Sometimes Sony don’t give enough marketing attention to some of their sleeper hits. Until Dawn in 2015 was a prime example of a game that received little buzz pre-release but garnered a healthy following when it finally launched. Sony has done a similar thing by partnering with First Contact Entertainment and publishing their newest VR multiplayer shooter exclusively on PlayStation VR, titled Firewall: Zero Hour. In doing so, the studio has not only produced one of Sony’s best releases on the device, but one of the best games on PSVR. Period.
It’s a small wonder then that the incredibly disappointing Bravo Team received a lot more attention than Firewall ever has since its reveal at PSX 2017. Hiding in the shadows, First Contact was tinkering away to build one of the most polished and content-rich multiplayer shooters in the VR space, combining the expertise of veterans in the genre and marrying it perfectly with the PSVR and Sony’s AIM controller without having to compromise anything that players come to expect from the genre on PC and consoles.
The interesting thing about Firewall: Zero Hour is that it isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel or innovate within its genre. First Contact Entertainment are made up of veteran developers from Blizzard, Treyarch and Infinity Ward, and instead of standing out by creating something novel, they stand out by creating a ‘best in class’ experience.
The game carries heavy influences from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Counterstrike and more specifically, Rainbow Six Siege. Given the team’s experience with the genre, this is their bread and butter, and each facet of Firewall shines through at the level of a AAA shooter. To put it in a nutshell, this is something of a Rainbow Six Siege clone. Matches involve two teams of four assuming the roles of either attackers or defenders.
Attackers need to locate access points to reveal the location of a laptop and then hack the laptop in order to win the match. Defenders need to wipe out or hold off the opposition until the timer runs out. Players can choose from a number of operatives, each with their own abilities, with a plethora of customizable options for weapons and loadouts that rival contemporary shooters in the flat-screen market.
All of the usual suspects are here such as the MP5, pump-action shotguns and everybody’s favourite comrade; the AK-47. Most of the attachments and skins are a bit uninspiring, but they are fun nonetheless and provide a nice balance to how matches play out. However, it’d be unfair to just blow this off as a Rainbow Six Siege copy, as the game itself is very well designed, polished and fun to play.
Firewall doesn’t just rely on PSVR’s novelty, it’s a competent shooter in its own right
As described above, Firewall Zero Hour only contains one game mode at launch. While there is a single player option (training mode), it is only in the multiplayer mode that you’ll compete against bots. I recommend players try out the tutorial before jumping into their first match as well. It only lasts a few minutes and should cover the basics adequately. I understand and appreciate the developer’s vision to make the best possible game they could make by focusing all of their resources on this one mode but I would be open for some more modes and possible single player or co-operative missions to be added in future updates in order to offer something for everyone.
That isn’t to say there isn’t an adequate amount of content in its current offering. There are 9 maps at launch, set across three regions, each with their own distinctive look and layout that provides for some memorable firefights. Some of the maps even gave me nostalgic memories of Call of Duty 4 and Counterstrike. Examples include middle-eastern districts that create some nice chokepoints and multiple avenues to get around and flank the enemy, or the shipping yard with plenty of cover provided by the shipping containers.
Communication and sound is definitely an essential part of this type of game. The mode does not favour lone wolves that run-and-gun their way through other shooters. Firewall is more deliberate and slower paced, and being aware of your team’s location and activities is just as important as your own. Every PSVR unit comes equipped with a built-in microphone so there should not be any excuse for not using one. When players are killed, they can still provide support by cycling through multiple aerial cameras throughout the level and spotting enemy locations for their team. This also ensures that the wait for the next match is eventful. I do think that the developer should look at ways for mute players to communicate better via gestures (and this is possible to a limited extent), as the inherent nature of the game alienates players who don’t feel comfortable talking. Not everyone who wants to play the game is going to want to talk and that may creates barriers for them and frustration for others that do take the objectives a little more seriously. I haven’t experienced this in my time with the game, but I imagine that once players become more familiar with the game and more people start playing, it is a potential issue that could arise.
If you have anything to say, now is the time to say it
Everything I have described above makes the game sound great from a foundational perspective. However, I haven’t even talked about the VR stuff yet and boy, is it a winner. The virtual reality integration doesn’t just add the immersion of being in a 3D space. First Contact made sure that every little detail could be enhanced and complement the VR integration. For example, physically peeking around corners gives matches a more tactical, tense, and at times surreal feel. Being able to aim your gun, while looking elsewhere independently adds an understated amount of depth to the mechanics. You have to physically look all around you instead of looking at corners of a screen. Information that is usually reserved for the UI such as ammo count, match time and the mini-map is all located on a tablet-like wrist-band which is incredibly intuitive and non-obstructive. Anytime I need to refer to anything, I can just look at my wrist like I would when I check my watch for the time. Even the implementation of 3D audio to listen for footprints and communicating with your team mates further cements this feeling of being in a special operatives mission.
All of this would be negligible if the shooting mechanics weren’t up to scratch and I am happy to report, the guns feel fantastic. While movement and time to kill are slower than your typical Call of Duty-style affair, the physical firing of bullets feels just as responsive and packs a nice kick. It’s the expertise of these veteran developers at First Contact that shines through here. Each gun in its own class feels different to the other, almost creating a personality for each weapon in the game.
The crowning achievement in all of this however, is the AIM controller support. While the game does support traditional DualShock 4 control, I would recommend holding off until you get an AIM controller, because it forms one of the most memorable and authentic shooting experiences I’ve ever had in a video game. Farpoint was a nice testing ground for what is possible, while the implementation in DOOM VFR and Bravo Team was shaky at best.
You can absolutely tell that this game was designed with the AIM controller in mind, though. Literally aiming down holographic sights, pulling the trigger and landing a kill is satisfying in a way I cannot describe in words. To sum up the benefits on a general level, the AIM controller is a well-built peripheral with intuitive button placement that has a light and mobile weight to it. You can do things like reach out your weapon from behind cover and blind-fire at an enemy, knock your gun against material to hear an audio queue and even just get a closer look your weapon and see it in all its glory. The addition of two analogue sticks ensure traditional locomotion and smooth turning are supported in Firewall and provides a familiar way for players to navigate.
There are also options to switch on snap-turning for those prone to motion sickness and support for left-handed players (me!), which is an uncommon but welcome addition. I’m also happy to report that at no stage did I receive any indication of motion sickness in the hours that I played the game, which is great considering it does require a decent amount of movement and looking around.
Furthermore, virtual reality hasn’t limited or compromised this game in any way. The environments, weapon textures and overall visuals are rock solid. There is little pixelation, and setting the maps in small, close quarter spaces ensures the fidelity is strong. Traditional locomotion and turning remain in-tact and you can sprint, crouch, knife, lob grenades and pretty much do everything you can do in any other flat screen shooter. Even the tracking appears to be one of the most consistent I have seen in a VR game to date.
Landing bullets in an enemy is indicated by an audio queue and while enemies further away are harder to hit, I didn’t ever feel it was the fault of the tracking. Whenever I did experience any hitches, it was due to my internet connection and minor matchmaking issues. I have relatively garbage internet and I was surprised that my first dozen matches were very smooth. However, around about lunchtime (peak hour), I kept getting booted from the lobby. I understand this is the launch period and my ISP isn’t doing me any favors and to be fair, it wasn’t a constant occurrence. During my time online, I actually met a lot of very friendly people, who I ended up adding as friends on PSN. The game revolves around communication and meeting helpful people that I befriended and added gives me a pool of reliable friends to play with when I jump on. In fact, the community I’ve experienced so far has been generous, helpful and light-hearted and that has led to some very intense moments where my team have acted in synergy, while creating some laughter whenever one of us would land an unintentional (but match saving) kill.
Firewall is a huge success for PSVR. Putting aside the VR aspects, the base game is a well-polished shooter with great map design, rock solid mechanics, attention to detail, a wealth of customization and unlocks all presented at a AAA standard. This is a testament to the talented team at First Contact Entertainment and their history of creating some of the greatest shooters of all time. Adding VR into the mix dials things up to the next level, adding a sense of immersion and authenticity and making memorable moments out of coordinating objectives with your team. It can’t be overstated how awesome aiming down sights or blind firing from behind cover is with the expertly designed AIM controller. Firewall succeeds not only because it’s a competent shooter or because VR adds a novelty to the experience or because the AIM is so fun to play with. The game succeeds because it does all those things exceptionally. Given my experience with the friendly community and the humbleness of the studio, I do hope that this is the start of something special and First Contact continue to support the game with new modes, weapons and features and build an ecosystem that can last the lifecycle of the platform.
Reviewed on PSVR using a PlayStation 4 Pro | Review code supplied by publisher