What you won’t like
It doesn’t do anything particularly well
While Anarchy Reigns’ attempt to mash together so many styles and genres is clever, none of it really works as well as it should. Having every character play relatively the same might be fine for a beat-em-up, in one-on-one combat it doesn’t leave enough room for much strategy beyond deciding when to block and when to use your more-powerful attacks. Conversely, those more-powerful attacks are usually so strong that it’s overkill to use them in almost any situation other than one-on-one combat. Sure, you can use your best moves and mow down hundreds of grunts in spectacular fashion, but if a fight against the annoying giant mutants pops up, you’ll be left with nothing but to pepper them with weak jabs as your lives (or a time limit) ticks down. So it’s not deep enough to work as a fighter, but the fighting segments require you to save up the skills that would make the beat-em-up parts more fun, which makes neither of them as interesting as they could be.
As for the shooter elements, they basically boil down to occasionally giving you a long-range weapon that is so powerful it’s pointless to use it outside of the tougher fights, which again makes the simpler fights even more boring.
It’s not that the developers at Platinum should’ve bitten off less, it’s just that the most fun combat choices you can make are best saved for difficult situations (lest they be even more difficult and even less interesting), which leaves most of the moment-to-moment action feeling too dull.
The whole campaign
Anarchy Reigns’ single-player mode is split into two storylines, both of which you must complete in order to unlock the final level: the “Black Side” (which follows MadWorld’s Jack), and the “White Side” (which follows Leo, who is basically a cyborg cop).
Both Leo and Jack are trying to track down the same man, another cyborg cop named Max who (and this is the actual plot) took too many PTSD drugs and went crazy after murdering Jack’s daughter. Both men have their own reasons for wanting to catch him, but since they’re rivals and on opposite sides of the law, they decide to do it separately. Of course, that doesn’t stop them from visiting the exact same locations in the exact same order. Granted, they stop in different areas of those same locations, but that boils down to Jack taking the left side of a larger area and Leo taking the right side, with a few common places in the middle. What this means is that you have to play each level twice with only slight differences between them (most of which are cosmetic), right down to having to fight the same bosses. Instead of a clever narrative approach, it comes across as a way to extend the length of the game without having to create paths more specific to the two characters or their stories.
But this is not the worst part, and it’s not the worst attempt to artificially extend its length. That comes in the form of the way you progress through campaign. As I explained earlier, you have to earn a certain number of points in each mission in order to unlock the next, but the scoring system is far too punishing to guarantee that you’ll manage to do this every time. If you don’t reach a certain milestone, you can either replay earlier missions (which you can only do for some), or you can just farm points by staying in an area and waiting for the thugs to respawn. In a way, it forces you to get better by making you practice, but it also punishes you by making you work through beat-em-up segments that aren’t nearly as much fun after you’ve already put in so much time doing the same thing over and over again both in and out of missions. Anarchy Reigns is at its best when it’s throwing crazy shit at you, but before it will do that you need to suffer through its absolute torturous worst on every level multiple times if you aren’t good enough to rack up near-perfect scores.
Oh, and you can’t skip the campaign in favor of multiplayer, because it locks most of the playable characters and special abilities behind single-player progression.
Anarchy Reigns lives and dies on the amount of craziness it’s able to throw at you. When things are going well, like in its over-the-top multiplayer modes, it’s reminiscent of every great action figure battle you ever had as a kid converted into digital form. When things are slow, it’s a painful slog through the same repetitive scenarios over and over again. And due to the nature of its gameplay and approach to progressing through the campaign, things are slow much more often than crazy.
Anarchy Reigns tries to be many things, but what kills it is that it is too often the one thing it never should be: boring.
Anarchy Reigns was released on Jan. 8 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The publisher provided GamesBeat with a copy of the 360 version for the purposes of this review.