Gamescom 2011: Anarchy Reigns Hands-On Preview

Platinum's first online game contains lots of chaotic, score-chasing, multiplayer brawling.

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At Gamescom 2011, Sega doesn't risk letting Anarchy Reigns' single-player mode pull focus away from its multiplayer brawling. The offline campaign is given a quick nod: we're reminded it'll be served up in two halves, with the "dark side" of the story starring Jack, he of MadWorld fame, and with the "light side" casting the player as Leo, a law-enforcing cyborg. Then we're told progressing through the single-player campaign will unlock characters in the multiplayer suite--swinging the spotlight back around on the all-important online beat-'em-uppery.

Agents of chaos.
Agents of chaos.

We're given a few rounds of the game's basic deathmatch mode to sample the chaotic action combat. They take place with four fighters (the game will support up to eight) on a split-level heliport high above a cityscape: a small map with two platforms, a lethal drop below, and nowhere to hide. There's not much strategy to be observed, at least not in this first-time dip into deathmatch; players tend to gravitate together into a thrashing cluster of cyborg limbs, with the odd red and black explosion of pseudo-gore to mark a kill.

The cast is a mix of slower, heavyweight brawlers and lighter, faster ones, each with a set of unique melee and weapon-based attacks in addition to the basic hits for chaining into combo strikes. Jack is a burly presence in the arena, with punishing chainsaw-based specials. Mathilda is more agile, with a spiked purple club to match her also purple, also spiky catsuit. In one of her up-close specials, she hurls a victim onto all fours and struts over their back, grinding their skull with a stiletto heel. (Despite the appearance of Jack, Mathilda, and other characters from MadWorld, there's no link between the two games' stories.) Frosty fighter Sasha, similarly nippy and catsuited, has a flock of miniature drone weapons, "snow spikes." In one of her special moves, these fly into formation to fire on the enemy.

The one-button special attacks come with longish animations through which your character is apparently invulnerable; it's satisfying to trigger one and then sit smugly back and watch your fighter do his or her stuff. On the other hand, the camera is a smidge slow to manoeuvre, leaving you vulnerable while you swing it around, unless you right-trigger into a defensive stance every time you need to look behind you.

The battlefield hazards Platinum Games was talking up around Anarchy Reigns' first reveal (airstrikes, tidal waves, giant saws, and so on) didn't feature in our matches, though we received mid-match weapon drops, supplying powerful, limited-ammo machine guns and the like, meant to be used briefly and tossed away. Other big items lying around the level--gas cylinders, say--can be picked up and used to throw at or bludgeon foes.

When fighters are close to death, the name hovering over their head turns red, like a flag to several bulls--everyone comes charging in to claim the kill for themselves. Since kills are relatively hard to earn (the fighters are hardy, and health regenerates), this kind of opportunism runs rampant, especially when there are multiple red names, since consecutive kills deliver huge point bonuses.

At the end of a timed deathmatch, Anarchy Reigns mulls over players' final scores, with chart positions decided first by basic score and then bumped up or down for combos, item use, and the like--so the player who first lands in the number one spot can have his or her thunder stolen at the last second because someone else was better at spectacularly long combos. It's another likable dash of unpredictability in Anarchy Reigns' chaotic mix. Look for more ahead of its early 2012 release.

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