Title: Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet
Platforms: PS4, Steam, Xbox One (reviewed)
Developer: Dimps
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Release Date: February 28, 2018
Xbox One: Â£50/$60
PS4: Â£50/$60
Steam: Â£50/$60
Tl;dr: Wow, this is like Destiny! Oh wait, no – it’s just terrible.
Family Friendly? Click here for more information

Games are tough to make. It’s a grueling process of trial, error, and compromise. So, you can only imagine how difficult it is to take something like a TV show and turning it into a game. History shows us that, in general, adaptations rarely do well, and even though Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet seems like it could be an exception to that rule, like so many other games in the SAO series, in falls flat thanks to repetitive gameplay, poor storytelling, and environments that don’t do current gen systems justice.

Fatal Bullets sees you enter Gun Gale Online, which, unlike the original world Aincrad, boasts an intimidating futuristic metropolis. The main point of the game is to be a master gunsman by the time the upcoming Flugel tournament arrives, fighting alongside Kirito, Asuna, and the… other characters who’ve showed up in SAO at some point. Where the games falls, and falls hard, is actually on those three points: setting, gameplay, and story.

When you first enter Fatal Bullet’s world, you might be taken in by the sheer size of the over-arching tower, thinking to yourself, “Oh wow, what a beautiful city – this game must be great!” Unfortunately, that’s just not the case. Because whilst the initial reveal shot of the SBC Glocken is quite nice, when you’re running around it, you’ll begin to notice things you just can’t unsee: the city’s architect obviously missed the lecture on curves, because everything seems incredibly angular. Add to that a pointlessly elaborate layout that could easily be a single road – because most streets just lead to nowhere – and the city hub of the game just leaves you feeling confused and angry.

Now, keep in mind that Fun Gale Online is supposed to be a game set in an MMO, a world that pulses with the stories and adventures of its virtual NPC players. It seems odd then that, as I made my way into about the fourth hour of the game, I was talking to the same characters, who were stuck to the same spot in the city hub. The streets of SBC Glocken are just short of a barren wasteland, giving you plenty of room to move around, but distinctly lacking that illusion of life – even virtual life.

As I bounded around the empty streets, furiously trying to find a staircase, the comparison to Kingdom Hearts 2’s Twilight Town popped into my head; a town that – given the power of the PS2 compared to now – was a fairly breathtaking experience, even though it was empty. But, to have the same emptiness on a current gen console, for a game that’s supposed to imitate all the features of an MMO, Fatal Bullet fails to deliver at pretty much every opportunity.

What the game lacks in design wouldn’t be such a big deal if at least the gameplay was fun, but guess what!? It’s not. When you do – finally – get a chance to shoot some enemies in the ugly and ridiculously generic brown landscape of the Remnant Wasteland, there’s a few things to note: one, most of the enemies are scorpions (large and small), robotic bees, and robot men that look like Slender Man dressed in white. Two, when you have the assist mode of aiming on, you don’t have to do anything apart from hold down the trigger button and reload. And, if you do decide to forgo the assist mode, well… nothing really changes, except you’ll want to aim down the sights. Like the game’s design, the shooting feels like it’s been ripped from a early 2000’s game and just shoved into SAO without any thought – strange for a game that’s literally supposed to be about guns.

But SAO: Fatal Bullet is far more than just about guns! It’s also about making friends, making outfits, making your avatar as cool as possible – basically, the game jumps between being a shit Destiny, and being a poor man’s Persona. Now, I understand that the social aspect and custimsation are a big part of SAO games – even though they played a relatively small role in the good parts of the anime. And even then the customisation, as expansive as it is, doesn’t really offer anything you won’t have seen before.

The major issue with the bells and whistles of making friends and playing dress up with your avatar, is that the game puts far more emphasis on this than it does the actual gameplay. The first two hours of Fatal Bullet are a painful slog of meeting people you don’t care about, being interrogated about your feelings for a robot woman, and being told to make outfits for yourself. What the game doesn’t tell you in the first fairly important hours of the game are: how to equip a weapon, how to use the skill system, or anything that’s actually important about surviving in the game.

To say Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is a shooter is just false, but it doesn’t really do enough to say that it’s a dating sim either. To be honest, the first few hours are such a misstep in focus for what the game wants you to do, that you’ll do well not to just give in to the growing apathy gripping at your mind. If you get past that, you’ll only be treated to more of the same throughout the whole game. It’s a shame to see the series quickly devolving into something totally alien to the original anime, but if you’ve played the past few SAO title and enjoyed them, Fatal Bullet offers more of the same except there’s guns. If you haven’t played an SAO game before… don’t.

What Rocks?

  • You’ll see Kirito and Asuna, that’s kind of cool
  • Players who enjoy customisation can have a lot of fun changing the appearance of their character throughout the game
  • Whilst the environment is really poor, the character models look pretty decent

What Sucks?

  • The game lacks any identity, unsure if it’s a shooter, dating sim, or something else
  • The design is incredibly poor for modern consoles
  • The shooting mechanic just feels lazy, like they decided to crack it out the night before the release date

Family Friendly?

Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is rated “T,” for Teen in America and PEGI 12 in the UK. If your kids liked the anime, then they might enjoy this, but there’s so much wrong with the game that I have to assume that you just don’t like your children.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a digital copy of the game provided by Xbox for the purpose of this review