After you're done with the campaign and embark on your first online voyage, you'll probably survive just long enough to work out how and why the Level 50 veterans that populate the servers are able to knock your teeth out every 30 seconds or so. Your online induction is a classic case of trial by fire, but there is much reward to be found in pitting your skills against other humans and slowly but surely learning from your mistakes.
The looser fighting system makes more sense during multi-man skirmishes, too. Since Anarchy Reigns' combat isn't as beholden to animation frames or elaborate combos as some of the more tightly-constructed beat-'em-ups on the market, your character has greater flexibility to deal with the increasingly chaotic situations that develop around you. With some game modes supporting up to 16 players, it's true that luck does play its part when deathmatches degenerate into clumsy brawls, but this doesn't detract from the intensity or the enjoyment of the game.
In fact, fate and circumstance are concepts that Platinum openly embraces in the heat of battle. The medium-sized deathmatch arenas - many of which are as tall as they are wide - are periodically affected by random events that force the players to adapt on the fly. These include a runaway lorry that veers wildly throughout the ground level, forcing anyone nearby to scramble for cover, and poisonous cloud plumes that engulf the entire lower levels of the stage, restricting the competitors to congregate on narrow skyscraper rooftops, where the battle thunders on without missing a beat.
With 13 different online gametypes to choose from - ranging from capture the flag and survival variants to a strangely-playable third-person take on Speedball 2 - there is hypothetically much to see and do, but we worry that Anarchy Reigns is spreading itself too thin.
Sales in Japan have been poor and its niche appeal means it's unlikely to fare much better over here, even at a budget price of £20. How populated can we expect its servers to be in six months time? It's impossible to tell, but our hunch is 'not very', and that's why Anarchy Reigns has made a rod for its own back by neglecting its single-player component and, more bafflingly, omitting local multiplayer altogether. If ever there was a game designed for split-screen play, this is it.
For this reason, Anarchy Reigns has to go down as something of a missed opportunity. As a pioneer for 3D beat-'em-ups, its contribution is significant, proving that the genre can work in an online environment. However, Platinum has sabotaged its own efforts by being either unable or unwilling to build a compelling offline framework that shows off Reigns' entrancing combat at its best.
It makes for a poorly-balanced package that scarcely offers value for money, and its value will topple off the precipice if the online servers become empty. While knowledgeable players attracted by Platinum's formidable track record can be trusted to scratch away at the surface and find the gold that glitters underneath, the perplexing, protracted campaign won't exactly have casuals clamouring for the multiplayer menu when they're done.
There is fun to be had here - a lot of fun in fact, if you're prepared to dig and claw for it. For those people, anarchy will indeed reign, but everyone else will find themselves wishing for a little more law and order.
Feeling lucky? Despite the odd sloppy moment, this is a deep, thoughtful and unique online scrapper - but offline, it's infinitely missable.
- Combat system has considerable depth
- Gratifying violence; strikes have a great feeling of weight
- Memorable characters and offbeat humour
- Characters seem unbalanced, favouring heavy types
- Weak single-player campaign
- No local multiplayer