Anarchy Reigns is one of Platinum Games’s least popular titles, understandably shadowed by Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. However, I particularly enjoyed the game, and while it certainly isn’t perfect, I think there’s something to be learned from it that’s relevant to the modern gaming space: making a sequel that isn’t a sequel.
Anarchy Reigns is the pseudosequel to MadWorld, the ultraviolent brawler that Platinum put out for the Wii. Madworld followed Jack Cayman, a badass with a chainsaw sword fighting his way up the leaderboards in Deathwatch: a fully-televised murder competition. As the game progresses, Jack is revealed as an agent of the Chaser agent organization, and as the previous champion of Deathwatch. The final antagonist, Leo, is the son of a major pharmaceutical president, who hopes to use the games (which infects all people in the city with a virus, and only offers vaccines to those who participate in the bloodshed) to sell his company’s vaccines. The game ends with Leo being eviscerated and thrown off a skyscraper.
Anarchy Reigns also stars Jack Cayman and Leo, but as dual protagonists. Jack is still with the Chasers, but this time is on a quest to gain revenge for his murdered daughter. Leo, notably not dead, is an agent for the Bureau of Public Safety, a police force staffed by cyborg/human hybrids (“Cybrids”), and now has some real sweet laser sword implants.
Deathwatch as an organization does not exist in Anarchy Reigns, nor does the original game’s setting of Varrigan City. Instead, Anarchy Reigns takes place in Altambra, a post-apocalyptic city where legions of criminals and mutants are kept in check by the Cybrid police force. The Black Baron and Mathilda, MCs of the Deathwatch games, reappear as rogue bounty hunters.
Anarchy Reigns both is a sequel and is not. 7 characters from MadWorld reappear in the game. However, none of the characters ever make the slightest nods to their past lives in the Deathwatch Games. With an unrelated plot, unrelated setting, and seemingly no acknowledgement to the previous game, Anarchy Reigns certainly doesn’t feel like a sequel.
It doesn’t really play like a sequel, either. MadWorld originally focused heavily on the usage of environmental interactables to increase the spectacle of your kills. Anarchy Reigns has a few of those interactables, but instead it focuses on more traditional melee combat.
I’m heavily reminded of Edgar Wright’s psuedotrilogy of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End. These three films do not exist in any sort of chronology, yet they have a common pool of core cast, common sense of humor, and similar plot structures. These movies can’t be called sequels, and yet, anyone familiar with one of the three movies will probably find themselves comfortable with the other two.
On the opposite end, I’m reminded of Bioshock Infinite as a sequel that was too much of a sequel. Designers transposed core mechanics like Plasmids and the looting systems, without care that Plasmids were very out of place in Columbia, and digging through the trash for food is hilariously anachronistic in a game that takes place in a living city. Infinite could have used some distance from its older brother.
As a result, I want to see more of these pseudosequels. These games don’t consider themselves continuations, but instead use the plot elements and general gameplay of their predecessor almost like an architect uses arches, colonnades, and buttresses, or like a rapper uses beats from the songs they are sampling. They are taking elements familiar to the series and remixing them, creating something which is, for all intents and purposes, new, and yet completely familiar to fans.
Instead of becoming slave to the universe you create, forcing yourself to shoehorn your new ideas in your old game structure, be like Platinum sometimes. Platinum wanted to develop a MadWorld sequel which focused more heavily on 1-on-1 combat between ridiculous characters, and wanted to abandon the Deathwatch story structure. Instead of trying to shoehorn those ideas into MadWorld, Platinum simply took their old game and sampled it, creating common threads that fans of the previous game would enjoy, but ultimately building something new.