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Anarchy Reigns review: A rocket-fist and a hard place


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The world has descended into anarchy as the remnants of governments bomb one another, scramble for power and generally make a mess of our once lovely planet. As a side effect of nuclear war and chemical proliferation, the populace begins to mutate, only able to stave off physical disfigurement with advanced technology. Or something like that. The story of Platinum Games' Anarchy Reigns isn't terribly important, and the premise is conveyed entirely via a long wall of text during the first loading screen.

It's all merely a backdrop for what's really important: punching things with rocket-fists.

Gallery: Anarchy Reigns (1/9/13) | 31 Photos

Anarchy Reigns straddles the line between character action games, like Platinum's own Bayonetta, and traditional beat-em-ups like Final Fight. The attack combinations aren't as varied as the former, but they're more complex than the latter. In fact, there are times when Anarchy Reigns feels like Dynasty Warriors, minus the flood of enemies on screen. Combat is broken up into weak and strong attacks, throws and "killer weapon" attacks. Each character has a different weapon – double chainsaws, energy blades, etc. Each character also has a handful of unique combinations, but the list of moves is relatively short.

In the single-player mode, these moves hardly matter anyway, as the majority of enemies are little more than fodder, exploding into nasty mutant goo after two or three normal attacks. Some enemies take more punishment, notably the massive mutants. Unfortunately, they aren't really more difficult than regular enemies, they just take longer to kill. The same goes for most of the boss characters, who are generally pushovers on normal difficulty.

Despite some good vocal performances, the entire single-player campaign rarely feels like anything but a compulsory slog. There are two campaigns, each based on a different character but containing similar missions, including a few straight-up repeats. I hope you enjoyed the protracted kraken fight the first time. Honestly, it's hard to escape the feeling that the majority of each campaign is just padding (hover-sled race? What?) or even that Platinum didn't want to design a single-player game in the first place. The notion seems likely, especially considering how much better the multiplayer component is.

Anarchy Reigns was clearly designed as a multiplayer game, which is bizarre once you understand exactly what that means: Anarchy Reigns is really a multiplayer, deathmatch-focused beat-em-up. What's even weirder is that it kind of works.

Depending on the mode, up to 16 players can drop into an arena and go at it. Again, the combat mechanics aren't very deep, but it's definitely more engaging to fight against a human being than the milquetoast AI. Adding to the experience are levels filled with items and dynamic events that alter the course of a fight. One second you're pummeling someone, the next a plane loses control, giving everyone a few seconds to clear the area before it crashes and explodes. Down on kills? Find an item slot machine and hope for a rocket launcher.

As a side note, while I enjoyed the traditional deathmatch modes, I think my favorite mode may be Death Ball. Two teams of players compete to get a ball into the opposing teams goal by any means necessary. Said means usually involve death and dismemberment, but solid teamwork is a must as well.

Playing against real people reveals some of the game's flaws, though. It's difficult to tell which moves will counter others (no precision reversals or blocks here). The camera often has trouble keeping up with a target, especially at close range. Once, I hit someone directly with a special move, only to watch him walk through it as if nothing had happened. It certainly takes skill to play well – and there's no denying that it's fun to bludgeon someone with a car – but the shallow combat probably won't have long-term appeal outside of the most dedicated players.

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Even a week after release, there don't seem to be that many players online. I often sat for minutes at a time in lobbies, just waiting for enough players to show up. Granted, I wasn't playing during peak hours, but to see so few players this close to launch doesn't bode well. Even with enough players, matchmaking is imperfect, with the status of several players often stuck on "waiting," preventing the match from starting. Beyond that, I've seen a full lobby get disconnected just as a match was ready to begin – and that happened more than once.

In the end, Anarchy Reigns is difficult to quantify. The characters are well-designed and the story well-performed, but actually playing through the campaign is a chore. The multiplayer can be great, especially in the team or Death Ball modes, but the limited combat is bound to wear thin before too long, and matchmaking troubles are irritating. You won't exactly find a lot of competitive, multiplayer beat-em-ups out there, let alone one that generally works well, but that fact alone isn't enough to carry Anarchy Reigns. Not even with rocket-fists.

This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Anarchy Reigns, provided by Sega.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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