Nothing but respect for MY president.
How far can a game propel itself on comedy alone? How much can quality writing and a strong sense of humour excuse dated, plain mechanics? If Deadly Premonition hasn’t convinced you yet, then Metal Wolf Chaos XD will – brave, hilarious writing is timeless, which is why the re-release of this 2004 mech game makes sense.
Set in a world where the 47th President of the United States, Michael Wilson, must single-handedly save the country in a giant robot, kicking ass, preaching patriotism and spreading his cult of personality, the title exists on sheer ridiculousness alone.
FromSoftware is a veteran in reinterpreting the West, as proven by its original response to the fantasy canon with Dark Souls. The wildfire of praise that surrounded Dark Souls and its take on well-trodden tropes can be traced back to Metal Wolf Chaos. Back in 2004, though, FromSoftware was not attempting to thread in fictional Western tropes, but realistic ones. Parcelled into its ridiculous aesthetics is a game that wrestles and pokes holes in the American Dream and Bush-era politics, all with a smile on its face.
Much of the game’s maximalist approach to parody is summarised in its opening. After a short synopsis, the President tells his assistant, Jodie, to “get his suit,” before entering a mech. The President is facing down the barrel of a coup d’état, and he only trusts himself to fix it.
Following that, he propels himself through the air whilst proclaiming “let’s party!” as loud as he can, before a shot cuts to him outside the White House. His mech looks into the camera and he says, deadpan as can be, “Welcome to the White House.” It sort of feels like something out of a half-fun fever dream because the game is, sort of, a walking nightmare. The opening ends with the President escaping in Air Force One to liberate San Francisco. Obviously.
Gameplay-wise, Metal Wolf Chaos XD was a more-than-serviceable mech game when it released in 2004. FromSoftware, given its seasoned experience with Armored Core, knew how to make mech controls that felt fluid with an arsenal of satisfying weapons. Metal Wolf Chaos XD knows how to make players feel strong, buying into the tongue-in-cheek power fantasy of a POTUS gone over the edge. The gameplay hasn’t aged too badly, but it doesn’t exactly live up to modern standards when it comes to mission and level design.
While the central gunplay and movement are still decent, the repetition of mission objectives is the game’s most egregious marker of age. Essentially, players must defeat key objectives during a level to bring down the number of enemy reinforcements, but the cycle of defeating bullet-spongey towers and constructs gets tiresome quickly. Even if the gameplay just about hits average, the shallowness of the level design is sadly below par.
However, people don’t play Metal Wolf Chaos for its gameplay. The reason the game has reached cult status is for the combination of parody and flat-out ludicrous voice acting. The developing undercurrent of liberating America by shooting everything is the opposite of subtlety, but the sense of humour, accidental or not, elevates its thematic discussions significantly. Sometimes, a sudden exclamation of terrible dialogue or a completely off-tone song ignites hilarity – it honestly feels like a precursor to Deadly Premonition’s off-kilter, absurdist humour.
Despite its excellent, beautiful catastrophe of a script, Metal Wolf Chaos XD is a tough sell. Why would players want to spend time on a game with gameplay this dated? The reason is simple: Metal Wolf Chaos XD is a reminder that games can be fun even if they don’t meet wider notions of what makes them ‘good.’ The title is mindless fun, a distraction from the confines of what audiences expect when they play a game.
It’s incredible that Metal Wolf Chaos XD even exists given that it was a Japanese-exclusive Xbox game. Used copies were selling for hundreds online, so for Devolver Digital to take a risk and re-release the title to Western audiences is a big gamble to make. The publisher should be commended for taking much-needed steps forward in official game preservation. The game’s now-infamous status was propagated by an internet fandom that refused to let it be lost to the peripheries of game history, and, collectively, video game fans everywhere should be happy for it.
Games can be fun even if they don’t meet the baseline standard. Sometimes, as an industry, gaming forgets about the virtues of a title just being silly, and that’s why Metal Wolf Chaos XD has risen from the ashes at the right time.
[Reviewed on PC]