The spiritual successor to Platinum Games’ cult classic Madworld, Anarchy Reigns (known as Max Anarchy in Japan) built up considerable interest and frustration from fans prior to its release. The game was delayed twice from its initial planned release date of January 2012; first pushed back to July, when it was released in Japan, then once again delayed to January 2013 in North America. This second hold had a number of fans crying foul at Sega, since the game was fully localized for North American release by July. The backlash subsided when in the final months leading up to US publication, it was announced that Anarchy Reigns would retail for only $30, and that Platinum’s popular gun-toting witch Bayonetta would be included as a free downloadable character for those who pre-ordered the game. After playing it, however, it becomes clear that it was not worth the wait, and that all the perks offered by Sega & Platinum don’t make up for a boring experience.

Set in a dystopian future where warring nations and industrial greed have rendered the world almost uninhabitable, humanity relies on genetic mutations and cybernetic enhancements in order to survive. With crime prevalent in many cities, strict, almost dictatorial law enforcement agencies have been established to preserve order, employing lethal force as needed. When a top ranking official of one such agency goes rogue as a murder suspect, two men are on his trail. Jack Cayman, the chainsaw-armed bounty hunter from Madworld, was hired by the fugitive’s daughter to bring him back alive. But he might not be willing to do so since the target, Max Caxton, was inadvertently responsible for the death of Jack’s daughter in a botched operation – finding him presents the perfect opportunity to get revenge. The other chaser is Leo Victorion, an agent of the Bureau of Public Safety, Max’s former department. Leo looked up to Max as a mentor and is determined to bring him in safely, despite the shoot to kill orders issued by his superiors. These two must survive the chaos that surrounds them in order to complete their missions, but what will happen when they cross paths?

As is the case with most Platinum titles, the plot suffers from considerable tonal inconsistencies. Both Jack and Leo’s campaigns try to handle serious themes; the quest for revenge in the first, the fight for justice against a corrupt legal system in the second. There are some good concepts present, enhanced with great lines from the characters. But unfortunately, it falls into the trap of not meshing with the over-the-top spectacle of the gameplay. It’s difficult to take deep personal struggles seriously when they’re occuring in between bouts of gory overkill. There are some good comedic moments seen in dry exchanges between characters, and the wisecracks of the bounty hunting pimp known as the Blacker Baron can draw a few laughs. However, quite a few jokes end up falling flat, most notably the groan-worthy animal puns offered by Big Bull and the incredibly annoying pig man Oinkie. Several pop-culture references are thrown in for no reason other than to simply be there, such as when a ninja makes an “Over 9000” comment, or when Leo shouts “I am the law!” after killing an enemy; they’re unnecessary throwaway gags that add nothing. I think Platinum should’ve gone for either a strictly comedic narrative, or a more serious title with gameplay that reflected a dramatic tone.

While Anarchy Reigns is the follow-up to Madworld, it regretfully lacks the appeal of its predecessor. There are only four stages in the entire game, all small in scale, all looking very generic, and all lacking environmental hazards. You can do old classics like stick tires around an opponent and drive a signpost through his head, but that’s basically all you can do aside from knocking them off platforms or using an explosive barrel or canister of liquid nitrogen. Some areas waste the opportunity for hazards by having large fans and electric signs that you’re unable to throw enemies into. The biggest disappointment comes during a boss fight against a giant kraken which is killed by the blade of an excavator – in a cutscene. Variety is offered with weapon vending machines that distribute some impressive gear: rocket launchers, bombs, electrified traps. The only problem is that these slot machines activate randomly, meaning you can go through an entire stage without getting to use them. Other failed attemps to add variety to the otherwise dull levels are random events like planes flying overhead to carpet bomb the area, black hole generators that transport anyone caught in them to another part of the level, or a pulse of microwave energy that will wipe out everything. All these offer are distractions.

Combat also seems to have been neutered. I already mentioned the lack of environmental hazards and weapon problems, but they’re only some of the issues present. The attacks present are standard light and heavy, plus one special move that drains health when used. There’s very little vareity, not to mention little difference between Jack and Leo’s attacks. Over time, multiple attacks will build up a Rampage meter which, when activated, makes the character temporarily invulnerable and doesn’t drain any power or health when using special attacks, removing more of what little challenge there already was. Anarchy Reigns carries over Madworld’s mechanic of requiring a specific number of points to advance. But since there are less opportunities for creative kills, it takes a very long time to rack up points, requiring you to go around and kill many enemies with conventional tactics. This quickly turns the fighting into a chore. A quicker way to build up points is through the “free” missions which open once a certain value has been obtained. Unfortunately, these are mostly variations on “kill as many opponents in a certain time limit as possible”, with an occasional escort mission. Over time, enemies will stop spawning, forcing you to replay these missions if you haven’t accumulated enough points. Even the boss fights are mediocre, descending into simple brawls with no real challenge or strategy involved other than button mashing. A targeting option is offered while fighting, but it’s basically unnecessary. Some of the battle animations are impressive, but the spectacle wears off quickly. As mentioned before, the small number of levels makes the game criminally short – both characters’ story missions can be completed in about 4 hours total. Platinum’s games tend to be short but make up for it due to the replay value, though this game is clearly the exception.

If there is one positive thing I can say about Anarchy Reigns, it’s that the graphics are incredible. Platinum knows how to create well-detailed characters and worlds, which shows here. The color, texture and shading help give life to what is a mostly lifeless world. However, it’s more effective in enhancing the cast rather than the levels, which still seem uninspired. Animations flow well in cutscenes, but during face-to-face conversations the lip-synching is badly off. One odd design choice I found didn’t fit the theme was giving the enemies blue blood. I know they’re supposed to be mutants, but seeing viscous blue goo splatter about just comes off as some strange, like unnecessary censorship you’d see in an early 4Kids license. Voice acting is also top quality; Steve Blum and Masasa Moyo step back into the roles of Jack and Amala with the same great characterization they employed before. Newcomer Jon Curry provides Leo with the tone of a passionate, yet conflicted officer of the law, while Kim Mai Guest and Zach McGowan excel in portraying the no-nonsense, almost brutal personas of his Russian colleagues Sasha and Nikolai. Arif S. Kinchen steps into the role of the Blacker Baron, and while he does a good job, it lacks the appeal of Remo Wilson’s earlier performance. The absolute worst has to be Yuri Lowenthal’s Oinkie – as has been said many times before, deliberately annoying is still annoying. The soundtrack, much like Madworld’s, has some catchy beats even if the lyrics aren’t that memorable.

 The game offers several multiplayer modes like free-for-all brawls and capture the flag missions, which allows players to brawl as the characters they unlock during progression of the story mission. Strangely, there is no local multiplayer co-op; it can only be done online. Platinum missed a great opportunity for a party fighting game in the vein of Super Smash Bros by making this decision. Even if there was a chance for local co-op, though, it would still feel wasted since the only stages you can fight in are the four found in the story missions and the characters have only a few relatively unimpressive attacks.

In the end, Anarchy Reigns feels phoned in. There’s no challenge or fun to be derived from this game; it’s just boring. Platinum could’ve improved this title greatly by making it a better-developed multiplayer fighting game like SoulCalibur or Marvel vs. Capcom by including more levels, offering more combo attacks, and giving each character a small, individual storyline for single-player. But they didn’t take this chance, and the end result is a tedious slog. If you want to see a better example of Platinum’s work, check out their past titles. Madworld, Bayonetta and Vanquish all show what the studio is capable of when they’re working at the top of their game. Avoid Anarchy Reigns; it’s mindless entertainment that forgets to be entertaining.

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