The technical limitations of modern virtual reality—combined with the onerous fiddling necessary to get everything working properly—had largely turned me off of the technology. It was not until I played Firewall Zero Hour at last year’s PlayStation Experience that I gained a greater appreciation for what VR can offer. In Firewall’s case, it introduced me to a style of tactical competitive shooters that can’t be matched on more conventional platforms. Having now had the opportunity to play the game outside of an isolated demo, Firewall’s technology and tactical potential is just as innovative as I expected, but the manner by which it brutally draws out its multiplayer limits players’ chances to appreciate its qualities.
While Firewall can feasibly be played with a DualShock 4, in the same way you could feasibly row a boat with a stick, the PlayStation Aim controller is the peripheral you’ll want for the true Firewall experience. Players can navigate around environments using normal dual-analog shooter mechanics, but the right-hand stick only adjusts the lateral direction of the player’s view. This visual shift works with a smooth or snap transition, depending on the player’s settings, while the VR tracking facilitates precision aiming within one’s field of vision. Character movement and turning speed is extremely slow, but everything you do within Firewall’s VR space—shooting, checking the HUD on your wrist tablet, lobbing grenades, etc.—feels increasingly intuitive the more you do it.
Beyond the ability to manually line up shots, the hardware allows for a host of maneuvers that are enhanced by the tactile nature the platform. With the player’s gun and view moving as two separate entities, the position of the weapon is not locked to the direction the player is looking. This provides superior control over actions like blindfiring and leaning, which lack the same flexibility in non-VR shooters. Even more useful is the faculty to check flanks while keeping the gun pointed forward—something else normal shooters can’t really replicate. The game world is around you, not in front of you, so players can have full awareness of what’s around every corner by simply turning their head without shifting their gun away from the direction of the most imminent danger.
Firewall unfortunately doesn’t make the broadest use of this viscerally satisfying control, featuring only one mode in the entire game. This attack/defense-style mode tasks one team with assaulting two firewall access points, before moving onto the primary laptop objective, while the defending team tries to impede them. The mode is clearly built for multiplayer, but it can also be enjoyed in solo (or co-op) against bots, where players will find the best environment for learning map layouts and weapon effectiveness. This observation, however, is meant more as a slight against the game’s competitive option than a compliment for its cooperative one.
Firewall’s greatest failing is unconditionally the fact that its sole mode doesn’t support respawn and only features one round per match. This means that one mistake—or even just a cheap blindside you had no control over—results in you sitting through the rest of that match, a loading screen, a full lobby timer, and another loading screen before you get to play again. Players can learn weapons and map layouts from the PvE mode, but competitive nuances like team strategies and spawn locations need to be studied online, and the limited round count makes gaining this experience so much more difficult than it could be. Having multiple rounds in no-respawn shooters is a cardinal rule of game design, and the developer’s failure to follow this rule- at least in a game with only one mode- is nothing short of blasphemous.
The knowledge of the tedious wait ahead of you following your death is disheartening, but that’s not to say there’s nothing to do. Dying syncs your view to a selection of fixed cameras scattered around the map, and if you’re communicating with your team, using these to convey enemy locations is often the key to victory. These cameras are a testament to how integral team cooperation is in Firewall. Players need to work together to make up for their own slow and cumbersome character movement, coordinating room clears and reviving each other when downed, which makes for team play that is as immersive as it is essential. Firewall’s very best moments come when a team perfectly synchronizes for a clean victory.
Players can increase their rate of successfully-coordinated attacks by improving their gear, but the equipment economy is yet another area in which Firewallfalls flat. Currency is earned from matches, which is in turn spent on weapons, attachments, gear, and skills, but it quickly becomes apparent just how unbalanced this system is. Players generally receive 100-150 credits for a loss, and 600-650 credits for a win. The problem is that every primary weapon I unlocked cost 15,000 credits each, requiring around 40 matches for just one weapon unlock. That doesn’t even account for any attachments or supplementary gear, each going for an additional several thousand credits (although the blow is softened slightly by attachments being shared between guns). It feels like a shameless way to pad the game’s runtime, forcing us into an endless grind for all the gear—and that’s if you ever even get access to all the gear, as leveling up to hit the needed rank for most unlocks is similarly grueling.
New Contractor skills are equally overpriced, but at least the default Contractor characters come with primary skills equipped. Most Contractors are unlocked quickly—or even instantly—and don’t require players to dip into their bank to use them. This lets players benefit from a variety of helpful primary skills, like faster reload or extra ammo, and each Contractor can eventually take on a secondary skill if players want to throw down the credits. Setting aside their excessive pricing, the different skills are reasonably diverse. While primary skills are locked to specific Contractors, secondary skills are swapped in and out, allowing for some specialization of one’s playstyle. Even this system isn’t without its faults, however. While most Contractor skills are balanced, one Contractor simply takes less bullet damage than the others, which is almost never a good idea in fast-paced shooters. Without fail, the servers are currently flooded with this particular Contractor, throwing a wrench into the game’s otherwise decent character balancing.
Firewall is a truly immersive shooter that mercilessly and unnecessarily drags out its experience with frustrating design choices. Between its match pacing, weapon economy, and ranking system, the game tries to lock players in for much longer than it should. Virtual reality games are meant to be played for short periods of time, but the one-round matches don’t cater to this like you’d think. Instead, the game’s high frequency of load screens and lobbies stretch play sessions out much longer than normal, without rewarding the player nearly enough rank or currency to enjoy the game’s content at a reasonable rate. Your gameplay is really fun, Firewall. Stop making us toil to enjoy it.
Firewall Zero Hour is one of the most precise and tactical VR shooters out there. Too bad the systems surrounding it are so wanting.
First Contact Entertainment
Sony Interactive Entertainment
T – Teen
|Firewall Zero Hour is available on PlayStation VR on PlayStation 4. Primary version played was for PlayStation VR on PS4 Pro. Code/hardware was provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|
Nick didn’t start gaming until mid-2006. Once his parents finally allowed a console into the house, it was all uphill from there. Starting out with a PS2, he grew an affinity for Sony consoles and moved on to the PS3, and now the PS4. He keeps his gaming palette wide, but, gun to his head, he’d have to say shooters are his genre of choice.