In the history of beat’em up titles, a number of companies have come and gone. Only a select few survived the move to the third dimension, and mostly due to their diversity. Of these we still have Sega, who were known for arcade-style beat’em ups such as Golden Axe and Streets of Rage, though their biggest claims to fame being the Sonic the Hedgehog games, Virtua Fighter, and arcade racing titles. This past week they revisited the beat’em up genre with their newest release, Anarchy Reigns. Is it a herald of the new age of brawlers, or another footnote in Sega’s struggling franchise.
Anarchy Reigns is clearly Sega’s take on the modern beat’em or hack-and-slash genre. Taking control cues from other modern titles like Dynasty Warriors or God of War, it adds it own twist by giving it’s cast a set of Deadly Weapons, which when activated deal significantly more damage, but cost energy to use. It also places an emphasis on player versus player multiplayer combat, something most modern beat’em ups have steered clear of.
The game is set in the cyber-punk world featured in Madworld, and does feature some of the cast from that game. This is somewhat ironic considering Madworld was a Wii exclusive title, and it’s successor released on the PS 3 and Xbox 360. Having not played Madworld myself, I can’t say exactly how baring it has on the plot, though I suspect very little.
Speaking of plot,The story follows Jack and Leo as they track the fugitive Max Cayman, each for their own reasons. The general rule with beat’em ups is that they’ll either have too much emphasis on the story or not enough. Anarchy Reigns tends to be more the former than the later. The campaign tends to focus heavily on the story. This would be forgivable if the story was engaging, but the typical tropes and stereotypes combined with relatively pointless detours within the main story arc drag it down. This too might be forgivable given an engaging presentation, however aside from the periodic pre-rendered cut scenes they rely on dry vignettes for most of the character interaction. This makes much of the campaign mode a slog to get through.
The campaign’s redeeming quality is it’s enemy and objective variety. While most of the time you’ll be just trying to kill all the things, it throws in some changes to the mix. For instance, in one stage alone I had a mission to defeat all enemies within a time limit, shoot down enemies using a helicopter, and defeat a giant squid. While not every stage is this varied, the mixing of the formula really helps an otherwise disposable campaign mode.
Strangely, however, it’s not the campaign mode that is the most engaging here, but the multiplayer. Multiplayer features a variety of game modes, each with their own set of rules. For instance, Deathball pits two teams of 4 against each other in a more violent version of soccer. Survival throws a variety of enemies at a three person team, until they can’t take anymore or time runs out. And of course there is the standard 16-man free-for-all match.
Multiplayer matches can get pretty chaotic, so one might think playing this mode online would be a chore. Thankfully, that hasn’t been the case so far. Aside from the occasional hiccup, I was able to play perfectly fine, even with players located in Europe. The worst connection issue I’ve had was when the host dropped out of a match, but after a few seconds finding a new host, everyone was able to pick up where we left off.
No, the biggest issue I’ve found in multiplayer is getting into matches. This could be a match-making issue, but I think it’s a lack of players to blame really, as there’s usually only a few games open at a time. The plethora of game types doesn’t help much, as most of the time you will need to create a new game yourself if you want to play in a particular mode, or don’t want to play a particular mode. It also means that filling up a full 16 man free-for-all is incredibly difficult, making the modes with fewer required players more enticing.
It’s a shame that fewer players aren’t jumping in, as there’s still much to like about the title. While I’m not particularly fond of hip-hop, the songs used for the game fit the setting as well the wild action going on during the fighting. The controls are easy to learn, but learning what techniques to use with each character to create more powerful and inescapable combos is challenging.
Throughout the experience it feels challenging but never feels overwhelmingly so, giving you just enough to help you progress forward. Thusly, Anarchy Reigns manages to capture the feel of the old school coin-up beat’em ups but in a more modern feel. The game’s lack of polish, violent chaotic style, and modern hip hop sound will likely make this an incredibly polarizing title amongst players and critics. However, I would recommend at least giving it a chance, and at a $30 price point, it’s certainly inviting gamers to do so.