Republished on Wednesday 29th January 2020: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of February's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
We’re not sure whether they’re brave or stupid, but developers will insist on releasing online-only multiplayer games for PlayStation VR. Fortunately for Firewall Zero Hour it’s one of the better attempts yet, but it’s still plagued by the long waiting times that have affected titles like StarBlood Arena and Sparc in the past.
There’s no beating around the bush: First Contact Entertainment has been heavily inspired by Rainbow Six: Siege here. Of course, there are worse muses than Ubisoft’s tactical first-person shooter, and this style of ruthless gameplay feels right at home in virtual reality; you can actively peek out of cover and check your corners, all by acting out the exact same motions you would in real life.
The release has been built with PSVR Aim Controller support in mind, and it’s a pleasure to use Sony’s weapon-shaped peripheral again. There are some tracking issues, but the accessory is represented adequately in 3D space, and aiming down your virtual sights a la Farpoint remains a novelty even after a year and some change. The DualShock 4 is also supported, but it drifts badly and just doesn't provide the same tactile experience.
The gameplay is as merciless as you’d expect it to be, with a narrow time to kill and no respawns. Matches, then, are intoxicatingly tense, as you listen for footsteps and stare out to the distance hoping to get the jump on opponents. Working as a team is essential, and the minuscule community is pleasant and resourceful at this early stage.
But finding allies isn’t as easy as it could be, and the developer has got its work cut-out ensuring that lobbies remain populated moving forwards. There is some token single player content but it comes in the form of training, and you can also play co-op against the uninspiring artificial intelligence, but it’s in four-versus-four competitive battles that the format shines.
Sadly, the studio hasn’t really helped itself. Bouts are limited to single round affairs, meaning you can find yourself dead and buried in 60 seconds flat. While you’re given the opportunity to then help your teammates by observing a camera feed of the map, you’ll be back to the lobby within five, and if anyone quits you’ve got a wait on your hands.
With so much time spent in lobbies, it’d be nice if rounds lasted longer. We like the lack of respawns, but perhaps a best-of-three structure would give you a little more game time before you’re forced back to those irritating wait screens. The delays are at their most infuriating when the host quits and you lose connection to the lobby entirely.
A ranking system and hearty selection of cosmetic unlocks gives you incentive to keep playing beyond the satisfaction of the loop itself, and each of the title’s generic military contractors comes with a unique ability, such as an additional hand grenade or extra magazine of ammunition. You can even unlock a second perk, allowing you to personalise your protagonist a bit.
The character art is as nondescript as it comes, with each “personality” coming with a paragraph of lore designed to explain their backstory. We appreciate the effort, but the environments are the visual standouts, providing claustrophobic but nicely detailed backdrops for you to shoot up. A rain-slicked shipyard is a particular highlight, but they all look decent if a little empty.
The best part about the game is how it allows you to interact with your teammates intuitively using gestures with the motion controls. You can, for example, nudge your weapon forward and nod to demonstrate which direction you’re moving, and it’s all tracked and reflected in-game. It's a bit janky, but the virtual reality really does add a lot to this type of experience.
But if it can’t cultivate a community, then it’s all going to be for nothing. The technical issues can be cleaned up with a bit of server maintenance and a patch – heck, even the annoyingly short rounds can be solved with an update or two. But if there aren't enough people playing then it has nothing else to offer, and we’re sceptical even at this early stage.
There’s no doubt that Firewall Zero Hour’s tactical combat works well in virtual reality – in fact, the fledgling medium adds a lot to this FPS, allowing you to naturally gesture to teammates and intuitively check your corners in a way you couldn’t on a standard display. But while there are some structural and technical issues that we have confidence First Contact Entertainment will be able to fix, it’s the question marks over its community that make it a tough sell. It’s a catch-22 situation that’s unfortunate for everyone involved, but it’s something that the developer would have been aware of when it embarked on creating an online-only multiplayer shooter for an install base of a few million headsets. Good as the game may be, it's something you need to keep in mind as well.