If there's ever an acceptable reason for topless men to fight each other in front of games journalists, it's a Platinum Games preview event. Because somewhere between the sounds of slapping and shoving and the faint looks of bewilderment from the hacks (do we clap?), there's a campness to watching people actually hit each other that's inline with Platinum's instincts as a developer. Take a look at the Bayonetta's BDSM witch-versus-angels plot or MadWorld's ultra violence in black-and-white, and you're more or less looking at an extension of the theatricality that comes from watching four guys rumble in a makeshift boxing ring to what might be the soundtrack to The Matrix.
Anarchy Reigns continues tugging at the idea of expressively theatrical fighting. It continues down Platinum's trademark stylistic route, and it also marks the continuation of the studio's publishing deal with SEGA - the one that put Bayonetta and MadWorld on shelves along, with the sci-fi RPG Infinite Space and last year's Vanquish. And more importantly it's the company's first foray into online games, with producer Atsushi Inaba citing a desire to combine a traditional beat 'em up with net-based multiplayer.
Platinum has already been slowly introducing playable characters through short online trailers showing off their design and character-specific weapons, but the most recent additions to the group should be instantly recognisable to MadWorld fans. Mathilda is a bondage-happy minx carrying an iron maiden as her weapon of choice. You might remember that in MadWorld incarnation she helped introduce the game's Bloodbath Challenges, along with her co-host the Black Baron. And so the second character to be brought into Anarchy is the Blacker Baron, who Inaba-san describes as bigger, badder, and "blacker" - whatever that means.
Blacker Baron is similarly decked out in the spirit of his predecessor - an enormous black man with the swagger of a boxer and the suit of a pimp, looking like he just waltzed out of a Blaxploitation film and straight into a minstrel show. His power is Super Sexy Fists of Fun, essentially a way of punching people with style. Ah well, it's all for comedy effect! Just don't mention him to anyone outside of your local BNP chapter.
But Platinum's games have made eyebrows raise before. There's a general bigger-means-better philosophy at work in their titles, and often that has resulted in one or more controversial elements. When Bayonetta was released, for one, there was a rumble in the community about her status as a sexist character, suggestively sucking lollipops for health and striking stripper poses after a successful fight. Questionable maybe, but it's part of Platinum's make-it-larger-than-life mandate that has carried on through Anarchy Reigns.
This includes everything from character design to environmental design. While the game follows the basic format of traditional beat 'em ups, introduced at various points during the fights are ATEs or Action Trigger Events. These are giant, randomly-triggered cinematic events that change the landscape, creating anything from tsunamis to black holes that suck you in and transport you to another area of the map. You'll also have to deal with planes that carpet bomb the area, and enormous blades that pop up and slice up anything in range.
The demo we were shown portrayed a seven-player fight taking place in the city of Altanbra, in a post-apocalyptic future where human survival has depended on the development of nano machines. The first few minutes of fighting found brawlers being sawed in half with a chainsaw to a soundtrack of up-beat tunes, followed swiftly by one of the game's ATEs. In this case it was a collapsing bridge that begins to crumble into the city, creating a second and bigger threat for you to worry about beyond those other players. A few minutes later we see another, the black hole this time. They pop up continuously and randomly until the end of the match.
Duels provide some additional variety to the action. They're triggered by interacting with certain objects, which cause two players to be sucked out of the city and into a separate ring where the winner receives a special ability - although what this consisted of was left vague during the demo. Anarchy also incorporates multiplayer co-op, which from what we saw looked like a basic interpretation of Horde Mode, with increasingly difficult waves of enemies flung at your characters.
Beyond the multiplayer focus there's a nugget of a story mode that has you controlling Jack, another residual character from MadWorld, who this time around is a cyborg and part of a police-like group called the Chasers. The remaining characters from multiplayer take the role of Jack's adversaries, while Jack takes on missions around the city using his trusty chainsaw. The team remained tight-lipped on many of the specific details, but the crossover with previous Platinum material is the undeniable draw. It's too early to tell how well Anarchy Reigns individualises itself from other beat 'em ups but the game certainly remains very loyal to the stylistic traditions of Platinum's last few titles. Let's hope it lives up to their quality, too.