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A damned good game.

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    gadgaurd
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    Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet

    Rating: 4.0 – Great

    A damned good game.

    Background

    Sword Art Online: Fatal Bullet is the 5th game in the SAO video game series(not counting mobile games), and part of a fairly popular franchise that includes anime, a movie, books, and more. The setting of this game is Gun Gale Online, Contrary to the name, these games are only MMO’s in-universe. In reality they’re all largely single player experiences(this being the first and currently ONLY third person shooter in the series), though each one does have it’s own multiplayer mode or two. I’ll get to FB’s multiplayer in the gameplay section. But first, let’s talk about the writing.

    Writing

    The story of SAO: FB begins with the main character(who you create and customize) logging in to Gun Gale Online for the first time after being invited by a childhood friend. The invite is straight up for the friend, Kureha’s gain and she’s not shy about telling you. Turns out MC is insanely lucky, and in a tournament that’s about to start there’s an extremely rare item hidden away. You meet some people, almost get murdered by the mainline series hero(which is rather amusing, all things considered), and YOU end up owning the "item" in question: An extremely rare, high end AI companion(that you also create and customize).

    For the most part, the story is fairly laid back. Just a bunch of people playing an MMO and trying to clear a big quest. There is, however, some drama, and that’s where I feel the writing is at it’s worse. I don’t want to get into spoilers, but I’ll say one character really needs to chill and another lost their damn mind for no apparent reason(played the game twice, still don’t know why they got so ridiculously attached to the MC). When in the field, there’s banter between the various characters that can be pretty amusing, especially for series fans. And every teammate in the game has their own little event lines you can view by hanging out with them. I must say that Klein, Agil, and the Arfa-Sys(your AI companion) had the funniest events in the game, at least from the MC’s side. As a small note, there is a side mode where you play as series star Kirito in a slight retelling of the Death Gun events from the anime. It ties into the main story as well. But enough about all this, time for the real meat of my reviews.

    Gameplay

    For me, this is almost always the biggest factor of any game I play by a ridiculously large margin. This time is no different. While I wasn’t particularly moved by the story, the gameplay gets top marks in almost every aspect. Now, where to start…I guess I’ll cover the flow of combat first. Combat basically goes one of two ways. And orderly progression from point A to B to C, or all out goddamned chaos. Situations can get out of hand REAL quick depending on, well, a lot. As an example I once entered an area with some particularly strong flying enemies mixed in with the crowds. I was trying to raise affinity(more on that later) with a bunch of characters and had a tank with me at the time. I don’t know if it was the tank drawing too much aggro or one of my characters using flashy optical weapons, but I heard a warning about a sniper, was looking around, and one of my allies got their head practically blown off. The entrance to the area in question is something like a big trench, and we ended up fighting two flying enemies with extremely high firepower inside of it.

    I could go on all day with examples of things getting out of hand(which I personally love, chaotic battles are the best), but let me instead explain how things can get crazy. Battles generally take place in open fields or dungeons. In open fields, most enemies will respawn after a certain amount of time. The timer for this is pretty short too, so it’s easy enough to end up fighting on all fronts. Add in "Enemy Players"(which are of course AI but, lore wise, they’re other GGO players), Named Enemies, and Bounties, all much tougher enemies than average, and you can end up trying to take down a particularly tough enemy, get put on the back foot, and have a bunch of mobs respawn around you while you’re trying to regroup. Yes, I’m speaking from personal experience. Yes, I grinned like a madman when I had more prey to kill.

    That’s in the fields, though. Dungeons are more structured, but can still get pretty crazy. You’re moving down a mostly linear path with enemies set up to repel intruders. They’ll be behind barricades and set up around corners and basically just sit around waiting to ruin your day real quick. Levels don’t matter as much as in other SAO games either, by the way. Unless it’s a stupid huge level game(like, 100 or so), you rush in like a fool and your heads gonna get turned into swiss cheese. In addition to enemies being placed in advantages positions and formations, they’ve all got damned good aim and almost always aim for your face. They will shred your ass if you get careless. AI allies can revive you if you die, but I’ll be blunt: They’re fairly terrible at it.

    So in these dungeons you’ve got lots of enemies that have placement advantages, numerical advantage, and deadly aim. You’ll basically always be outnumbered, your AI teammates are…less than optimal, really it’s you doing almost all the work(welcome to SAO!). Again, I personally enjoy this. I wouldn’t mind my team being more competent, mind you, but as long as they aren’t actively making things worse(pretty much never happens) I’m good.

    Now let’s talk about the toys. The majority of what you’ll be working with in Fatal Bullet is fairly obvious. Guns, guns, and more beautiful guns. Guns come in two general types: Optical and projectile. Optical guns shoot lasers, basically. The ammo is cheaper, the guns are lighter, and if I recall correctly they have longer range and faster reloads. Downsides are that they do less damage to player types enemies(in-universe, all players use energy shields to block a certain amount of optical damage) and they draw the attention of monsters fairly easily. Projectiles shoot actual bullets. They’re generally stronger and are the best against player type enemies. Longer reloads, more expensive ammo, basically the opposite of optical guns. Categories for weapons are Handguns, ARs, SMGs, Shotguns, Gatling Guns, Launchers(rocket and grenade), Sniper Rifles, and Photon Swords. Yes, there are swords. In a game largely about guns. For most of the game they’re all but useless. Hits hard, but getting to the enemy can be a bit tricky(read: a real pain in the ass). Late game you get the signature skill of a certain character and you can literally deflect bullets with it, at which point it’s fairly awesome.

    So, 7 types, two distinct types each, plus a sword. That’s 15 different kinds of weapons. each one is further broken down into different models with differing rates of fire, ammo capacity, damage mods, etc. For example, one of the optical sniper rifles shoots a three round burst. yes, that’s a literal burst action sniper rifle. Only other place I’ve seen something like that is the Borderlands. There’s a fair bit of variety in primary weapons, and you can take two into the field, and more in your inventory, which you can switch by putting away your weapons. Not all sunshine and rainbows here, though. Each weapon has a specified weight to it. How much weight you can handle is determined by your strength stat. If you go over the limit your movement is slowed to a crawl. So unless you’ve got the patience of a saint, don’t be that guy who tries to go into battle with an AMR and a Gatling Gun. You’ll be a sitting duck, and then a dead one two seconds later.

    Before I get into character stats let me go more into detail on weapons. I already covered the differences in types, but even then two of the exact same gun can have vastly different performance. This is because of the weapon modification system in the game(also known as Lisbeth’s Blacksmithing, because of course it’s Lisbeth’s Blacksmithing). Weapons have varying rarities, and based on those rarities can have up to eight effects tacked onto them. depending on your luck you can outright change up to four of those effects. Right, forgot to mention: Guns bought from normal shops are the baseline rarity and have zero effect slots. guns bought at exorbitant prices from a certain hidden shop can have up to 6. Everything else has to be found in the field. Back to the effects: As you progress through the game Lisbeth becomes more and more proficient at customizing weapons. You can push effects to greater heights and at cheaper costs the further you go. Once you’re near the end of NG+ on Extreme(which I’ll not bother detailing) the mats required for this service are basically non existent. And what fun effects you can use. There are effects that give you gun a 51% chance to get a fresh clip once the current one runs out while skipping the reload animation(a personal favorite), effects that increase how much damage you do to weakpoints, effects that help with your accuracy, all kinds of things really. Nothing on par with an Atelier game, mind you, but you can definitely take your guns farther than you’d think. Ah, and while it’s probably obvious you can do flat damage upgrades to your guns as well on top of the mods.

    This review’s getting way more long winded than I wanted it to, so I’ll try and keep the rest brief. Your AI allies all have their own weapons, skills, gadgets, and combat patterns. You can issue orders to them collectively to try and control things. Your Arfa-Sys is the one ally you can fully customize. You can set up their weapons, skills, patterns, gadgets, the works. When you level up, you and your Arfa-Sys get stat points you can spend as you please. The various stats determine things like your movement speed, resistance to ailments, damage on crits, and more. You can respecc basically at will, so feel free to experiment with whatever builds strike your fancy(you lose nothing from a respecc). Skills and gadgets are basically two sides of the same coin, with the primary difference being skills are bought with SP and can be leveled up with repeated use(and more SP) while gadgets are bought with cash. Whether you’re unleashing flashy sword skills, lighting enemies on fire with your gun(literally), or setting landmines, you got options for your murderous needs.

    And I can’t neglect the online. There are essentially two modes: PvP and co-op. In co op, up to four players and their Arfa-Sys units can team up against the various bosses you encounter throughout the game. You’ll gain weapons to craft outfits, upgrade weapons, items to sell for tons of cash, and can get some rare weapons of your own. PvP is broken into two modes: Death match(two teams of up to 4 players each) or Boss(same thing, except the goal is to do more damage to the enemy boss). In the boss fight PvP mode you can still kill opposing team members, of course.

    In summary

    Fatal Bullet has a lot of mechanics I find fun, offering players a nice variety of tools to fight with in some rather chaotic battles. I enjoyed it more than I expected, and I’m checking daily for the rest of the DLC to drop(btw, I didn’t mention anything DLC related in the review) so I get more stuff to kill and new ways to do it. Story needed work and the AI occasionally frustrates when you bite the dust and you’re hoping for a revive, but after all that it’s still one of the best games I’ve played on the PS4 thus far.

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