Anarchy Reigns review: flair for fighting

There's been an air of anticipation for Anarchy Reigns, understandable given its baffling delays here in North America. Now that it has finally arrived, Platinum's 3D brawler thoroughly scratches the itch for off-the-wall mayhem, even if some of its ambitious multiplayer efforts fall a bit short.


The story for Anarchy Reigns should satisfy fans of Platinum's underrated 2009 Wii-exclusive action romp, Madworld. The plot follows the search for a rogue fugitive named Maximillian Caxton over the course of two distinctive single-player campaigns--one that follows Madworld's Jack Cayman, and another featuring newcomer Leo. The main difference between the two campaigns is perspective, as Jack and Leo cross paths several times. The overall story is over-the-top popcorn flick material, and it merely serves as an excuse to unleash total carnage and smash enemies' heads like melons across a large sandbox.

Part of what makes Anarchy Reigns entertaining is that there are so many different ways to crush heads. Players can unleash multiple-hit combos, with both strikes and grapple moves readily available. Combos are easy to pull off, and there's never a shortage of targets in the campaign, as enemies will constantly spawn in from different parts of the map. Players can also use hard-hitting "killer weapon" attacks as a heavier strike or to complete a combo. Examples of these attacks include Jack's chainsaw or fellow Madworld returnee Blacker Baron's flaming gauntlets. Missions only open up after reaching a certain score, so the large variety of moves and combos helps freshen up what would otherwise be a dull grindfest.

Missions also offer a wide assortment of tasks. Some require a one-on-one fight with one of the game's cast members, while others require beating up a number of goons before a time limit. That's to be expected, but Anarchy Reigns also thinks outside the box with some of their missions. One such mission required me to race around an obstacle course with a flamethrower-equipped hovercart, while another had me taking on a giant kraken.

With the campaign completed and numerous characters unlocked, I was excited to take the fight to online multiplayer. Unfortunately, this is where Anarchy Reigns started to get too ambitious for its own good. While a 16-player Battle Royale sounds good on paper, it's absolute chaos in practice--and not in a good way. Attempting to execute combos in a free-for-all atmosphere is almost impossible and a lot of the gameplay that makes the game fun isn't on the table, as players resort to blindly striking and grabbing. Battle royales and deathmatches proved to be a disappointment.

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That's not to say there aren't good multiplayer options. Deathball is one of the most innovative game modes I've ever seen in a fighting game. Teams of up to four must hold onto a ball long enough to open their respective goals and toss it in for a score. These games get extremely chaotic, as everyone is desperately beating the tar out of each other in an effort to gain possession. Those looking for a more traditional fighting game experience can engage in one-on-one battles in Cage Match, where players looking to show off their biggest combos can do so within the confines of hard steel.

One complaint that I can't register against multiplayer is repetitiveness and that's thanks to the Action Trigger Events (A.T.E.) system. Each multiplayer session may see a random event trigger, such as a carpet bombing or a poison gas attack. These events affect all players and drastically alter the course of the game. One instance saw three players going at it in a wide open space, completely ignoring the bombing run heading their way. You'd be surprised how easy it is to ignore imminent doom in the middle of a Capture the Flag game.

Anarchy Reigns should be applauded for its variety and the new ideas it brings to the brawling genre. Even if some of the punches miss the mark, it's still a blast to smash hapless goons in different ways. And as long as there are people in the non-deathmatch lobbies, I'll crack my knuckles and come in for another round.

This Anarchy Reigns review was based on a retail version of the game for Xbox 360 provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 3.