It felt a little strange booting up Firewall Ultra for the first time. It's a game that simultaneously straddles the line of reboot, remake, and sequel, all whilst selling the best features that the PSVR2 has to offer. As a result, it has steadily become synonymous with Sony’s headset, even though we knew very little about it prior to launch. Yet here we are, with Firewall Ultra’s 18GB of data nestled into our PS5 hard drives, with an experience that isn’t quite the evolution of the VR shooter that we were promised.
For those that don’t know, Firewall Ultra is the sort of continuation of the 2018 PSVR classic Firewall Zero Hour. Developed by First Contact Entertainment, it’s an online tactical shooter that pits squads of four against either AI opponents in PvE, or real-player squads in PvP. There’s one mode for each game type along with some safehouse training zones, so don’t expect Firewall Ultra to be an enormous multiplayer offering - at least not on launch. Similar to its predecessor, Ultra is going to come into its own over time, with First Contact already laying out its first year of planned post-launch content covering everything from new modes to new characters. We’ve become accustomed to games forging great experiences over time, but how does this one fare on launch? Well, that in itself is a muddled tale.
For starters, Firewall Ultra looks and runs brilliantly on the PSVR2. The game has a keen eye for lighting in each of its eight maps that give it a certain moodiness. We adored sneaking through darkened hallways with only the torch of our pistol lighting the way. There is a nice variety to each of the maps too, all of which are reworked from the first game, and we appreciated the flow from open well-lit spaces to darker funnels. The fidelity on show, helped here by foveated rendering, was second to none, and getting up close and personal with our weaponry is a common occurrence.
Sadly, the high qualities of its visuals don’t quite transfer to the gameplay experience. While the performance is perfectly fine, it’s the control scheme and motion tracking that supremely lets us down. There is a severe lack of physical interactivity throughout the game that can result in a frustrating gameplay experience. A long press of L1 is all that’s needed to interact with computers, doors, ammunition, and fallen teammates; a tap of X activates the auto reload; R3 acts as the crouch button; and even stabbing and aiming down sights have button prompts. For every physical movement or interaction that might seem natural, there is a button press there to ruin the immersion.
All of these small gameplay mechanics give us the impression that this is a VR game made for people that don’t play VR. As additional accessibility options they are welcomed wholeheartedly, but as the main mode of play it makes the game feel like a VR experience on stabilisers. The community clearly feels it too, as after many complaints First Contact folded and announced “Ultra Mode” which will feature things like manual reload. We don’t quite know when this will arrive though.
Across most of our time with the game, we were constantly harking back to the natural feeling controls of a VR game like Pavlov VR. By comparison, Firewall Ultra feels like an on-rails shooter. Gunfights never quite have the same frenetic energy, and the controls never really become second nature in the way that we’d hoped they would. The eye-tracking in particular is cool and at times feels intuitive, but ultimately is a little gimmicky. You have to look where you want to throw a grenade, when an underarm throw would have done just fine.
There is also a severe dealing of jank that litters the Firewall experience; hands refusing to let go of your weapon, weird hand switching controls, and really stuttery movement when next to another player. To a degree it just comes with the territory of a VR shooter, but really we expect better from a release like this.
Not helping any of this out is the tedious matchmaking process. Undeniably this is something that could be patched out or improved by the time this review is live. However, across our time with the game we couldn’t get into any kind of match with a friend unless we made a private lobby, and PvP matchmaking takes an age. There is also a two minute timer between matches regardless of whether your full squad is ready or not that we found infuriating. It meant we spent just as much time queuing for games as we did playing them.
Of course, these have all been technical critiques, so what’s it like to actually play the game? Well, partnered up with the visual presentation and the mostly solid performance, we still had fun with Firewall Ultra. It’s a game made immeasurably better when playing with friends and PvP can be quite tense. Yet despite PvP being the focus of this release, we were actually drawn to the PvE mode more often than not. Systematically making our way through dumb as rocks AI with a full squad was the highlight of our time with Firewall Ultra, especially as a mode that feels fuller and definitely thrusts you into more action than its PvP counterpart. The problem is, neither mode really has that spark needed to bring us back time and time again. Both are far too short, for one. You’ll only just be getting into the swing of things by the time it’s all over. And secondly there is no depth beyond “go and hack the computer”, which quickly becomes quite dull.
The progression system on paper should fill in that void, where you unlock new weapons and attachments to perfect your loadout. However, XP and currency handout is so excruciatingly slow that after nearly 10 hours we haven’t even reached level two, and have only managed to scrounge up a measly 6000 credits. For a bit of context, a rifle can set you back as much as 100,000, and a suppressor attachment unlocks at level 39. In the nicest possible way, we aren’t grinding through dozens of hours for a silencer.
Ultimately, we think our impressions of Firewall Ultra boil down to just one question: will we be back for more? At this point in time, it seems unlikely. There are certainly the bones of a good game in here, but with the streamlined gameplay experience and limited content roster, frankly we just kept thinking about the better VR games we could be playing. We’ll certainly be keen to dip in once new content arrives, but it’s especially disheartening when we’ve been waiting for a big VR shooter like this on the PSVR2 for quite some time. Firewall Ultra then is an infrequently fun yet persistently disappointing first-party title that really forgets what makes VR so special in the first place.