The tale of Metal Wolf Chaos is one of those “stranger than fiction” things you could never make up. An American console manufacturer contracted a Japanese developer for a title that would appeal to the Japanese market. In what must have been the most egregious case of crossed wires in history, the result was a mech shooter steeped in American culture, complete with full English voice acting…that somehow never got released outside of Japan. Well, it’s fifteen years later, and that last part is about to change with the release of Metal Wolf Chaos XD.
If replacing the standard remaster suffix “HD” with a laughing emoticon didn’t tip you off, nothing in Metal Wolf Chaos is intended to be taken seriously. The player controls a hammy US president piloting an eight-weapon mech suit in a one-man campaign to retake the nation from the most blatantly and irrationally evil vice president imaginable. These characters verbally spar about freedom vs. justice with the specificity expected of career politicians, while jingoistic news reports and the president’s psychotic secretary provide running commentary. Debates will inevitably rage over what exactly is being satirized here, but my money’s on “not much.” It’s definitely saying something about American patriotism and post-9/11 media hysteria being comically excessive, but considering how easy it is to make those points accidentally, I’m reluctant to give any credit for it.
That’s fine, of course; any game that features a boss fight against an armored White House — dubbed the “Fight House” — is certainly not required to have a deeper meaning. In fact, this one has a justified cult following entirely because its story, characters, and dialogue are all wonderfully ludicrous. It certainly didn’t gain its reputation through gameplay. FromSoftware (the original Japanese developer) was a fairly niche studio for several years for good reason. Refinement has never been a high priority there, and in Metal Wolf Chaos, that means there’s a huge power disparity between enemy types, and the upgradeable arsenal has a handful of weapon styles that are objectively better than most others. There’s also a pointless combo scoring system and a couple of hostage rescue mechanics whose purposes are never explained.
FromSoftware were significantly more eclectic prior to being pigeonholed as the Souls-like codifiers, but they still had a comfort zone in the Armored Core series. Metal Wolf Chaos was seemingly designed to parody that franchise, and so inherited its clunky control scheme along with a uniquely awful weapon-switching interface. Additionally, too many missions focus on the destruction of “target areas,” identical stationary buildings with way more health than necessary. The gameplay isn’t terrible – using one hand to shoot down incoming missiles with small arms while wielding a grenade launcher in the other was a consistent highlight for me – it’s just kind of ordinary next to its over-the-top image. The occasional ability to wield all eight armaments simultaneously fulfills its potential, but those instances are short and infrequent.
As for the remaster, it’s not a great example of the practice. The visuals, being largely concerned with robots and military hardware, mostly – but not universally – hold up over the last decade and a half. The audio is not so fortunate. Several unidentifiable sound effects repeat frequently at an ear-splitting level that drowns out dialogue, and I can’t tell if this is a bug or just poor volume mixing. I can’t fault the voice acting for its goofy delivery, as that’s almost certainly intentional, but its habit of pausing mid-sentence to accommodate the subtitles removes the “it’s good” part from “so bad, it’s good.” The music is better, though it feels a bit like wallpaper – possibly as another consequence of the volume issues.
Metal Wolf Chaos definitely would not have earned its following had it been released more recently or under different circumstances. Intentional cheesiness has been done better by plenty of other games since 2004, and mech combat had been done better by plenty of other games even before then. But it is still funny – and not just on principle because of the weirdness surrounding it, but because it was designed to be. You should not buy Metal Wolf Chaos XD if you want to own a great game. You should buy it if you want to own a memetic touchstone with a mediocre game attached.
This review is based on the PC version of the game. A copy was provided by Devolver Digital.
The ridiculous premise of Metal Wolf Chaos far outstrips what its gameplay can deliver, but this international release is still good for a laugh.