Beneath the giant death lasers, presidents in mech suits and floating space stations, Metal Wolf Chaos XD’s depiction of a near future America is rather haunting. Originally released in 2004 but never seeing the light of day outside of Japan (unless you were willing to pay ridiculous costs), Metal Wolf Chaos depicts US citizens being locked in internment camps, a news media service selling misinformation to the general public and a government looking to blame immigration for America’s issues.
For a game that feels like a parody of both anime-esque tropes and patriotic US themes, there’s some really deep and almost prescient aspects to the world and overall premise of Metal Wolf Chaos; problems that are affecting the real world right now. Either FromSoftware can see into the future, or the world we live in is actually a joke.
That said, Metal Wolf Chaos XD is still a very silly game where you play as President Michael Wilson, controlling a giant mech suit to fight a coup d’etat led by the clearly villainous Vice President Richard Hawk, who looks suspiciously like Willem Dafoe but with the classic bad guy beard. Quite how Wilson didn’t catch on that Hawk is a genocidal maniac when deciding his running mate is beyond me, but you must do battle with the fate of America hanging in the balance. The parallels to real life are there, certainly, but Metal Wolf Chaos XD isn’t something you should take seriously.
Metal Wolf Chaos came out at a time before FromSoftware became synonymous with bonfires and crushing difficulty. Before the Japanese developers found fame with Demon Souls/Dark Souls, their biggest export was the Armored Core series, and MWC plays like a more accessible, faster version of that franchise. You pilot a giant mech, you destroy the enemies, you win; for the most part it’s as simple as that.
Holding down X allows you to boost around the level, but boosting for too long drains your shield energy. Once your shield energy depletes, you lose a shield unit. No more shield units means no more mech suit and a trip back to the start of the level, as there are no checkpoints. Thankfully, each level is quite short, so death doesn’t feel all that punishing, though losing during the end-of-level boss fight and having to play the level again is still annoying.
Metal Wolf can hold up to eight weapons in its inventory, four on each shoulder, and you can cycle through the weapons by pressing the B button followed by the left or right trigger. With the different shoulder loadouts, you can equip a variety of weapon combinations, though the most effective are usually a light weapon on one side and a heavy weapon on the other.
At first, the light ammo weapons, such as handguns and assault rifles, feel useless as they don’t do much damage to armoured units, of which there are many in the later levels, meaning you naturally want to favour bazookas and other heavy weapons. However, the targeting window for light weapons is much larger, meaning they’re great for shooting down projectiles and protecting Metal Wolf from harm. They also shred standard infantry, so you don’t have to worry about wasting heavy ammo on a group of unsuspecting soldiers.
With plenty of weapon types, Metal Wolf Chaos gives you enough opportunity to ensure you can create a loadout that’s comfortable for you, while offering the versatility needed to deal with the variety of scenarios that the game throws at you. With the points and rare metals you earn from completing missions, you can also develop new, better weapons that deal increased damage, offer increased ammo capacity and more.
Each level also has plenty of collectibles, with new weapons, prisoners to rescue, energy pods that upgrade Metal Wolf’s abilities, along with some hidden secrets, all of which add to the game’s replayability factor, even though the base game can be finished within a few hours. The added Hell difficulty level unlocked when you finish the game also offers its own rewards, so it’s worth sticking around after the credits roll.
Despite being a 15 year old game, the core gameplay of Metal Wolf Chaos is rock solid, but unfortunately some other aspects of the game haven’t aged quite so well, particularly with the sound design. Certain cutscenes, like the intro or any between the level news casts, are out of sync, while the audio mixing in game is nothing short of atrocious.
Also, gunfire and explosions from both Metal Wolf and the enemies sound weak during gameplay, yet the explosions during cutscenes often overpower the dialogue. However, it’s unclear if some of these faults are issues that were present in the original version of the game or have emerged during the porting process.
The script and voice-over quality also cater to somewhat of an “acquired taste”. There’s a B movie charm to how Michael Wilson acts and reacts to the world around him, dropping clunky and cheesy one-liners with a deadpan demeanour, proclaiming himself to be the President of the United States every 10 minutes like we can’t see the Presidential Seal on the side of Metal Wolf. Some might appreciate the absurdity, but a lot of people won’t.
Metal Wolf Chaos XD’s release isn’t going to garner any mainstream appeal then, but that was never the point. It’s for the people who watched content creators like Super Best Friends Play make Let’s Plays about this weird Japanese only game about a world leader in a mech suit. It’s for the people that admire Devolver Digital’s desire to publish games for the hell of it, even if it might not make much money.
While Metal Wolf Chaos XD isn’t about to set the world on fire with its stellar graphics, revolutionary gameplay or thought provoking and hard hitting narrative, it does hold a place as unique and ridiculous piece of gaming history, and I’m glad the West has been given a chance to properly celebrate it.
Metal Wolf Chaos XD isn’t some grand revolution of the third person action genre. It’s a 15 year old game where a president in a mech suit fights giant tanks, and that’s fine by us.
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