on your surroundings. Though you can lock onto enemies and switch targets on the fly, this also serves to decrease your peripheral vision, meaning that you'll have to tactically drop in and out of the mode depending on the situation.
The cast of Sixteen playable characters are all lavishly over-designed, as is Platinum's custom, with each powerful miscreant boasting a unique silhouette, recognisable colour palette, a custom Killer Weapon and unique skills (indeed, I feel that all of the characters deserve to be the star of their own game). Jack Cayman, MadWorld's antihero, makes a triumphant return as a balanced combatant who totes both speed and chainsaw-powered brute force, while bigger characters such as an enormous robot can throw two regular-sized foes simultaneously, balanced by a slower speed. That said, it can also turn into a jet once maximum velocity is achieved, even allowing other teammates to hop on board. Lithe female brawlers bring increased speed and manoeuvrability to the fray without sacrificing power, sporting their own unique Killer Weapons that manifest into bladed whips, glaives or icicle projectors (no, really). Regardless of who you choose, all of the characters are perfectly balanced and support different play styles, with no one combatant dominating the online arena.
When thrown into a selection of brilliantly-designed maps with fifteen other players, all of which feature various choke points, a huge amount of verticality, environmental hazards, cars to throw at enemies or signposts to impale them with, the action is absolutely, wonderfully hectic. Anarchy Reigns comes fully loaded with an entire suite of game modes, from small scale deathmatches to objective-based modes and big team gametypes, but the main event is set to stand tall as one of this generation's most fulfilling multiplayer experiences: the sixteen player Battle Royale.
Entire city blocks become your playground, from the rooftops of giant skyscrapers to tunnels and maze-like streets. Debris fills the air as enormous fracas dynamically erupt around the map, with multiple players beating each other down or hanging on the periphery to use turrets, collect items or dart into the fray to take out any stragglers. Sometimes players are designated as bounty targets, or whisked away into a 1v1 Street Fighter-style arena while the battle rages below. It's by far the most enjoyable and manic multiplayer experience I've encountered in years - one that, frankly, makes the likes of Super Smash Bros look pretty boring in comparison.
Just when you think that the action can't get any more ludicrous, Platinum Games deploy their coup de grace: Anachy Time Events (well, that's technically not what the ATE acronym stands for, but it really should be). Ridiculous things happen at random intervals that completely switches up the field of play. Perhaps a squad of jets will carpet bomb the stage, forcing the action under cover. Maybe a bladed truck will smash through the level, scattering players in its wake and deploying squads of mutants who charge into the battle and make a fine mess of things. Poison gas floods the lower levels, typhoons and black holes make cars fall like rain, and even entire continental plates shift position under your feet to radically alter the level design. These unscripted, randomised moments make every match feel unique, and ensure that no two games are ever the same. Plus, of course, they're utterly insane. There's a huge amount of depth on offer, supporting skilled players willing to fully memorise the characters and the maps, rivalling even games like Battlefield 3 or Counter-Strike in terms of hardcore appeal.
Import note: Latency can be a killer for any online game, and I encountered it when playing on the Japanese servers - especially when throwing an enemy, countering or evading. However, after finding some matches against fellow importers in the US and Europe, I can report that this is simply down to server location, not patchy netcode.
If you're considering buying an import copy, I'd highly recommend that you get it on PS3. Both versions are functionally identical, but the Xbox 360 hasn't sold well in Japan and the online player base is noticeably smaller.
Impressively, Anarchy Reigns' singleplayer component is infinitely more than just a tutorial or botmatch suite (though both are present and correct, providing plenty of extra value as well as opportunities to practice). Instead, you'll be able to sink your teeth into a meaty campaign comprising a selection of challenge stages bound together by sprawling free-roaming overworld city levels, which allow you to get a handle on the multiplayer maps, unlock new characters and perks. Though most of the challenges consist of killing a certain number of enemies against a time limit, variety abounds; including massive boss battles, hanging upside-down underneath a drone helicopter, defending a cowering bartender robot or pummelling an enormous cyborg kraken the size of a skyscraper.
The scripted singleplayer arenas also allow Platinum to flex their imaginative muscles and serve to make players feel much more powerful. Enemies can be punched in half by regular attacks, sliced into thin steaks with killer weapons or slammed into concrete craters; making up for their weakness in overwhelming numbers. Climactic arena battles lead to tense one-on-one beatdowns, while robotic helicopters can be hijacked or cheekily destroyed by catching their missiles in mid-air and throwing them right back. And did I mention the cyber-Kraken? A visual novel-style storyline holds the action together nicely and provides a fair few laughs along the way.
Import note: the singleplayer campaign will be a key way to get to grips with the characters and their unique abilities since the instruction manual is entirely written in Japanese. Be sure to hone your skills before heading online.
Anarchy Reigns presents its outrageous action at an unimpeachable 60 FPS, but Platinum clearly had to make a couple of sacrifices in order to do so. The first of which is immediately obvious: the graphics aren't much to write home about. Platinum's personable character design make Anarchy Reigns look good, but some murky texture-work and some graphical glitches betray a few unavoidably-cut corners. This is fine as far as we're concerned; as mentioned, the art style, insane action and character designs elevate Anarchy Reigns above any number of titles sporting flashier engines or feature sets. But the second compromise is infinitely more divisive; something that many players simply won't care about whereas others will likely cancel their pre-orders.
There's no local multiplayer.
In many ways, split-screen simply isn't feasible. You already need every square inch of screen space to survive, to retain your peripheral vision when fifteen other players are hurtling down from skyscrapers, throwing cars at you or manifesting razor-sharp spikes of ice to shred your torso into bloody ribbons. Sadly, though, its absence makes Anarchy Reigns a difficult import proposition, one that you won't be able to enjoy with friends unless a large group of your mates are willing to plonk down about £60-70 for a Japanese copy and shipping costs. One of the best multiplayer games of the year can't be enjoyed on a single couch, and despite being a necessary compromise, it makes the decision to buy more difficult than it should be.
I ardently hope that, come the Western release, players will flock to Anarchy Reigns and join the thriving multiplayer community it fully deserves.
- Exquisite multiplayer brawling sporting powerful and balanced mechanics
- Outrageously visceral, unpredictable and deep
- Loads of levels, characters and gametypes
- Meaty and satisfying singleplayer campaign
- Relatively weak graphics despite personality-laden visuals
- No splitscreen or local multiplayer
The Short Version: Anarchy Reigns elevates brawling into its most unpredictable, hardcore and empowering form to date, allowing it to stand tall alongside the very best online multiplayer games of this generation - regardless of genre. With a hefty singleplayer campaign, sixteen unique characters, ludicrously unpredictable matches and unparalleled depth, this really is an evolution and apex of the genre.
We love Platinum simply because they make fantastic games. Here's another one.