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Review

Firewall Ultra Review

Flashing lights

PlayStation VR2 continues to carry a reputation of not having too many AAA titles, much like the original PlayStation VR. However, one title on that device that challenged those expectations was Firewall Zero Hour. Sony teamed up with VR studio First Contact Entertainment, which was comprised of veterans of the first-person shooter genre, to bring a AAA-level military shooter to the platform. This partnership led to one of PSVR’s most beloved titles and received support for the next half a decade. It was no surprise then, that First Contact’s follow-up Firewall Ultra shot to the top of every PSVR2 owner’s most anticipated list, hoping they could land another big hit for the sparse platform. While I can say, for the most part, that Firewall Ultra delivers similar thrills for PSVR enthusiasts, offering high-quality visuals that make use of PSVR 2’s unique capabilities, intense combat scenarios and hilarious social encounters, a combination of odd design choices and a lack of growth in certain areas over its predecessor hold it back from the potential a new entry could offer.

Firewall Ultra is a tactical competitive shooter that puts players in a squad of four, focusing on coordination, communication, environmental perception, and a selection of different equipment to either protect or acquire valuable intel. Those who have played any search-and-destroy modes, Rainbow Six Siege or the original Firewall will feel right at home here with its PvP mode. Players can customise weapon loadouts with various weapons, attachments, perks, and equipment, which are then assigned to a contractor, each with unique skills that players adapt to their playstyles. On its own, it does not sound like much, but the added VR layer adds a whole new dimension of realism, atmosphere, and tactics you could not get on a flat screen. Things like being able to lean from behind cover or look around independently while still holding your weapon in front of you are not only immersive but add strategic layers on top of what might otherwise be a vanilla experience.

firewall-ultra-preview-ps5-psvr2 (1)

Locked and non-manually loaded

The most immediate thing you will notice when you jump into the game is the significant improvement in visual quality next to Firewall Zero Hour and even other recent PSVR 2 shooters like Pavlov. The environments look impressive for a VR game, with high-quality assets, realistic-looking materials, and a variety of different locales to help keep things feeling fresh and premium. This is, without doubt, the best VR game yet that allows you to inspect your weapon details up close, and anybody who has read any of my previous VR reviews knows this is my favourite thing to do in the virtual world, so big kudos to the development team for creating such realistic and detailed weapons.

However, the biggest leap in visual quality comes from the excellent lighting. PSVR 2 boasts an impressive HDR OLED screen powered by the PS5, and Firewall Ultra showcases it not just for set dressing but to benefit gameplay as well. For example, dark rooms are pitch black. No joke, spotting an enemy in these rooms would be next to impossible. Players will then need to account for these dark rooms with attachments like flashlights, which look incredibly realistic but can also give away your position. You can alternatively use the flashlights to blind enemies in front of you, or even better yet, throw a flashbang their way. These truly live up to their name and are suitably blinding, but the effect can be mitigated by physically closing your eyes, which is pretty genius. Firewall Ultra continues to have these little touches that showcase PSVR 2’s unique features in unexpected ways and give it a unique edge over the competition.

One of these unique features is PSVR 2’s eye-tracking capabilities, which sadly haven’t been used to their potential in much of its library, but Firewall Ultra aims to change that. For example, most of the menus in the game (and there are quite a few) are operated using your eyes, and while they felt slightly finicky at the start, they eventually ended up feeling like second nature. This also carries over into weapon selection, which allows players to pull up their grenades and sidearms quicker than physically pulling them out, like in other VR shooters. This is achieved by simply hitting the weapon select button and looking at the equipment you want to swap to on the weapon wheel that appears in front of you. This is going to be a preference thing for the most part, as some might prefer the more immersive method of physically reaching and pulling out your desired weapon, but if you want to focus solely on the in-game action, the streamlined weapon selection option means you’re not fiddling and accidentally pulling out a grenade instead of your weapon.

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The eye tracking also plays into aiming. For example, the trajectory of grenades you throw is determined by where you’re looking. While I think it works better for me as someone who sucks at throwing anything, it might be a little uncanny for some when they press a button and watch the grenade launch wherever they’re looking, like they’re throwing it out of their eyeballs. Furthermore, while reasonably accurate, throwing a grenade in this method with absolute pinpoint accuracy is impossible. Another cool tidbit I noticed was if you close one eye while aiming down sights, you can zoom in and increase accuracy. Of course, this feature can be toggled off and is hidden behind a bunch of setting menus.

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The biggest difference between Zero Hour and Ultra is the control scheme. In the original game, players had the choice between a regular DualShock 4 controller or the excellent AIM gun controller (which the game was essentially tailored around). For Firewall Ultra, First Contact Entertainment uses the PSVR 2 Sense controllers and gains the advantages inherent to the controllers. Firstly, having a dual-motion setup is a lot more immersive and provides more options than the DualShock 4, and the addition of the haptics and adaptive triggers increase that immersion and tension of every bullet fired, magazine reloaded, and grenade exploded. The 3D audio also combines with the haptics to give you tactical information. For example, I felt an explosion in the 7 o’clock section of my left sense controller, so I knew the grenade was in that position from my location.

However, not everything is smooth. Some of the controls, such as swapping hands for your weapons, are slightly finicky, and the button to switch on attachments like the flashlight involves removing your thumb from the stick, which is too risky for intense combat encounters. The other heart-breaking aspect (and this is not the fault of the developer) is the lack of an option to use an AIM controller. Firewall Zero Hour with the AIM controller was one of the best experiences on the original PSVR and really one of the best experiences with a gun peripheral in history. I understand that an AIM 2 would probably need to exist to cater for Ultra, and the low demand for one in the big scheme of things does not make a lot of financial sense, but it does sacrifice its uniqueness by sticking to the traditional dual-motion setup.

Some control design choices create a disconnect between what your hands are doing and what’s happening on screen. For instance, Firewall Ultra does not have a manual reload option (I understand this is something the team is looking into); instead, reloading is done by simply pressing one of the face buttons on the sense controllers. It makes sense from a competitive gameplay perspective, but it does sacrifice that immersion factor (and the intensity) that comes with the realism of manually reloading. This is the case for other things, too, like opening doors and picking up weapons. Instead of reaching out to them and picking them up, you’re looking at them and holding a button down to interact. This is going to be a preferential thing, and while I understand the reasons for the decisions, I play VR mostly for immersion, so hopefully, they add some more options down the track.

Options are essential to any VR experience, and while some options I described are missing content, controller input and play style, Firewall Ultra still has a lot of comfort and control options for players looking to jump in. Settings focusing on movement, turning, eye-tracking, room configuration and more can be switched and toggled at any point. The one critique I have with the options is that while navigating them using eye tracking is intuitive, the menu layout itself isn’t. You’re likely going to have to flick through a couple of pages to get to the settings you’re looking for, so expect a neck workout.

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It would be a shame to mess up this beautiful office

Zero Hour was pretty glitch-free at launch from memory, so it’s rather odd that I constantly experienced them within Firewall Ultra. None of them were game-breaking and tend to occur in the lobby rather than actual matches, but they are there, and thankfully, they are often entertaining and hilarious. From trying to pick up a grenade only to have my previous gun appear to my hands twisting around in circles incredibly fast to squad mates bending over backwards like Regan from The Exorcist, there was always something new to get an unintentional laugh or two out of me. There are other visual and UI-related glitches, like the scoreboard taking a while to appear at the end of a match or an icon getting stuck on my screen even when I’ve moved away from it. I want to reiterate that I had not experienced a glitch that spoiled my overall enjoyment of the gameplay, but it does undermine the polished AAA pedigree that First Contact and Sony are known for. I have also seen reports of game crashes, and while this wasn’t something I experienced, it’s important to keep it in mind.

My major criticism of the game is its content (or lack thereof). Firewall Zero Hour had a similar problem where there was only the single contract mode, which you can play with other people or solo against bots. To First Contact’s credit, they had supported the original game for years, with up to ten seasons offering new maps, weapons, and contractors. However, what they did not add were any new modes. No co-op modes, no new PvP modes and no modes for single players to enjoy outside of that one bot mode. Half a decade later, Firewall Ultra has done little to rectify that outside of the addition of the new PvE mode called Exfil (which is admittedly quite rad), which is disappointing as it makes this game feel like it’s more of an enhanced port with reworked controls rather than a proper sequel. This extends to many of the maps and guns, which are just remade from the original, and not adding a whole lot on top of that in what is supposed to be a true sequel feels like a missed opportunity. Would it hurt to add a simple team deathmatch playlist? I do not doubt that the development team will strongly support the title post-launch, but I am keeping my expectations down on exactly what that post-launch content is.

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Contrary to the above criticisms, there is still that Firewall magic when you get paired with the right players, and everything just falls into place. Moreover, some of the nitpicks I have with controls are forgotten when you’re in the heat of battle, and you’re communicating with your teammates, giving them a sitrep to get the edge on the enemy. When you squad up with like-minded individuals who are there to have fun but are still communicative, Firewall Ultra truly shines and feels incredibly satisfying, even if you manage to lose it all in a desperate clutch situation.

Final Thoughts

I like Firewall Ultra a lot, but I want to love it. It plays things mostly safe by sticking with what worked in the original on a gameplay level. You can absolutely expect the same intense and highly coordinated tactical gameplay, with some smart enhancements, including utilisation of the Sense controllers’ unique features, implementation of intuitive but non-intrusive eye-tracking technology, and using the power of the PS5 to push the visuals to another level. However, as it’s been five years since its predecessor, and I expected a lot more modes and game types from this new iteration. PSVR 2 is already lacking in exclusive AAA content, and when the content they have is lacking, it’s almost demotivating to expect anything more from Sony soon, since this was supposed to be their big post-launch high-profile title. Additionally, the one element that made the original game so unique and special is now absent from the game, and while this is likely something out of the developer’s control, it does not make the pill easier to swallow. First Contact does have an excellent history of supporting its games (as niche as they are), and with a vocal Firewall community, I suspect many of the issues I have laid out will be addressed and eventually turn Firewall Ultra from a game I really like into a game I really love. Let’s start with a TDM mode, shall we?

Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher

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Firewall Ultra Review
Breach Expectations
Firewall Ultra sticks to what works and is very satisfying, but missed opportunities hold it back from truly being the ultra tactical VR shooter.
The Good
Excellent visuals
Clever use of lighting and eye tracking during gameplay
Matches are tactical and intense
Exfil mode is a really fun addition
Mostly retains the great core experience of Firewall Zero Hour
The Bad
Lacking in content and options that considers all types of players
Some minor cosmetic glitches
Something was lost by not supporting the AIM controller
7.5
Solid
  • First Contact Entertainment
  • Sony Interactive Entertainment
  • PSVR2
  • August 24, 2023

Firewall Ultra Review
Breach Expectations
Firewall Ultra sticks to what works and is very satisfying, but missed opportunities hold it back from truly being the ultra tactical VR shooter.
The Good
Excellent visuals
Clever use of lighting and eye tracking during gameplay
Matches are tactical and intense
Exfil mode is a really fun addition
Mostly retains the great core experience of Firewall Zero Hour
The Bad
Lacking in content and options that considers all types of players
Some minor cosmetic glitches
Something was lost by not supporting the AIM controller
7.5
Solid
Written By Joshua Rizk

Mr Multiplatform just wants everyone to get along. Occasionally he gets called a Sony fanboy but then he spams haters with photos of his Halo, Gears of War, Super Mario and Zelda statues. When he is not gaming he is in legal courts thinking about video games or recording music thinking about games

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