As the Anarchy Reigns demonstration wraps up, producer Atsushi Inaba addresses the problem of assimilating what we've just seen: "There was so much going on and there's no way we can explain every single thing that happened here." He's not wrong. Our first look at the game, variously described as an online action combat game and a third-person multiplayer brawler, was a violent whirlwind of leggy cyborgs, berserker mutants, tsunamis, black holes, and carpet bombing in the ruins of a postapocalyptic city. And though we say "post"-apocalyptic, it's not clear if the city was ruined before or while the game's freak-show cast set about each other with chainsaw arms and spiked maces, dodging smartbombs and collapsing bridges and giant saw blades as they went. The presentation is light on the game's fiction. What little is said about the game's single-player story mode amounts to: "It has one." The focus is unambiguously online multiplayer action.
That online multiplayer action has groups of players clobbering each other across large stages while natural and unnatural disasters wreak havoc around them. It's "basically a fighting game," says Inaba-san, "but with not only a couple of characters fighting each other." The roster of fighters revealed so far is a motley cyborg crew, each more or less human according to how much nanotech-enabled body modification they have undergone: cybernetic bovine Bull, ninja-like Zero, MadWorld's Jack Cayman, and frosty femme Sasha, with two more MadWorld cameos (pimp caricature The Black Baron and Mathilda of the nipple spikes) unveiled for this demonstration.
Inaba-san promises "unique moves and fighting styles" in combat, which combines hand-to-hand and melee weapons. In the game's deathmatch mode, Battle Royal, eight players had at it on a wrecked urban battleground. MadWorld's Jack smashed pavements with a high-diving attack, hurled cars, and cleft opponents in two with his chainsaw arm. Mathilda mixed slapping and throwing attacks with blows from her huge spiked mace, the Iron Maiden. In rage mode, signalled by a flaming aura, ice queen Sasha pummelled foes with a super-fast, button-hammering lightning kick. The up-close multiplayer combat meant opportunities for players to gang up against an opponent--or to take advantage by picking on someone already locked in battle with another player. In Inaba-san's words, fighters "can cooperate with each other and supplement their weaknesses with someone else." Within the deathmatch mode, two players can also be pulled via an item pickup into a "duel to the death mode": an instant one-on-one cage fight.
On top of the fluid alliances of multiplayer brawling, the game adds a second layer of chaos with environmental hazards. These include computer-controlled enemies, such as scaly berserker mutants, but also, more notably, "action trigger events": large-scale catastrophes that tear through the battlefield's broken streets, disrupting fights and damaging players who don't get clear in time. These ATEs included surging walls of water, a collapsing bridge, a black hole vortex, and a rain of smartbombs, each announced moments before hitting. Inaba-san sees these regular disasters as a kind of equaliser--an element of chaos to make things interesting and keep less-skilled players from being consistently, frustratingly trounced. ATEs "can change a situation completely," he says. "A pinch can turn into a good opportunity."
In contrast to the free-for-all of the deathmatch mode, Anarchy Reigns serves up a cooperative survival variation, like Gears of War's Horde or Halo's Firefight mode. In this, we saw the three MadWorld escapees team up against waves of tougher enemies: thugs in masks with flaming torches, mutants with concrete block clubs, and armoured soldiers with laser-sighted guns. Being on the same side paved the way for more strategic combat; Jack and the Black Baron (now "the Blacker Baron," apparently) joined forces to freeze and strike a mutant enemy, with an electric stun from the Baron and the classic vertical bisection from Jack's chainsaw appendage.
As a first foray into online multiplayer for Platinum Games, Anarchy Reigns is a bold one. Platinum's four Sega-published titles (MadWorld, Infinite Space, Bayonetta, and Vanquish) were decidedly offline, single-player affairs. That makes the game a challenge for the studio, admits Inaba-san, but worthwhile; though third-person, multiplayer action combat doesn't seem like such an exotic proposition, there's nothing like Anarchy Reigns already out there. "Usually it's only shooting games," he says, referring to the lack of third-person, multiplayer brawling. The immediacy and intimacy of punching someone in the head rather than shooting him from a distance is something Platinum wanted to pursue.
"We wanted to do something different," says Inaba. And Anarchy Reigns is nothing if not different: an online mishmash of cyborg gladiators; frantic, free-for-all battles; computer-controlled enemies; and spectacular disruptive events. Though combat didn't seem to use quite the same graceful, elaborate combos as Bayonetta, for instance, it'll take a hands-on demonstration to tell how skilful and technical the fighting gets. A glimpse of the control scheme, at least, showed strong, weak, and special attacks, a weapon attack, and a taunt move--we're looking forward to trying it out for ourselves.