After a meteoric launch packed with software, PSVR2 experiences a sort of lull after the release. The games largely dried up and heated discussions shifted to whether the material looked like a flop or not. The only way to reverse this narrative is with major software releases, and First Contact Entertainment’s Firewall Ultra is the only currently announced the first-party PSVR2 project under the Sony publishing umbrella.
It is no surprise that the platform holder has called on the services of the Californian studio for the second time, as the first Firewall Zero Hour was a surprise success. Using the PSVR aim controller To great effect, this Rainbow Six-style tactical first-person shooter enjoyed a long life, backed by a live-service model that spawned multiple seasons. Going back to the release as recently as last year, you’ll find a vibrant and engaged community still playing the game.
We were lucky enough to be invited to PlayStation late last month to get a world first demo of the sequel on PSVR2, where we played on demo stations in London against team members in Santa Monica – including iconic PSVR YouTuber Frank, who some of you might know by now has a role at the developer. All presentations and Q&As took place in-game, in an interactive lobby known as the Refuge, which made for an entertaining approach.
We also spoke to Strategic Communications Manager David Jagneaux immediately after our demo, this time in real life, and we were eager to understand from the start if Firewall Ultra is a sequel, remake or remaster: “It’s a whole new game built from the ground up in Unreal Engine 5,” he said. “We see Firewall Ultra as the next evolution of the franchise. We have some of the same characters, but it’s five years later in in-universe lore.
We were able to discover two maps, both of which will be familiar to fans of the original: Oil Rig and Social. The first is an industrial site at night, with towering scaffolding and alleys between containers, while the second takes place in the dilapidated office of a social media company, with rows of computer terminals and large staircases. The team was eager to point out that the level now has a working elevator – and yes, it plays chirping music when you enter it.
“As you saw, the social map was in the first game, but it was completely redone and everything changed,” Jagneaux noted. “It’s been ransacked, raided – a lot of the lights don’t work anymore. And you’ll see a similar vibe in a lot of the maps, they’ve been totally redone. The same goes for entrepreneurs. Visually, they’ve been redone, so some of them might have new tattoos or different hairstyles. Things happened in their lives.
The PSVR2 doesn’t currently have a PSVR aim controller analogue – although some accessory makers are drawing shells into which you can slot the PSVR2 aim controllers – but we haven’t found that to be a problem. In fact, the pantomime holding an assault rifle is enjoyable, and the gunplay is more accurate than ever thanks to the addition of a down-sight mechanic that allows you to further fine-tune your shots. Close one eye and the weapon will zoom in further, using eye tracking for transformative effect.
That’s not the only unique mechanic PSVR2’s advanced technology has enabled: flash bangs only obstruct your vision if you see them, meaning you can either cover your face with your hands or close eyes completely to avoid being affected by them. And you can change weapons just by looking at the other options in your inventory! “There’s a lot we can do on PSVR2 that we couldn’t do on previous hardware,” Jagneaux beamed. “So I think it really elevates everything and really feels like a very robust game.”
Our biggest criticism of the original game was its single-turn format. You could spend several minutes trying to find a team and load the game, only to have the action end in a flash, and that’s something the developer has been working to rectify. But why was this obvious addition never added to Firewall Zero Hour? “I don’t know,” admitted Jagneaux. “I know one of our other big changes is that Firewall Ultra is now on dedicated servers, so the original game was peer-to-peer and if one of the hosts left, the whole game would crash, and that’s not is not the case here.”
The actual gameplay is very familiar. Working in teams of four, you’ll be asked to defend or hack a laptop in a key location on the map. Die and you’ll be out of the round, so firefights are high-stakes business. You need to move in groups and cover each other, and use your abilities to gain a tactical advantage; defenders can install jammers, for example, to prevent the attacking team from directly hacking into the laptop. This all leads to a tense dynamic that’s heightened by the presence enabled by VR, but the rounds are short and snappy enough to make them more interesting.
It obviously looks amazing on PSVR2 too, running in Unreal Engine 5. In the social map in particular, there’s a beautiful hallway where the light filters through the tower windows, and you can see the horizon at away, populated by tall skyscraper buildings. There’s still a good amount of jank – your teammates will contort in all sorts of unnatural ways when you watch them – but it doesn’t really hamper the gameplay experience.
One thing that marked Firewall Zero Hour’s continued success was its ongoing content pipeline, and we were keen to see just how difficult it is to keep live service gaming interesting and engaging over long periods of time: “With Firewall Zero Hour, the live service model was a pivot that happened after launch,” Jagneaux revealed. “But the pivot that we have with Firewall Ultra is that it’s designed from the ground up to be a game of live service.”
He added, “Something you didn’t get to see in today’s demo is the progression system we have. So, you’ll earn reputation by completing missions with different in-game market traders and merchants, and then go to them to buy upgrades for your weapons, like grips, magazines, and optics. This is all built into the game as a nice progression system to give you things to do and unlock as you play. And after launch, we’ll be adding new contractors, new maps, new cosmetics, so the game is built to evolve.
Another way to scale the game is with his hideout. This welcome area serves as your in-game starting destination: it’s an interactive environment where you can test out different loadouts on a shooting range, meet friends, customize your character, or have fun with soccer balls on the ground. This location will also get some attention over the life of the game: “[The safehouse] will see updates, like new decorations for seasonal things or themes for new content. So it will fit into the tradition of these contractors working together in the hideout.
The continued popularity of Firewall Zero Hour, along with the massive smash hit of titles like Pavlov VR, proves that there’s likely to be a big built-in audience for Firewall Ultra at launch. The game is largely what we expected: it has the same charged, high-stakes dynamic as its predecessor. But the shooter looks strong, despite lacking the PSVR aim controller, and we really enjoyed all the ways the developer uses eye tracking to significantly elevate the experience in ways not possible outside of the virtual reality.
If that’s the kind of content we can expect in later phases of PSVR2’s lifespan, then the future is brighter than recent reviews might have led you to believe. First Contact Entertainment now knows the technology, and while it’s not reinventing the wheel here, you get the sense that it’s more confident in its vision of what Firewall can be. If you’ve already enjoyed the original, you’ll love what’s on offer in its successor – and even if you’re new to the franchise, we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you’ll find.
Thanks to Sony for inviting us to be among the first in the world to try Firewall Ultra, and to the team at First Contact Entertainment – especially PSVR Frank – for saving our lives multiple times in-game. Are you Excited about this next tactical shooter? Hack the laptop in the comments section below.
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