Developer: First Contact Entertainment
Review code provided
PlayStation VR has an impressive library, no matter what those who bafflingly will it to fail may suggest. However, when it comes to absolutely must-play titles, those that could sell headsets all on their own, the roster is a little thing on the ground. With Firewall Zero Hour, PSVR may have found its most compelling game to convince the uncertain to adopt the burgeoning technology yet.
Comparison to Rainbow Six Siege are unavoidable for Firewall Zero Hour as it seems to have borrowed a few strands of its DNA. A squad shooter with a heavy emphasis on comms, Firewall is also not a million miles away from the similar Bravo Team: a military FPS that fell flat on its face with a quickly earned reputation as being one of the platform’s worst. This initial similarity had made me hesitant to try another “realistic” VR shooter, though Firewall spent no time at all to prove me wrong.
Primarily an online game, Firewall offers a few options for players to get to grips with the fundamentals before taking the fight online. The tutorial is basic and to the point; First Contact were wise to implement more or less the same controls as seen in every modern FPS game. Firewall differentiates itself, however, by making the PSVR headset as crucial to success as having a full magazine. It’s not quite Superhot VR levels of ducking and weaving, but it is close.
Players are able to lean around corners using their head movements to peek the angles on the opposition while also ensuring that the weapon isn’t clattering against the wall, meaning that player placement –whether in-game or real-life– is key. It’s tense as hell and a welcome reminder of the sense of high stakes that the likes of Siege have imbued to pitch perfect results in the past.
Guns feel great, even with a DualShock 4. I’ve yet to make the plunge and pick up an Aim controller, so I was expecting it be a real hindrance for Firewall. While it’s a little harder to judge depth when taking shots if you’re just holding a controller up slightly and squinting, it’s something that I grew accustomed to quite quickly. There’s a remarkable lack of “drifting” when using the DualShock, too. I’m not entirely sure how First Contact have perfected what games like Farpoint have frustrated me with in the past, but I was able to maintain a solid 180 degrees of movement with minimal drift, and even then it was because I was trying to Rambo.
It’s actually not the wisest choice to go full eighties action star in Firewall, which the game reminds you of often. When playing online in “Contracts” mode, you’ll need to mic up if you want any chance of success because communication is as important as shooting, if not even more so. The playerbase seems to be split 50/50 on this: half of my four-man team would be mic’d up on average, the others would be silent. It’s frustrating that others are willing to miss out, because the callouts and panicked cries from your teammates are when Firewall is at its best.
Even when you’re KIA in Firewall, you’re not necessarily out of the fight. During one match, I was able to guide my teammate around corners safely using cameras in a 1v1. I eventually helped him clutch by pointing out that the last enemy survivor was crouched down behind a vending machine. My squadmate wasted no time in lighting him up and the win was ours. Another time was just about the most adrenaline-inducing FPS experience I’ve had in years.
Contracts is essentially a revolving series of attack and defend matches with straightforward objectives. Attackers must find a laptop by penetrating the firewall and then moving to its location to upload data while the defenders have to stop them from doing just that. With four players per team, matches typically come down to two squads of two on each team going up against each other at different areas of the game’s complex and impressively detailed maps. Towards the latter stages of one match in particular, we had eliminated the opposition but failed to compromise the laptop. With twenty seconds to spare, one of our teammates tried to finish the job but fell afoul of a mine placed on the objective, leaving the last survivor to complete the objective with a tenth of a second remaining.
I was able to play Firewall for hours at a time, which was a surprise given my steel stomach should have weakened after a long time without playing VR. Vignettes sooth nausea and players can also switch between full locomotion and limited, just to cater to those who are susceptible to motion sickness. I have a history of suffering with that from game-to-game, though apart from some initial stomach flutters when I tried to go in too hard too quickly, I was completely unflustered, even when the game was at its most frenetic.
Visually, Firewall suits its purpose and has the customary “muddiness” that comes with playing on a standard PS4 — I could barely ever make out what my wrist device was displaying, for instance. Most of the aesthetic quirks come from playing as the contractors, who are effectively the “heroes” of Firewall. I, being a massive cheeser, would typically select the character with additional grenades to lob them in the direction of enemies in a panic, but there’s a varied cast of murderers to control in Firewall with each being played in rotation by myself and my teammates.
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Firewall Zero Hour is somewhat myopic and naive in its approach to player progression, however, making you put a lot of work in before you unlock anything worthwhile. The best multiplayer games dripfeed upgrades from the get-go, but you have to achieve level 4 in Firewall before you can choose a custom loadout, and even then it’s pointless as you won’t have anything else unlocked. Many decent skills are also locked behind the high levels with there being barely anything worth striving towards until you reach level 10 and above. You earn a fraction of the XP if you lose, which is not exactly welcoming for new players when others may already have the gear and skills they are comfortable and adept with. It’s a strange oversight for a game that gets almost everything else right.
Despite that, what will keep you coming back to Firewall is the people you meet online. Over three days of play, I’ve made new friends and also done rude gun gestures with Japanese guy who didn’t speak English. Apart from one guy who was listening to Eminem in the background and not communicating before he decided to speak up and criticise a teammate (after he himself had died early for the fifth match in a row), the community has been one of the most welcoming and relaxed I’ve ever encountered in a multiplayer game.
It’s a community that should hopefully continue to grow, because Firewall Zero Hour is a game that deserves all the players it gets. With some slight tweaks to progression and the occasional content refresh, Firewall may just prove to be a turning point in converting the masses to virtual reality gaming.
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