Are you a bad enough dude to be the president
Before From Software was synonymous with Dark Souls, it was pumping out mech games. To me — even as someone who has torn through every Souls game multiple times at this point — From will likely always be linked with Armored Core in my eyes more than anything (alongside of King’s Field).
Armored Core really was something else, propelling action-oriented mech chaos to the forefront when there really weren’t that many genre staples to go around (Heavy Gear, anyone?), but still maintaining some of the simulation-based elements of games like Mech Warrior.
Metal Wolf Chaos is another feather in From’s robot cap, but there’s nothing simmy about this absurdist action romp.
Metal Wolf Chaos XD (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: From Software, General Arcade
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Released: August 6, 2019
To some, Metal Wolf Chaos is a mere legend.
It was released in 2004 on the Xbox (man I miss when we got amazing Xbox exclusives from eastern studios) only in Japan, with the conceit of the President of the United States taking control of a super mech to fight off a military coup. A mech game, from the creators of Armored Core, with a plot that ridiculous: you can see why the legend lived on. It’s now a reality in the west thanks to a localization by Devolver Digital and port work from General Arcade, under the guise of Metal Wolf Chaos XD.
The entire game takes place inside of said mech, which is an unprecedented piece of tech (in this universe at least) that sports a number of advanced weaponry systems and swift movement. As the President, you’ll flee Washington D.C. and take refuge in San Francisco (told you it was ridiculous) to plot your revenge, before you subsequently rip across the nation to take down the evil Vice President. I wish more modern games were this crazy.
The mech is completely customizable with a distinct two-trigger dual weapon system. Initially, the right side consists of your staples (like pistols and rifles) and the left side is your heavy equipment (rocket launchers), with the option to swap other weapons in and out as you research them. It’s a simple enough concept to grasp in the first few minutes, which allows for a smoother transition of in-action weapon swapping (and visual cues with clear weapon models and UI indications after a swap). Beyond that, you just need to boost, jump, stomp, and occasionally trigger your ultimate attack (“blaze,” by clicking in the two analog sticks).
It’s a lot like EDF in that you can not only take down troops with individual fire, but take it a step further and blow up the entire structure they’re standing on with rockets. Most of the game (outside of perimeters and solid walls) consists of destructible matter, which comes in handy as you upgrade into a bigger powerhouse. It can be slow-going early on: there are some cases in the first few missions where you’re sitting there firing at an objective with weak ammo (if I have one tip to impart to readers, it’s to use the stomp attack a lot, especially on structures, to conserve ammo).
That speed I was talking about earlier takes the form of boosts, which you can use to either strafe, rush down, escape, or even hover for a bit with an air dash. My favorite mechanic (retained from the original) is the fact that the left analog stick is mapped to boost, which is way easier to hit on the fly for strafing than the alternate configuration of the square/X button on the DualShock 4 and Xbox remote respectively (no claw-hand needed). So you get how it controls: how does all this madness come together?
This is a mission-based game where nearly every objective is “kill/blow up something,” which you’ll do on medium-sized sandbox maps. I really have to stress this: Metal Wolf Chaos XD is seeped in old-school game design. Sometimes you’ll make it all the way through a map to the “end” before realizing “crap, I actually forgot an objective at the beginning and need to backtrack.” There’s also a few awkwardly designed boss fights (the infamous Fight House returns) and a few enemies that will completely blow you away in a few hits. I’m not going to say that’s part of the charm, because it was a problem back then and it’s a problem now.
With that in mind, I generally had so much fun plowing through enemies, upgrading my mech, and locating secrets that those moments were much easier to deal with. Depending on your penchant for action games and ability to create the perfect chef-kiss loadouts, missions could take you anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour each, accounting for restarts. The full campaign is around six hours or so, with a New Game+ option that allows for unlockable skins.
The sheer preposterousness of it all is not lost at pretty much any given moment, which is another source of solace. There’s a CDNN propaganda news station (topical!), and everything is hilariously overblown. Like for instance when you go to “Phoenix (Arizona)” it’s not an actual depiction of modern-day Phoenix, but an old west town. Now I know there are tourist trap-esque old west sets/relics in Arizona, but you get what From Software is going for here with the parody aspect in the key of Godhand (which actually came after Metal Wolf, but is probably one of the closest well-known analogs).
The big upgrades for 2019’s XD include touched-up visuals, “refined controls,” and a better save system (autosaves are in). In other words: a bit more than the average bog-standard remaster, but still very much the same core experience as 2004. Devolver Digital has even gone on record noting that the content, most notably the over-the-top voice acting work, remains unchanged despite the remastering efforts.
In a touchy era of remasters, where the nostalgia versus modern refinement arguments are heating up, I have to give it to Devolver and From for exercising restraint here — especially given that western audiences are still able to experience the game the same way others did over a decade ago. That means dialogue like “as Americans, we love freedom,” “well I guess they won’t be voting for you next term,” and “I feel bad for the building owner, but let’s blow it up anyway” is fully intact.
Although XD does look better than the original, it’s still limited by some very basic particle effects, plenty of disappearing models, and other general visual jank (subtitles are white-on-white, which generally looks bad and makes them hard to read, especially during the DNN broadcasts). I also encountered one freeze (my PS4 was still operational so it wasn’t a hard crash) when attempting to return to the hub menu during a mission. These are mostly minor complaints when it comes to the actual remaster work itself, as I personally would have been fine with a backward compatible “Xbox Original” release on Xbox One.
Before you get too excited, it’s important to note that I collect these types of games, and have just about every action release in existence from Nightmare Creatures to Bujingai: The Forsaken City. While there is a sense of feeling out whether something is “dated” or not, for the most part, a good action game is a good action game.
Metal Wolf Chaos fulfills this criteria because of its unique premise that wouldn’t be out of place in the late ’80s, combined with From Software’s penchant for mechicular (I just made this up) combat. If you hate old games and crave the newest visual advancements, avoid it. For everyone else: there is something here you can sink your teeth into that’s more than just a novelty relic.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]