I was being hunted by five scale-covered, muscle-bound, savage mutants, all wielding gigantic sticks with burning wreckage stuck on the end. No matter how far I ran, they’d always catch up to me — leaping, charging, and destroying everything in their path. I’d been playing Anarchy Reigns for no more than half an hour, and I was undoubtedly out of my depth. Then the ground started to tremble, an alert appeared, a runaway truck was apparently rampaging through the area. Oh great, I thought, something else that will probably turn me into nothing more than a red smear on the ground of this dilapidated, post-apocalyptic town.
Taking to the higher ground, I found myself standing on the roof of a crumbling building, just in time to see the predatory mutants rushing towards me. I resigned myself to my fate. It was at that moment that a thunderous roar assaulted my ears. The runaway truck smashed through a fence, slammed into the sprinting horde and then crashed into some bright red fuel tanks. The resulting explosion nearly blinded me.
The surviving mutants were easier to dispatch, and I did so by slicing off their limbs with my chainsaw, and then shoved it right through their tiny skulls. Before I had time to try and pull off the difficult maneuver of patting myself on the back, I started to slowly be dragged backwards. I turned around to witness a horrific site: a black hole, sucking in garbage, cyborgs, a car and your truly. I tried to flee, but I was too close to its gaping maw. I was swallowed hole, and spat out somewhere half way across the map. I was promptly run over by a maniac riding a flame-spewing hover bike. Anarchy, indeed.
Anarchy Reigns somehow manages to contain all the crazy in the world in a very neat little package. Ostensibly it’s a multiplayer brawler, inspiring large battles between ridiculous characters, causing screens everywhere to become engulfed in explosions, blinding special moves and absurd costumes. Sitting comfortably next to that is a wonderful single-player campaign, actually, two wonderful single-player campaigns, and I certainly didn’t expect that.
The solo component is not some tacked on extra, it’s integral to the whole experience, and only by playing that can one unlock all the characters and other assorted goodies for use in multiplayer brawls. It’s split up into four chapters per campaign, with MadWorld’s chainsaw loving chaser, Jack, slaughtering everyone in the “Black” campaign; while the somewhat more feminine cyborg fellow, Leo, takes over in the “White” campaign. While both of these journeys tread the same game spaces, new areas are opened up and new foes reveal themselves. What could have become a repetitive slog through recycled environments instead feels like revisiting familiar haunts with a new grasp of the mechanics and fresh objectives to tackle.
Each map is essentially an arena, and can be experienced in both single and multiplayer modes. Running through them solo feels a bit like exploring them so you can exploit its nooks and crannies when you finally take the fight to the masses online. They are littered with a constant swarm of varied enemies, items from missile launchers to energy shields, bits and bobs that can be turned into weapons like explosive barrels and dirty old tires and the occasional secret.
Slaughtering foul, often mutated, cyborgs and criminals nets players points, which in turn unlocks story missions and free missions. Impressively, the game manages to keep things fresh throughout, even with two surface similar campaigns. A short turret section appears once and manages to not outstay its welcome, there are battles against a kraken, a mission revolving around commandeering attack helicopters, an explosive race and even a battle against a skyscraper-sized mutant cyborg named Cthuhu. Rarely is anything ever repeated. Even at the end of the eight hour single-player experience, I was still able to be surprised.
Most of the story-based missions focus on either Jack or Leo fighting one or two boss characters, all becoming unlocked for multiplayer bouts upon defeat. With their special abilities and battle banter they all offer slightly different combat scenarios, but still Anarchy Reigns persists in throwing new things in the mix, whether it’s an impending plane crash, a giant laser blast threatening to disintegrate the entire area, or fighting the character on top of a skyscraper as he jets around on top of a robotic ally, launching missiles at you — missiles, I should add, that can be flung right back at him.
The combat itself is an absolute delight. At first it appears to be quite simple, with light and heavy attacks, a grab, a dramatic “killer move”, and a rampage ability that can be employed once your rampage meter reaches the appropriate level. It rather quickly reveals itself to be so much more than it seems, however. Timing is everything. Learning the tells of an enemy allows you to strike right when they’ve finished their onslaught against your stalwart defences, countering grabs requires split second reflexes and amid all the flashiness and gaudy effects there’s a logical flow to battles that can be exploited by keen-eyed combatants.
While the endless combo strings found in other, albeit more single-player focused, action titles of this ilk are absent, for obvious reasons, fighters can still unleash some devastating attacks, stringing killer moves from standard attacks, finding just the right moment to hit to keep enemies off the ground for as long as possible — it can be a rather humbling experience online when you just begin and go head to head with more advanced players. It’s quite a different dance in these multiplayer arenas compared to the scraps with NPCs, with items becoming significantly more important (especially when they give players a ranged edge) and 360 degree attacks becoming more prevalent.
It’s undoubtedly a game of skill, which is likely why I’m so bloody terrible at it. Yet all the beatings I’ve suffered at the hands of human opponents have taught me valuable lessons, and I no longer rush in head first to my doom. The pace of the combat may seem incredibly fast, but it’s actually extremely calculated. Hanging back and analysing an enemy is paramount, especially when you are still unfamiliar with every character’s abilities. Checking out the rather substantial roster of combatants in the training mode is a really good idea as there is no small amount of variety, even if there is a wee bit of overlap.
Anarchy Reigns manages to cater to a pretty broad demographic while miraculously not making too many concessions. The solo stuff is robust and ridiculously entertaining and the multiplayer component is massive, diverse and certainly skill based, but doesn’t set the bar so high that it stops inexperienced players actually enjoying themselves. I won’t even pretend that I’m even close to mastering it, because every time I start up a new battle I learn something new, but I’m committed to improving and most importantly, I’m still having a huge amount of fun.