Platinum Games’ Madworld was a surprise delight on the Nintendo Wii, offering up a hyper-violent, hyper-stylized black and white world rife with post-apocalyptic flair and ridiculous gore. The game followed Jack Cayman, a chainsaw-wielding Snake Plissken analogue with a costume seemingly designed by both Jack Kirby and Tom of Finland as he tore his way through an Escape from New York scenario while executing enemies with ridiculous motion-controlled fatalities. These motion controls worked surprisingly well, and added a cathartic level of immersion to the game, as you cleaved bodies in two, snapped necks like rotten twigs, and impaled punks with a swipe of the Wiimote.
The pseudo-sequel to Madworld has arrived on both Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, once again dropping players in the leather boots of Jack Cayman as he wreaks bloody havoc across a dystopian wasteland, albeit without its predecessor’s motion controls or monochromatic art style. Anarchy Reigns is actually lacking in a lot of the charm of its forebear, a sacrifice made in order to push the game’s real appeal: multiplayer.
The story of Anarchy Reigns is laughably weak and poorly relayed to the player. There’s some nonsense about being on the hunt for a particular target, and it tries to convey it using Madworld’s same sense of irreverent machismo and swagger, but instead decides to break up the fun with weirdly maudlin moments involving dead illegitimate daughters. Seeing the hulking Jack, made even more ridiculous than before with the addition of some Simon Bisley-esque chains, sullenly accept his role of a father and try to interact with his miniscule daughter and cope with her death is just plain weird. It’s certainly not the tone you’d expect from a game where you play as a man with a cybernetic arm and a chainsaw gauntlet. The rest of the game’s conversations are portrayed using poorly lip-synced talking heads that trade testosterone-fuelled boasts back and forth before a boss battle, a miserably low-budget decision that pulls players even further from the plot than the already alienating story has.
The single player gameplay is equally befuddling, reliant on some of Madworld’s point-collecting mechanics, forcing players to run around various sized arenas and stylishly slaughter all comers in the name of points, which you then use to unlock various missions. These missions are varied, but goddamn weird (I’m using this word a lot, but I mean it), including timed killing sprees, inexplicable racing segments, and protracted boss battles. It works in small doses, but it quickly wears out its welcome in longer play sessions, as you’re forced to back track a lot in order to build up the points necessary to unlock the missions. The combat itself can be quite satisfying, if simple, playing almost like a 3D version of Final Fight with (literally) blue-blooded mutants and hulking cyborgs. There are only a few buttons to concern yourself with, and combos are slim at best.
The real meat and potatoes of Madworld comes from its multiplayer, which boasts a substantial number of characters—many of whom you could not play as in the single-player campaign—all with their own special moves and finishers to differentiate them. Controls for them are all universal, allowing you to step into the shoes of a new character while keeping the learning curve shallow. Unfortunately, this universal accessibility comes at the expense of character uniqueness, meaning that finding a favorite player becomes meaningless and superficial. Sadly, even a few weeks after the game’s release, the multiplayer lobbies are sparsely populated which means that the meat of the game is painfully lean.
Anarchy Reigns is a bittersweet semi-sequel to a fantastic game. It brings the usual Platinum Games sense of unbridled lunacy, but unfortunately lacks in the meaty gameplay that keeps the disc in your console and the controller in your mitts. It works in small, chaotic doses, but lacks real staying power. For a game starring Jack Cayman, that’s a disappointment.