A long-lost PlayStation 2 era game from the makers of Dark Souls casts you as the U.S. president piloting a giant robot (no, really).
As a rule of thumb, being aware of who the developer of a game is, is the most important detail you can know before playing it. Publishers often like to keep that fact obscure but it’s the best indication of both what to expect and the likely quality of the game. It’s not a guarantee though and while this is indeed by Dark Souls and Bloodborne developer FromSoftware it has nothing whatsoever in common with those games in terms of gameplay, setting, or being any good.
It’s tempting to draw a comparison with their Armored Core series of giant robot sims but while Metal Wolf Chaos does feature you, as the President of the United States of America, stomping around in a giant mech it’s a straight action game with very little depth. That’s not necessarily a failing though, it’s just not trying to be anything else, and instead it feels more like something out of the 16-bit era in terms of tone and nuance.
Despite being recorded entirely in English the game was only ever released in Japan on the original Xbox, which given how unsuccessful the Xbox was (and is) in Japan means that only a tiny number of people can have ever played it up till now. For the FromSoftware completionist, and fans of Japanese curios in general, that makes Metal Wolf Chaos a very tempting prospect, but we’d advise against expecting too much.
Apparently, the original idea was to release the game in the West, as a more accessible kind of mech game that might appeal more to an American audience. But that only raises the question of whether the game is supposed to be satire or just absurdist comedy. It was obviously never intended to be serious but was it meant to be funny or just silly? It’s hard to tell and that uncertainty can make it difficult to properly enjoy the dialogue.
This is important because the plot is easily the most interesting thing about the game, as you take control of President Michael Wilson, who has commandeered an advanced mech suit in order to fight a lone war against his former Vice President, who has taken control of the country in a coup. Apparently the military are totally okay with this, as you spend most of the game mowing down your fellow Americans and being egged on by your bloodthirsty secretary over the radio.
Whatever its intentions Metal Wolf Chaos is definitely funny, as Wilson’s comments veer from vaguely statesmen-like comments about protecting America to calling out his attacks like a Japanese cartoon. But this is very much at odds with the sluggish and frequently uninteresting combat. Each of the slightly open world levels tasks you with you taking out all the enemy forces (who for some reason have been kidnapping civilians and placing them in cages all over each city) which in turn triggers a boss battle.
Ordinary soldiers are literal cannon fodder, as you mow them down without effort, but that tends to be the most fun element of the game as anything bigger is almost always a bullet sponge and spending long minutes filling unmoving turret emplacements with bullets is not terribly interesting. The boss battles threaten to be more exciting but they go on for absolutely ages and with no checkpoints if you fail we can tell you that we would never have bothered continuing with more than a few of them if we didn’t have a review to write.
Metal Wolf Chaos originally came out in 2004, long before FromSoftware were famous. At that time their highest profile games were the Armored Core series and fellow Xbox exclusive Otogi. Metal Wolf Chaos has something in common with both games – with the jump and boost moves reminiscent of Otogi and something that was expanded upon for Armored Core later. Tonally the game has more in common with the QTE-filled action game Ninja Blade though, which was also batshit crazy but generally in a more interesting and varied way.
The problem with Metal Wolf Chaos is it’s just so dull and repetitive most of the time. Your mech has giant pods for shoulder pads that contain multiple weapons that you can switch to, many of which are fun to use but ammo is limited enough that you never feel you can really go all out. The control system means you only have to be aiming in vaguely the right direction to score a hit, but it’s that that we think encouraged From to make enemies such bullet sponges.
Your collection of weapons is constantly being added to and can be upgraded between missions, but you must choose which ones to take into battle before a level starts, despite being given no clue as to which would be most useful. This combined with the lack of checkpointing just adds to the frustration and while we can understand not wanting to make any substantial alterations to the game it surely wouldn’t have been much effort to sneak in some simple quality of life changes.
Instead, the game ends up looking and sounding slightly worse than the original, despite the resolution increase, with the same variable frame rate but noticeably less complex lightning and a weird sound balance that sees the volume going up and down like a yo-yo.
Metal Wolf Chaos XD is one of those games that’s destined to be described as ‘so bad it’s good’, even though that really isn’t accurate at all. Admittedly, ‘so competent it’s okay’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it but even that is a generous description of this mostly dull and frequently irritating action game. In the end it’s more entertaining to watch it in short clips online, as you laugh at the absurdity of it all, than it is to actually play it.
Metal Wolf Chaos XD
In Short: It might all seem amusingly camp watching it on YouTube but playing this outdated and clumsy action game is nowhere near as entertaining as it looks.
Pros: The script and voice-acting is genuinely funny, even if it all begins to feel rather strained towards the end. The multiple weapon systems and upgrades are fun to use.
Cons: The combat is slow, awkward, and very repetitive, with dull enemies that are a chore to fight. Lack of checkpointing or pre-mission info is needlessly frustrating. Drab, downgraded visuals.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Release Date: 6th August 2019
Age Rating: 16
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