In 2004, when Metal Wolf Chaos was first released on the original Xbox, it didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of making it out of Japan. Any sane publisher would have taken one look at this mad B-movie robot game, in which the 47th President of the United States (Michael) dons a mech suit and blows up most of the continent to quash an insurrection led by his former vice-president (Richard), and correctly assessed that it was at best a nonsense curiosity.
Now, though, its developer FromSoftware is famous thanks to Dark Souls and we have cheap digital downloads, so this mostly dreadful and yet somehow fascinating relic of a long-dead era of video games has made an unexpected reappearance. Given the merest visual upgrade, it is otherwise an unreconstructed mad robot romp from the mid-oos, with appalling voice acting and overblown, poorly translated cutscenes that truly must be seen to be appreciated in all their awfulness. Lines such as “The fight will continue … as long as the America in my heart is still alive!” are so common that after a while I forgot even to cringe at them.
After strapping a rotating arsenal of multi-missile launchers, bazookas and railguns to the presidential giant robot, each mission has you stomping through a different area of the US blowing up a seemingly infinite army of trucks, tanks, helicopters, soldiers and the figments of military fantasy, such as a gigantic laser gun on the island of Alcatraz. This is entertaining but cumbersome: I was constantly running out of ammunition for the most fun (and effective) weapons, often right at the end of 20-minute missions which – this is from 2004, remember – have no checkpoints. Trudging around deserted levels smashing crates for ammo is a throwback to old video game design fallbacks that surely nobody misses.
You could generously call Metal Wolf Chaos XD satirical, but it would be difficult to pin down exactly what it is satirising. American exceptionalism, patriotism and military supremacy? Bad action movies? Good action movies? In a post-Trump world it’s tempting to search for some meaning in this cheesy, explosion-filled rampage, but this is a game from another time, best enjoyed with your brain switched off, some friends to laugh with, and perhaps a bottle of extremely cheap spirits.