Metal Wolf Chaos XD Review - Come For The Memes, Stay For The Masterpiece

On the surface it may just be a novelty, but Metal Wolf Chaos XD is a great example of a really great yet underlooked game.
9
  • Playstation 4
  • Windows
  • Xbox One
  • Action
  • Action-Adventure
2019-08-06
Metal Wolf
FromSoftware's cult classic mech title is brought to life once again, and it's an absolute hidden gem. Devolver Digital

Rereleases often go in two very specific directions. Some of them end up inferior to the original game (Dark Souls Remastered), and some of them become the absolute best way to experience that game (Wind Waker HD). Metal Wolf Chaos XD is neither, but manages to become a landmark of reviving video games.

Developed by General Arcade, published by Devolver Digital and drawing from the original made by FromSoftware, Metal Wolf Chaos XD is a rerelease of a legendary mech title launched for the original Xbox back in 2004. It holds a kind of cult status among those who are in it for genuine video game novelty, and as something of a collector’s item for players who love mech games. Before its announcement last year, very few people outside of its most avid fans knew what it was, and that’s understandable – FromSoftware was best known for Armored Core at the time of its release, which largely overshadowed Metal Wolf Chaos. It does not help that it only ever saw a release for the Japanese market, despite being made and marketed as the most American game ever made.

With the meme culture that’s prevalent among us today, you’d expect Metal Wolf Chaos XD, which is an incredibly exaggerated take on American patriotism and cultural references, to be just that: a meme at best, and a short-lived novelty at worst. Having played it nonstop for the past couple of days though, I found that it’s probably one of the most underlooked games of the past decade, and the most amazing example of how having a small, but vocal fanbase can reveal a gem in the rough 15 years later.

Story, characters and design

MWC News
In between some of the missions, the DNN broadcasts news about the ongoing events in the US. Photo: Devolver Digital

Metal Wolf Chaos XD is an extravagant and action-packed affair where you play as Michael Wilson, the 47th President of the United States of America. I find that this trope is heavily underutilized, at least for video games, even back when the political landscape in the United States was not as divided as it is now. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to be like Harrison Ford in Air Force One? In any case, Metal Wolf Chaos XD presents such a premise to you, and just tells you to go along with it. It’s set in a near future where there are issues like rampant political instability, civil unrest and other global problems present in every facet of society.

The game begins with this incredibly elaborate cutscene that tells exactly what you’re in for: over-the-top, hammy dialogue, odd yet endearing punchlines, and lots and lots of low-textured explosions. Of course, it’s just a prelude to the game’s story, which starts out with a voiceover that narrates the events that happen; a coup d’état spearheaded by Vice President Richard Hawk has ousted Michael Wilson from power. Wilson doesn’t take it lying face down. Instead, he battles it out in an absolutely glorious mech dubbed ‘Metal Wolf’ through a ton of missions scattered across America. It’s patriotism and the “American way” of doing things at its finest, and there’s never a dull moment within it.

MWC Jonney Boy
Hello, Jonney boy! Photo: Devolver Digital

You might think that this premise would make for an amazing political thriller, where you, as Wilson, try to clear your name with gameplay chock full of intrigue and conspiracies. But here comes FromSoftware, who says that it’s the perfect backdrop for the most over-the-top mech game, where everything is solved by getting more powerful guns and affixing them to a red and blue robot. 

Story-wise, Metal Wolf Chaos XD pulls a lot of plot points from thin air, and is a case of aggressively simplistic writing.However, it’s because of these amazing decisions that we have a gigantic railgun constructed on Alcatraz Island, which for some reason wants to destroy San Francisco. There are no meaningful connections behind what motivates Hawk and his league of bad guys other than to have these elaborate and action-packed set pieces, which of course is the absolute highlight of the game. If you’ve ever played with your action figures as a kid, and you’d say things and make up scenarios that made absolutely no sense, then that is essentially what you’re getting with Metal Wolf Chaos XD: pure, unadulterated and unabashed fun. In a way, it operates on the same level as the later Earth Defense Force games, which are just Japanese versions of Starship Troopers. There’s no need to overthink, no time for reasoning, and nothing to talk about – just take this giant mech, load up a ton of guns on it, and shoot everything you see before this gigantic gun charges up and blows a major US city.

MWC Wilson
Michael Wilson is the epitome of action heroes, in the form of a US President. Photo: Devolver Digital

As captivatingly bad as the story is, it’s mostly carried by one of the most badass protagonists in video games. Michael Wilson is an absolute treasure, and if you disagree then he’d probably crush you between the palms of his mech. There’s something so very strangely satisfying playing as a man who spouts this rhetoric of patriotism and justice, all the while leveling cities with oversized mech-mounted weapons of destruction. It’s highly reminiscent of those late 70s to 90s action heroes, where the protagonists are often portrayed as an absolute paragon of everything that’s good and heroic in this world. It’s entertaining at the very least, and at it’s best you can take it as a commentary on how outside cultures viewed American culture, which was, at the time, often immortalized in action films.

Michael Wilson is not alone in his quest, though, as he’s accompanied by his faithful secretary, Jody Crawford. Oddly enough, Jody is also Michael’s love interest, which makes for very interesting and oftentimes hilarious interactions between them. Jody serves as this overarching voice for the whole narrative, which she does by briefing you on the various missions you undertake, following up on the things happening elsewhere while Michael fights his battles, and also acts as the game’s major source of motivation. See, after playing Metal Wolf Chaos XD for a while, I’ve come to realize that there’s a hidden gameplay mechanic that makes playing it absolutely worthwhile: motivation. At times when you find yourself overpowered, on the ropes and about to lose spectacularly (a-la Rocky), Jody will say the most endearing and hilarious words of motivation like a cheerleader on the sidelines. I understand why most players didn’t want Devolver and General Arcade messing around with the voice acting.

Gameplay

MWC Guns
There are a ton of guns available for manufacturing in Metal Wolf Chaos XD. Photo: Devolver Digital

Everything else taken into account, Metal Wolf Chaos XD is a goddamned masterpiece when it comes to gameplay. It’s not overly complex, yet not too simplistic. The gunplay is amazingly on point, and movement is absolutely topnotch, especially for a third-person mech shooter. For the most part, FromSoftware trimmed down and simplified much of Armored Core, which was somewhat harder to get into, in order to present it to a wider audience in America. I find it quite ironic now that a Japanese developer known for presenting and making challenging games commercially viable once chose to make a game easier, just so more people could enjoy it.

That’s not to say that it’s not without its moments of difficulty. Metal Wolf Chaos XD does not mess around, despite its seemingly simplistic nature. There’s some challenge to be found, but these moments largely come from your mistakes as a beginner rather than outright bad game design. It’s accessible enough that most players can appreciate it, while not being mindlessly boring like some third-person shooters.

The core loop revolves around President Wilson doing missions, which are unlocked through progression. In between missions, you find yourself in a loadout and map screen where you can choose which quests to take on next. Missions are also score-based, and there’s a leaderboard if you really want to drive home that you’re the best at Metal Wolf Chaos XD. Also, you can research and manufacture various weapons here, which are essential to progressing through the game.

Each mission consists of a small map which you are free to roam around in. Besides the general “go here and wreck shit” quests, you can also take the time to explore some nooks and crannies in order to free prisoners in cages. These prisoners can offer you big bonuses on your score, so they’re a nice sub-quest to finish if you really want to rack up the points. A group of prisoners can also include a musician, which will unlock new songs. These tracks can be manually changed through the game’s loadout screen, and you can assign a level track as well as a boss track.

MWC Dorsey
Metal Wolf Chaos XD's levels are small open-ended levels with some pre-recorded sequences. Photo: Devolver Digital

Completing missions will also net you money, which you can then spend to research new weapons. However, you still need rare metals to construct them, which you earn from collecting pick-ups in missions. It’s a very arcade-y kind of game, but for the most part it works brilliantly, since the real hook comes from how well the gunplay works. Metal Wolf Chaos XD allows you to wield two guns at once, one on either arm of Metal Wolf. Each arm can hold up to a total of four guns, which you can switch back and forth while playing. There are a huge variety of guns, ranging from something as small as a pistol and something as terrifyingly powerful as a railgun. The game does not lack for variety in this department, and there’s a real incentive to not just run blindly through the level, but rather to familiarize yourself with the environment and try and pick up as many materials as possible – unless there’s a time limit, of course.

The way Metal Wolf controls is something I also found to be amazing. I tried it using both a keyboard and a controller, and both offer great results. There’s no clear winner, so whatever your preference is you’ll be fine. Metal Wolf can dash for a bit, jump, and while in the air, perform a ridiculous slam that will destroy any light vehicle and kill soldiers instantly. Health is denoted by six bars, with a shield bar underneath them – once the shield runs out, you lose a bar. Shields recharge, though, and you can also pick up extra protection in order to stop your health from dropping.

Despite all of the commendable gameplay mechanics, I feel like General Arcade could have done more to polish some of the more annoying oversights. For instance, the health bar may confuse new players for a bit, as it can be hard to figure out what those blinking lights are without any text elements to explain.

Technical

MWC Settings
No 60 frames for PC players. Photo: Devolver Digital

Metal Wolf Chaos XD is being billed as this remaster of a cult classic, but the game kind of falls short for the actual “remastering” part. Maybe it’s just a specific thing with me, but I would’ve preferred if they called it a rerelease, and not an outright remaster, because it lacks some very critical things that I look for in an actual remaster. For instance, frames are locked to 30 FPS, which can be disappointing for PC players. I personally didn’t find any issues with it, despite playing exclusively on a PC for big releases for more than twelve years now, but it is a bit jarring to see a remaster for a fifteen-year old game that’s framelocked to 30 FPS.

The sound design is kind of all over the place as well. I get that some people who have already played this game before may want that authentic Metal Wolf Chaos experience, but I think that a little more effort on balancing out the voices and the cacophony of pure violence may have gone a long way. It may be a bit of a nitpick, but if they’re selling this as an actual remaster, I would expect more work put into trimming down some of the game’s problems. As much as I don’t want anything changed in terms of dialog, story and its extremely gratifying gameplay, the overall experience could have been so much better with a bit more polish.

Overall

MWC Overall
When the main antagonist looks as badass as this, you know you're in for a treat. Photo: Devolver Digital

What started out as a meme-worthy playthrough of a few hours quickly devolved into what is probably one of the most engaging games I’ve played this year. Despite its flawed presentation and lack of polish at times, there’s no denying what a technically sound game Metal Wolf Chaos XD is, especially when you consider the fact that it’s a decade and a half old. It is ‘fun’ packaged in its most primal form – destroying everything just for the pure heck of it. There’s just something so enjoyable in role-playing as an overtly cliched and badass American President that defies regular explanation; sometimes, it’s just enjoyable to mindlessly blow up hundreds of structures and soldiers with a bunch of guns strapped to a very patriotic mech.

Metal Wolf Chaos XD seamlessly blends all these elements - solid gameplay, story that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and highly memorable and likeable characters - and translates it into a message all gamers worth their salt can understand: in the end, we all play games just to have fun.

(Review of the game is based on 12 hours of gameplay.)

REVIEW SUMMARY
Metal Wolf Chaos XD
9
Metal Wolf Chaos XD Review - Come For The Memes, Stay For The Masterpiece
As much as people may look at this game as a meme and a novelty, Metal Wolf Chaos XD is more of a gem in the rough, a severely underappreciated title in FromSoftware's excellent library of mech games. The exaggerated patriotism, over-the-top dialog and impressive parody of popular culture is only a mask for its true facade - a surprisingly tight and very well-made mech game that's sure to please any fan and non-fan of the genre. The memes are only the tip of the iceberg.
  • Highly enjoyable gameplay loop.
  • Great characters, despite their one-sided personalities.
  • Extremely quotable dialog.
  • High replayability.
  • Polished controls and topnotch combat mechanics.
  • Lets you experience the life of an actual badass US President.
  • 'Remaster' part of the port is a bit disappointing.
  • Frames locked to 30.
  • Sound design may get a bit annoying at times.
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