Mutants, if they’re not wheeling themselves around, trying to control your mind, they’re hanging around on street corners in gangs, trying to beat innocent, muscle-bound, tech-wielding psychopaths into submission. Well, innocent? Maybe not. There’s a trend around at the moment for tech-enhanced humans with super-human powers, and in Anarchy Reigns, we’ve got cyborgs a-plenty.
So it starts off on a slow burn. The background story is scrolled painfully up the right hand side of the screen and I’m immediately wondering if this was an afterthought, as if the backstory was needed to be explained in some way that is vital for later on in the game, but they simply ran out of time and threw the dialogue onto a background. Where was the animation, the dialogue? Press next and ah, there it is. It’s been packed into the menu titles. Lush rendered characters from the game, each one eventually playable in some way shape or form.
Before you dive right in, take a minute or two to wander through the training missions, they’ll help you in the long run and you’ll earn an achievement out of it.
Once you’re through with the training you can rush headlong into the campaign. This starts you off in a bar, a futuristic bar. The background is set, you’re looking for someone and you have two paths to take to get him. This is where the game throws a little kink. You’re searching for a target, yes, but there are two parties looking for them. You get to choose. Go black and play as Jack Cayman, member of the Chaser’s Guild and wielder of the Gator Tooth, a retractable, arm mounted double chainsaw. Go white and you play as Leo, Jack’s rival and a member of the elite Bureau Strike One, with charged positron blades.
You’re looking for Max, Leo’s mentor and Jack’s friends’ father, and the opening scenes give you an idea of where you need to be. So, you step out into a world of hoodie mutants, all hell-bent on making sure you don’t reach the next street corner. From here on in it’s a full-on, unapologetic beat-fest, with the occasional, incidental mission thrown in to keep the storyline going. The dialogue is well acted, but frankly awful. I’m usually the king of bad puns, but this takes the bull by the horns, shakes it until all the puns fall out then sweeps them all into big a pile and sits on the top, all smug. You get a kind of Streetfighter face-off when two characters are talking arguing. The lip-synching is non-existent; you get the feeling that it would be perfect if it was still in Japanese (the game originally released there in July 2012!). These little touches that are missing are a shame. This part would’ve been just that little more polished, and the knitting of the story itself is very weak. With a world you’re free to explore, you end up in the same places far too often and it ends up feeling like it’s an arena fight, which is exacerbated by the fact that some previously open areas are cordoned off while you are engaged in a specific mission.
These missions are usually kill or protect and escort based, with every mutant you kill being added to the gallery and unlocked as a playable character. Kill a boss, for example, Big Bull, and in one mission you get the opportunity to play as Jack or Bull to defeat a common enemy, in this case, Drones. The boss fights are the usual Japanese mental attack frenzies that we’ve come to know and love, in stages and with added minions. And there are many shapes and sizes of minion, all very well drawn and superbly animated. From gas-mask nosed hoodies, to cattle-prod wielding cyborgs, to giant mutant behemoths, they all want to put you down.
The graphics themselves are excellent. The main character is drawn and animated well, if a little sluggish to respond to the controls and combo moves which are not always picked up. On the whole they feel quite natural, but there are a few exceptions. Firing projectile weapons is cumbersome and awkward, especially as you’ll be in the heat of some hectic action and it’s so easy to get turned around. Sometimes you feel like you’ve been blindfolded, spun around and then had your skull smashed against the nearest car. This is entirely possible, seeing as quite a lot of the scenery is destructible. Cars, oil drums, road-signs, mutants, you can pick them all up and batter your opponent with them, or throw them at your enemy for maximum effect. Beware though, as sometimes the scenery fights back, there is often a runaway truck or bridge that either ploughs through the game arena or collapses over your head. It is sometimes advisable to find a safe place to hole-up, especially as to clear the streets poisonous gas is often released & you have to find a safe place to stay while it dissipates. Despite the mini-map in the Heads-up display, this is not always clear however, and could land you in hot water.
The background effects and sounds are well driven, with Jack’s Gator Tooth sounding so raspy as it slices through mutant flesh that I was considering booking it in for a service. The special kill move on the larger mutants sounds grisly to the end. Take on a mission, however, and the sound cranks up a notch. Ghetto-sweary hip-hop blasts through the free-missions and story missions alike, and you find yourself tapping along to it, in spite of yourself. If I’m going to have any complaints it’s that missions are very, very repetitive. Timed kill missions and “chaser” escort missions, all with the basic element of kick the mutants until they splurge, this, and the sluggish controls. I’d give anything for a game that will actually respond to what I’m telling it to do in a timely and accurate manner. Don’t let this detract from what is a very good, if repetitive beat ‘em up. The transparent storyline quirks and forgetful controls are just minor issues really, as you get totally distracted by the next target, waiting to see that fountain of mutant goo erupt as they die. You’ll find yourself mercilessly beating the foundry wall as I did a few times, totally caught up in a beating frenzy.
The campaign itself is disappointingly short, although once you’ve completed your chosen side, you get to do it all over again as the opposite side, only with slight variations on the missions. Finish both of these and it’s on to the mysterious Red side!
Multiplayer modes are a different kettle of fish, there are a massive 11 multiplayer modes to choose from and this is where the 16 characters you’ve unlocked come to the fore. Battle Royale is a big 16 player online death match. If you are lucky enough to get the limited edition, you’ll also get unlock codes for Bayonetta, and two extra multiplayer modes, Dogfight; where you are hanging off a plane and Mad Survival. The clincher, though, has to be a crazy, team-based free-for-all in the best Speedball traditions called Deathball. Run for the ball, grab it, run it into their goal. It all sounds so easy. Obviously, this being Anarchy Reigns, anything goes when it comes to defending your goal. The only thing I didn’t like about this mode was that the AI players don’t pass.
Overall Anarchy Reigns is a good old-fashioned mix of nice graphics, throbbing hip-hop, tech-enhanced humans and lot and lots of mutants to dismember. If you can lose yourself enough in the game enough to ignore the slightly forgetful controls and the terrible storyline, this is a sure-fire winner. A Smash TV of today, without the TV, and the prize money.