Seeds of inspiration
Platinum Games are fast becoming notorious for targeting an unsuspecting Western audience with esoteric twists on their favourite genres.
Back in 2009, they saw fit to release an ultra-violent, Sin City-style brawler (MadWorld) for the console Nintendo had successfully sold to wholesome families everywhere and a hardcore, sci-fi RPG (Infinite Space) for a handheld far better acquainted with a regular Pokémon release. Last year they rounded off their four game Sega deal with the critically acclaimed angel-basher, Bayonetta, and Vanquish’s knee-skidding take on the third-person shooter. And yet, before the year was out, they had announced they would be back with a fifth game in the partnership – Anarchy Reigns.
Currently slated for a January 2012 release, Anarchy Reigns sees the studio playing to their beat-‘em-up strengths with a spiritual successor to MadWorld that takes the characters and bloody violence of the Wii bloodbath and combines them with Bayonetta’s stylish, combo-heavy combat. It was in these games that the late Clover Studios’ roots were most apparent, so it should be little surprise that early demos see Anarchy Reigns’ multiplayer brawls showing off as much of Viewtiful Joe and God Hand’s lineage as it does its immediate parentage.
Seeds of chaos
The mechanics are deceptively simple: combat involves light and heavy attacks, grabs and character-specific weapon specials coupled with a block button, an overdrive ‘Rampage’ trigger and a target-lock that sharpens the cumbersome over-the-shoulder perspective – that’s it.
The move set is sparse, and yet, when put to practise, Anarchy Reigns more than lives up to its title. Maps expand to impressive size – with multi-level environments making death-from-above surprise attacks a constant threat; power ups are unpredictable – from character buffs to the ability to transport you out of your surroundings and in to forced one-on-one combat; and a range of ‘Action Trigger Events’ can derail skirmishes with black holes, tsunamis and mutant outbreaks where players must set aside their differences in an impromptu horde mode.
Seeds of destruction
Despite featuring MadWorld’s protagonist Jack again coming to blows with Big Bull, Mathilda, the Blacker Baron (still unsettling for being stereotypical black pimp) and a new ‘Leo’ to replace the character of the previous game, Anarchy Reigns is not MadWorld 2, nor is it simply MadWorld Multiplayer. It maintains the brutal cartoon-style of its predecessor, but with a vibrant palette in place of MadWorld’s monochromatic dinge. There are also no more context-sensitive environmental finishers. Instead fights are peppered with the flowing combos that made Bayonetta so intensely playable. Even the setting is different, swapping the Running Man thunderdome for a post-apocalyptic… thunderdome.
Multiplayer is undeniably the game’s focus, but Platinum have also included two single-player campaigns from the perspectives of Jack and Leo for offline play. Alternately offering a ‘light’ and a ‘dark’ skew on the game world (whatever a lighter or darker view of a cartoon post-apocalyptic deathmatch looks like), these give players a chance to get to grips with the game’s maps and basic elements of combat while also unlocking characters for the all-important multiplayer.
Multiplayer game modes currently being shown include capture the flag, cage fights, survival and a Battle Royale deathmatch. All can be played with up to 8 players online and can become pretty intense with a decent crowd. Battles are scored by more than just kill counts with weapon usage, revenge kills, killing sprees and number of deaths being calculated in to your final tally.
Seeds of dissent
The biggest question surrounding the game in its current state is to what extent it will work as a competitive multiplayer experience. Combos are fluid but uninspired, and have little to do with skill or nuance, and while Super Smash Bros long ago proved that basic mechanics and unpredictable variables need not preclude strategic play, Anarchy Reigns in action is more of a distracting button-masher than a lasting contest of skills.
That blinkered third-person perspective may also become an issue as it doesn’t always mesh well with the game’s wide maps, and it’s easy to become lost or overwhelmed in the action. This isn’t helped when attacks can come in from all sides and holding an enemy in your sights will often leave you exposed to those behind.
These flaws are significant enough to cause concern at this early stage, but they are far from fatal, and those familiar with the hardcore challenge of God Hand may even fondly remember them as just another factor in the gameplay. In fact, there is certainly plenty of reason to hope that in Anarchy Reigns is the seed of a great multiplayer experience, crying to get out.
Who knows – maybe Platinum Games will once again defy expectations and bring us the twist on the beat-‘em-up we need, if not necessarily the one we deserve.