It's all merely a backdrop for what's really important: punching things with rocket-fists.
In the single-player mode, these moves hardly matter anyway, as the majority of enemies are little more than fodder, exploding into nasty mutant goo after two or three normal attacks. Some enemies take more punishment, notably the massive mutants. Unfortunately, they aren't really more difficult than regular enemies, they just take longer to kill. The same goes for most of the boss characters, who are generally pushovers on normal difficulty.
Despite some good vocal performances, the entire single-player campaign rarely feels like anything but a compulsory slog. There are two campaigns, each based on a different character but containing similar missions, including a few straight-up repeats. I hope you enjoyed the protracted kraken fight the first time. Honestly, it's hard to escape the feeling that the majority of each campaign is just padding (hover-sled race? What?) or even that Platinum didn't want to design a single-player game in the first place. The notion seems likely, especially considering how much better the multiplayer component is.
Depending on the mode, up to 16 players can drop into an arena and go at it. Again, the combat mechanics aren't very deep, but it's definitely more engaging to fight against a human being than the milquetoast AI. Adding to the experience are levels filled with items and dynamic events that alter the course of a fight. One second you're pummeling someone, the next a plane loses control, giving everyone a few seconds to clear the area before it crashes and explodes. Down on kills? Find an item slot machine and hope for a rocket launcher.
As a side note, while I enjoyed the traditional deathmatch modes, I think my favorite mode may be Death Ball. Two teams of players compete to get a ball into the opposing teams goal by any means necessary. Said means usually involve death and dismemberment, but solid teamwork is a must as well.
Even a week after release, there don't seem to be that many players online. I often sat for minutes at a time in lobbies, just waiting for enough players to show up. Granted, I wasn't playing during peak hours, but to see so few players this close to launch doesn't bode well. Even with enough players, matchmaking is imperfect, with the status of several players often stuck on "waiting," preventing the match from starting. Beyond that, I've seen a full lobby get disconnected just as a match was ready to begin – and that happened more than once.
In the end, Anarchy Reigns is difficult to quantify. The characters are well-designed and the story well-performed, but actually playing through the campaign is a chore. The multiplayer can be great, especially in the team or Death Ball modes, but the limited combat is bound to wear thin before too long, and matchmaking troubles are irritating. You won't exactly find a lot of competitive, multiplayer beat-em-ups out there, let alone one that generally works well, but that fact alone isn't enough to carry Anarchy Reigns. Not even with rocket-fists.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Anarchy Reigns, provided by Sega.
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