Platinum Games doesn’t always produce coherent work, but the concepts are usually clear. All of Platinum’s games—from the gluttonous sexy-witch fantasy of Bayonetta to the hard angles of Vanquish’s near-future world war—are chaotic stews of noise, color, sex, and violence. They’re like the notebook doodles of an anime-obsessed high schooler. Binding together all of that sound and fury, though, is a focus on ideas. Platinum’s misunderstood satire MadWorld has a clear core beneath its garish style. It’s about improvisation and adaptability, a brawler influenced by post-bop jazz. This is why Anarchy Reigns is so disappointing. All the usual flash is present, but there’s no creamy center. Noise, fury, and nothing in between.
Anarchy Reigns is a semi-sequel to MadWorld, taking place in the same dystopian future and starring most of its principal characters, which makes it an even bigger let down. The new game is broken into two halves where you play as a couple of bruisers chasing a suspected war criminal. The White Side, as it’s called, casts you as sexy lightsaber-armed cop Leonhardt Victorion—there’s that high school notebook again—while the Black Side gives you chainsaw-wielding Jack Cayman, the bounty hunter from MadWorld who looks like a terrifying extra from Frog And Toad Are Friends. They each have their own sharp weapons, sweet jackets, and separate paths to the war criminal, but there’s not much difference between them—they both spend most of their time punching out mutant freaks and robots.
Eschewing the predictable fight-cutscene-fight rhythm, Anarchy takes place in open landscapes, like a bombed-out naval port and a desert fortress, and you have to earn points to unlock missions within them. The story missions are straightforward, but the “free” missions, which you can do over and over to rack up points, are the first cracks that betray the game’s tonal dissonance. One stage might have you punching glowing balls into chain-link goals, while in the next you’re sparring with giant leeches. Those missions may have an appealing goofiness, but they’re also shallow and repetitive, another reason to hammer the attack buttons some more with little need for strategy.
There’s no room for self-expression in Anarchy’s fighting. The characters share the same basic moves, distinguished only by speed and slightly different attacks. (The spandex-clad ice queen Sasha is slow, for instance, but she has a better spin attack to shake off foes.)
Were Anarchy consistently funny, it could save itself from dull fisticuffs. Platinum typically has a decent sense of humor about its games, but Anarchy never scratches deeper than surface slapstick. MadWorld grounded itself in laughs to highlight the inherent absurdity of hyper-violent fantasy. By contrast, Anarchy Reigns rubs together throwaway chuckles and grave seriousness. An early chapter, “Your Favorite Pimp’s Pimp,” introduces the Blacker Baron, a brick building-sized Huggy Bear cosplayer whose golden gauntlets spawn flaming eagles. That chapter is followed by a dead solemn five-minute scene of Jack at a cemetery weeping over the death of his young daughter. Stone-cold seriousness, wacky hijinks, ultraviolence, and pugilism devoid of subtlety or heft—these instruments could be effective, but they aren’t played in concert here.
There is one significant difference between Anarchy Reigns and Platinum’s previous games: You can play it with others. It’s meant to bridge the gap between free-form, go-anywhere fighting and Street Fighter-style combat, with a number of online modes that can drop you in a pit of as many as 16 people duking it out. Like the main game, this multiplayer competition isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s missing a discernible idea at its heart. Whether in head-to-head deathmatches or co-operative modes where you and a few other players are knocking down computer-controlled foes, the fights are still just dull repetition. Street Fighter works because even though its fighters share the same basic controls, each character is refined and distinct. Anarchy Reigns is too generic by comparison.
MadWorld is about improvisation and creative expression. Bayonetta, for all its “sex-witch vs. the gods” spectacle, is about grace—its fights demand smooth patience rather than brute force. Vanquish is about velocity, a kinematics master class that just happens to be overflowing with exploding robots. They all possess clarity within chaos. Anarchy Reigns invokes chaos in its own name, but it isn’t about anything at all.