At no point during Metal Wolf Chaos XD is it easy to forget this a re-release of a 15-year old game. From the bulky menus, cumbersome controls and over-the-top action to the hilariously tongue-in-cheek voice acting, heavy focus on high scores, and complete lack of seriousness throughout, this is very much a video game from a different era, for better and for worse.
Metal Wolf Chaos XD clocks in at a breezy seven hours to complete all of its missions, which feels like the perfect length for a game like this. You control Michael Wilson, the 47th President of the United States of America, as the Vice President stages a coup and usurps control of the country through force. So now it’s up to you as a lone mech pilot to single-handedly wage war against the dirty rebels and take back control of the country in the name of freedom, justice, and the American way.
The plot is absolutely ludicrous, but it embraces the tone whole-heartedly. The superbly campy voice acting and borderline cringe-inducing writing help sell what is intentionally designed to be a full-on parody. You have to approach Metal Wolf Chaos XD with some understanding of just how tongue-in-cheek it all is or it’s close to impossible to enjoy yourself. I laughed during every conversation and cutscene. One-liners like, “Suck on my missile punch!” were just top-tier and the sheer ridiculousness of each premise had me chuckling non-stop. Liberating the country as the President by demolishing buildings and murdering thousands of people is par for the course in this twisted version of America.
This is very much a direct parody of American government, politics, and national security policies that feels extremely poignant, even all these years later. From Software originally released this game a mere three years after 9/11 and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. And neither is the fact that it somehow only ever released in Japan. Frankly, it’s shocking that it’s seeing the light of day in the rest of the world at all even now.
Basically, Metal Wolf Chaos XD is like if you took From Software’s classic Armored Core series, ripped out most of the complexities and customization and then replaced the premise with something that feels like a Team America spin-off. All this re-release does is upgrade the visuals to HD resolutions for modern platforms, and that’s about it.
As someone who can appreciate a bit of mindless action, Metal Wolf Chaos XD definitely delivers on that front, even if actually controlling your mech never feels quite right. Turning to line up your shots is sluggish and using the boost to evade is extremely inaccurate. Hovering in the air isn’t anywhere near as useful as it should be and you’ll often be fighting the camera in addition to your enemies.
Luckily, the aiming system adds a bit of nuance to keep things more interesting. Each gun has an aiming radius displayed as a box on-screen. As long as an enemy is within that box when you shoot your weapon, you should hit them. But that box is shaped differently for each weapon, which adds a lot of interesting strategy in how you approach combat encounters.
For example, missiles and bazookas have a very small square aiming reticle, typically move slowly, and don’t lock-on to enemies, but a machine gun has a widespread area it could hit. It’s a strange way to aim and fire weapons that takes some getting used to, but picking the right weapon for the right enemy and situation is extremely important. For example, slow-moving tanks and hovering helicopters are susceptible to bazookas if you can aim them well, whereas ground forces are best handled with machine guns. Big, powerful weapons like railguns and multi-missile launchers don’t have a lot of ammo capacity, but are extremely powerful when used against heavily armored boss enemies. Sadly, most enemies are uninspired bullet sponges that are far from a challenge when not collected in massive swarms, with bosses acting more as a test of your patience than your skill.
Because your weapon decisions are so crucial, the lack of information offered about missions before you play them is extremely frustrating. Having more intel to better prepare before going into a mission blind would be great. All it tells you is the basic objective, such as destroy all targets or destroy the canon before it fully charges, but you never know which types of weapons you might need. This becomes even more problematic since there are no checkpoints at all during missions. After spending a half-hour meticulously clearing a map only to run into a brick wall with a boss you weren’t prepared for is devastating since you have to reload your last save as if none of that progress ever happened.
Trial and error design like this feels extremely outdated, unsurprisingly. But I wish this XD release would have added things like checkpoints or extra mission briefing intel to help smooth things out without sacrificing the core design and intended challenge. Wasting my time by forcing me to replay a mission isn’t fun.
Thankfully that didn’t happen very often. Most of the time missions are straightforward and a diverse loadout covering all bases will get the job done. Especially since the vast majority of missions have you stomping out enemy vehicles, blowing up towers, and shooting down helicopters. After a while it all starts to feel the same except for occasional boss fights. Other than one or two levels, they’re all very flat with next to zero variety in elevation or enemy types.
In between missions, you can spend money and materials on investments and manufacturing in the Garage. Each type of weapon has multiple tiers to unlock that let you manufacture new, better guns. It’s a decent customization system that adds just enough complexity to make progression feel constant and rewarding, but eventually you hit a point where it doesn’t matter anymore because of how powerful you become.
Mission structure is pretty problematic overall. For starters, there are zero checkpoints. If you die at the boss after a half-hour of monotonous gameplay clearing out spongy grunts, being forced to replay the entire mission over again feels like a massive chore. Most of the missions are completely linear without any variation making it get real old, real fast.
After beating a mission you can return to try and find hidden prisoners to rescue, or even change the difficulty to try for better rewards and new mech skins, but that level linearity meant I didn’t find myself wanting to replay them very often. Some other sort of game mode would have been a welcome addition as an alternative way to earn cash, like a wave-based mode or some randomization to make things a bit more unpredictable.