Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet Review



Genre: Action RPG
Rating: M
Release Date: 24/02/2018

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- Fun gameplay loop
- Switchable aim-assist mode is great
- Character customisation is engaging


- World is bland and uninteresting
- Characters lack personality
- Story is forgettable
- Controls can be clunky and unresponsive

Posted March 11, 2018 by

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There are few types of games that leave me feeling a little perplexed, but the pseudo-MMORPG is one that I’ve always found as fascinating as it is perplexing. They’re games with all the trappings of a massive multiplayer game, just without any other actual players. Whoever’s fever dream it came from, it’s a style of game that I’ve really come to appreciate, despite its relative scarcity. I started with .HACK in the early 2000s and became enamoured once again in recent years with the sudden popularity of Sword Art Online. After multiple seasons and game adaptations, the Sword Art Universe is back again on gaming platforms, this time as a shooter taking place in Gun Gale Online – the fictional game the second season of the show was set in. With a focus on shooting, story and massive enemies, Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is an enjoyable experience, hampered by an unengaging story and cumbersome controls.

If you’ve not watched or heard of Sword Art Online before, let me give you a quick crash course. In the near future VR technology has evolved to the point where your literal consciousness can be loaded online to play games. The most popular games for players are giant MMORPGs – where they can now become whoever they want to be in-game. The game of choice for Fatal Bullet is Gun Gale Online, a massive online shooter where players compete in the environs and tournaments to become the best and score the finest loot they can find. Being a game set within a game means that Fatal Bullet could theoretically take a lot of creative liberties to create weird and wonderful environments and designs, but this unfortunately isn’t the case. The majority of the environments you’ll find yourself in are bland and uninspiring, with simple texturework and enemy designs that are often repeated or reskinned in different colours with slight texture changes. In a world you’re meant to want to explore, it’s a bit disengaging and had me quickly running through environments instead of taking my time and savouring them.

The physical trappings are only part of a world, with its characters and story providing the rest. In Fatal Bullet you play as a completely original character with no previous example in the franchise. This means that while you interact which well-known characters from the series, you’re freed from the trappings of the previous canon. This could lead to all sorts of interesting possibilities, but the story in this instance couldn’t be much less interesting. For much of the story there is no logical flow, just bouncing between different characters and events without any real coherent link between them. This could all be redeemed if the characters and writing were interesting, but they really aren’t. The characters lack any depth whatsoever, effectively becoming caricatures of anime tropes without any real personality. The real blame for this comes from the game’s writing, which lacks any real personality. It only took an hour of mind-numbingly boring small talk with uninteresting characters for me to begin skipping through large chunks of text until a cutscene with the actual pertinent information would play. For a game and genre with a heavy emphasis on characters and story, its somewhat unbelievable that this would be Fatal Bullets most disengaging aspect.

While the environments can be bland and the story is forgettable, I still found myself coming back again and again to experience the real meat of the game – its combat and loot. Mowing through low-level mobs with my submachine gun and assault rifle is exhilarating and highly enjoyable. This was aided at times by the game’s Assist Mode, a freely switchable auto-aim option that removes your gun’s crosshairs for a large window where your shots will automatically target and hit enemies. While it isn’t for everyone, the Assist Mode meant that if I could keep playing when I wasn’t completely on my game, instead of getting frustrated and switching the game off. It also opens the game up for those who aren’t familiar with shooters or just struggle with the coordination required for the genre. While the Assist Mode is fantastic, I feel as though it’s almost there to mask controls that can sometimes be unresponsive and clunky. Aiming your gun feels slower than it should and your characters movement is far from responsive. This is especially frustrating in boss battles, where you tend to be fighting the controls to avoid large scale attacks while trying to get hits in. The controls are nowhere near being game breaking, but they could have done with a bit more work.

The best part of Fatal Bullet though is its main gameplay loop, which feels very similar to a true MMORPG. You spend the majority of your time in open-area environments or within tighter dungeons, always killing and collecting loot. You can warp out of the area at any point, at which point you automatically use the experience you’ve accumulated during your massacre to level up and gain skill and stat points to use on your character. Weapons and skills all have stat requirements before you can use them, as opposed to level requirements, so you can freely build your character up in whichever direction you choose. This left me feeling like I was always building to a goal of my own choosing, as opposed to one forced on me, and I was more engaged because of that. This constant evolution was noticeable in game as well, as I became better able to handle bosses and enemies as I levelled up and specced out my character to meet my chosen playstyle. While it took a few hours to kick in, once I was in the loop and running a character built to my specifications, I found Fatal Bullet to be a great game to play.

Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is a game that feels like it has some wasted potential. The actual gameplay and inherent systems are fun and enjoyable, albeit clunky at times, but the trappings built around them are lacklustre and disengaging. If you’re able to look past the failings of the story and characters and want a fun loot-driven shooter to play, then Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is the game for you.

Andrew Cathie

Rocket Chainsaw's premier Fantasy-loving Editor. I basically play anything and everything that looks like it could be fun or interesting. Also, pugs are awesome. Puglife.