There are two things I like in a videogame: mechs and explosions. The bigger, the better.
Metal Wolf Chaos XD involves the President of the USA driving a mech around and blowing half the country back to FREEDOM from a villainous coup led by his Vice President.
It’s a questionable mech shooter but it’s hilarious and I spent most of my time with it almost crying with laughter.
Metal Wolf Chaos XD
It’s the kind of overblown comedy satire that simultaneously does not deserve the production values and artistry put into it and yet would hardly work at all without the bombast. When it was first released for the original XBox in 2004, the height of the War On Terror, it was probably quite provocative, its satire distinctly unsubtle. No wonder it only came out in Japan and never reached the rest of the world… until the XD remaster of 2019.
It starts with the Prez exploding out of the White House in his mech, brandishing a huge revolver in one hand and a huge shotgun in the other, and pretty much goes up from there. Huge missiles. Huge machine guns. Huge armies. Huge bosses. Huge crumbling chunks of scenery. Huge explosions.
How much story can you wring out of such a premise? Apparently, actually quite a lot!
There are talking head briefings before and after missions. There are in-game cinematics to start and end the gameplay. There is radio chattering during missions, including a propagandist who paints all your liberations actions as terrorism (no politics in video games, mate). There are post-mission reports written in hindsight. Pretty much every traditional game storytelling approach is deployed with wild abandon.
And the dialogue is fantastic throughout. It’s stupid in all the best ways and I found myself laughing out loud with disturbing regularity. The voice acting of presidential aide and eye-in-the-sky Jody is a constant delight, ranging from her calmly berating you for letting your mech take too much damage to her anguished cry of “Mister Presideeeeent!” if you die.
It’s a game with a peculiar side though. The moment-to-moment gameplay is as you’d expect: bounce around various landmarks to destroy important objectives and liberate the land. There are collectibles in the form of ammunition, repair kits and such to keep you alive through your rampages, hidden in crates and destroyed buildings. Trucks and barracks buildings continually spawn weak soldiers until they are destroyed, ensuring you have ample distraction on your way to the primary targets. Tanks, helicopters and rival mech suits regularly join the fun for giant boss action.
But then there are other collectibles that play into a meta-game. Yes, Metal Wolf Chaos XD has something of a strategic layer — pick up money and metal ingots to research and manufacture new weapons between missions, then pick your loadout carefully to match what’s coming up. You’ll get a selection of missions at a time that can be completed in any order, so if you have trouble with one you can grind resources in a more forgiving arena then go back in with better (or simply more suitable) equipment. You can even replay old missions to earn money again, and it’s always nice to return to a mission that was difficut the first time and find it piss easy with upgraded firepower.
The amount of money you earn from a mission is also affected by your score. You are given bonus points for chaining kills, running people over while boosting, and probably other things I failed to notice in the glorious cacophony of battle. The numbers are incredibly vast though, so despite my consistent E rankings (the shame) I always had plenty of money for the few weapon types I cared about.
Even so, doing research and manufacturing weapons seems like a needless way to distract and slow down the game. There are many very minor variations of weapon in each category, with reams of stats to compare. Do I want one that fires faster, further, does more damage, shoots energy bolts instead of bullets, …? It’s hard to tell until you actually get into play, so the loadout selection process is mostly a massive damper on what’s otherwise a tremendously fun rollercoaster shooter — but a sadly necessary one, as later missions can be too difficult without those bigger guns.
The other, perhaps more pertinent, downside is that the controls are pretty wacky. I started off playing with the mouse and keyboard, which was hampered by how slugging it is to look around: aiming was incredibly difficult the way the view swung about, even if the rest of the controls were straight-forward third-person-shooter fare. My mouse usage came to an abrupt end when in one level the viewpoint was perma-drifted to either the top or bottom of the screen; obviously a bug, but a game-breaking one.
Luckily I still own an XBox One Controller For Windows (i.e. an XBox One Controller but with a USB cable) and, once I found a driver download for it because apparently Windows 7 driver downloads have been deliberately cut off, that went a lot better. Obviously using a thumbstick for what should be mouselook is replete with all the usual pains, there’s enough aim-assist built into the universe that it’s not the worst deal in the world.
Though there are other issues with targeting. Many heavy weapons like missile launchers shoot intolerably slow projectiles — fine when enemies are shooting at you and you can machine-gun them out of the sky, not so fine when you’re trying to blow up a huge defence tower and none of your explosives are actually impacting. Then when your missiles do get through the hail of enemy bullets, some hitboxes are flaky enough that shooting the wrong bit of a tower, even with the massive-looking blast radius of an explosive shell, won’t result in any noticeable damage.
Switching weapons is also needlessly awkward. You press a button to go into selection mode, which extends all your options out from the mech’s shoulder pods — very cool, but now you can’t shoot with either hand so changing weapon when you run out of ammo in a battle is needlessly frantic. Not to mention it’s quite hard to tell different weapon models apart from your shoulders, so it’s very easy to accidentally select that slow-firing two-hander rather than the different machine gun you were looking for.
But that aside? It’s still great fun. Everything is so overblown even squidgy controls can’t dampen its exuberance. I spent the whole time laughing, either squealling with delight at the next big explosion or giggling at the daft dialogue and everything in between. Metal Wolf Chaos XD is the best kind of romp — an explosive mech romp.