This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Anarchy Reigns.
I've had the same conversation n times this week. "I've been playing Anarchy Reigns," I'd say to a friend or favourite bartender. "Never heard of it," they'd say, to which I'd reply: "You know, I've had this exact same conversation n - 1 times this week." There's "flying under the radar," but with zero hype and sneaking onto shelves in early January, Anarchy Reigns isn't so much "flying under the radar" as "riding the fucking subway." All I knew was that it's by Sega and that the name is possibly intended to be ironic because "anarchy" refers to a situation in which nobody's reigning shit. It's like naming your game "Dog Meows" or "Margaret Thatcher Cares".
But anyways, it turns out that Anarchy Reigns is a sequel to MadWorld of sorts, except that it's not on the Wii, and it's not a spectacle fighter, and it's not in cel-shaded black-and-white, so yeah, this is starting to sound like a pretty big "of sorts", isn't it? The one connecting element is the main character, Jack 'cause, y'know, there's such a fucking shortage of grizzled, macho badasses voiced by Steve Blum in gaming that we have to start recycling them now.
And then they say, "Are you buying a fucking drink or what?"
The advantage of the grizzled, macho badass voiced by Steve Blum character is that they can be slotted in and out of pretty much any situation involving violence in a generic dystopian nightmare world without having to worry about continuity too much, so in this case Jack is now a bounty hunter who's been contracted to find a missing soldier who accidentally killed Jack's six-year-old daughter. Although if this is the same Jack who got bonus points for sanding peoples' faces off with subway trains in MadWorld, then something tells me she wasn't in for a stable upbringing anyway.
Then there's another character called Leo who was the same missing soldier's protégé and who has the rather thankless task of being the Raiden to Jack's Solid Snake in that you have to play as him for half the game and he has those standard anime pretty-boy better-hope-you-don't-get-sent-to-a-prison-where-the-inmates-all-have-bad-eyesight good looks. It's not as bad as when that whining squirt of pussy-whipped cream tried to fill Solid Snake's shoes though, 'cause before we can declare Leo a worse character than Jack, we need to figure out what their characters actually are, and Anarchy Reigns has cleverly avoided this pitfall.
I can tell Anarchy Reigns has put a lot of eggs in the multiplayer basket by the ever-reliable box blurb off-handedly mentioning at the very end that "yeah, there's also a single-player campaign if you're into that, saddo!"
The game bears many of the qualities of a one-on-one fighter\ in that there are a bunch of colourful characters to play as and they're all introduced in the story by showing up apropos of nothing and concocting an excuse to have a fight. Pretty much every cutscene is a brief bout of verbal cock-swinging stroke tit-shaking before the participants all start doing that fighting game stance where they look like they're standing on a hot floor, busting for a wee, and holding two invisible dumbbells, but the actual gameplay is more like a third-person brawler, the signature gameplay mode being an all-out battle royale between sixteen players where all appearances and personalities (or lack thereof) are lost behind flashy glowing weapons and interchangable visually exhausting overblown attacks. "I think I just beat up someone very thin with a really clingy outfit and a stance like their hips have become dislocated. Oh well that'll narrow it down to every single fucking female character in the game!"
The single-player campaign feels like a furniture showroom; the four multiplayer combat arenas available are converted into hubworlds from which one embarks upon story missions and optional missions, except you need to get a certain amount of points to proceed and you can't redo story missions, so I don't know what dictionary Sega picked up the word "optional" from but it probably also defines "chlamydia" as a low-fat alternative to margarine. The completely-not-optional missions are a rather hastily-assembled jumble of piss-easy and urine-slightly-challenging. Sometimes you might have to defeat a boss monster in three minutes, necessitating the blatant abuse of a Rage of the Gods style special attack so broken that you could stuff hay in its mouth and call it a racehorse, and at other times you might be given something styled a race mission in which you're not racing against anyone and every enemy on the track has about as much capacity to slow you down as a hedgehog, so you just drive leisurely around in a circle five times and then get a billion points like you're at some incredibly patronizing driving school.
For me, Anarchy Reigns does itself a disservice by deliberately linking itself to MadWorld through Jack and a handful of returning characters because all it does is highlight how unlike MadWorld this game is, and MadWorld at least had some cute ideas like a two-colour palette and spectacle fighter elements wherein you could perform delicate eye surgery with a stop sign to the rapturous applause of a now slightly damp judging panel. So by reducing that to dudes in colourful outfits bloodlessly hitting each other, Anarchy Reigns is saying "Look! It's not just arty visuals and playful violence mechanics; we can also be bland and unadventurous, too! That's right, we're the full package, ladies."
But even reduced to hitting each other, the hitting each other is pretty cack-handed. I did try an online battle royale in which the entire battle seemed to be happening half a second in the future because Australian connections to U.S. servers are a thistle-y jungle bumwipe, and every time I ran up to someone to eagerly hurl a flurry of blows, they'd fail to connect because the recipient was being subjected to someone else's over-elaborate pre-baked finishing move, then someone I hadn't noticed because the camera was too close ran up and gave me one, too! Sorry, was this the queue for the piledriver concession stand?
Anarchy Reigns doesn't get a recommendation, then. Like I said, for a game basing itself around an ensemble of colourful characters, there's not a whole lot of "character" to go around. A single interesting story element exploring the destructive fallout of a super-soldier undergoing a very human emotional breakdown is kind of wasted on this pile, where one protagonist has little more than a pert bum and a contract for shampoo adverts going for him, and the other only occasionally remembers he's supposed to be angry about his dead kid, with most of the time occupying the "smug" end of the generic grizzled, macho emotional spectrum. It's the Marcus Fenix problem; he's pissed off all the time anyways, so the moment he's got a reason to be pissed off it just fades into the white noise, and it again highlights the pointlessness of connecting things to MadWorld when there's a rather yawning discontinuity between Jack the Stop Sign Killer and Jack the Grieving Family Man. Dead kids are just too serious for a chainsaw robot punch-up situation; it kind of makes the tone bounce around all over the place. Like a dead kid in the back seat of a car being pushed off a cliff tall enough to mount a legal defense.
Anarchy Just Sort Of Potters About Really: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
It must be hard to keep the hair looking fabulous in these dust-ridden howling post-apocalyptic wastelands
If Steve Blum recorded a GPS voice you wouldn't be able to hear it if you were driving over a dirt road