Firewall Ultra has been a tough game to review; not because I don’t enjoy it (I do), but because I know that parts of my review could be rendered moot any day now. It is very much a live service game still working out the kinks, and developer First Contact Entertainment feels like it is on the precipice of sorting things out. As it stands, they’ve patched the game seven times in the two weeks since launch to varying degrees of success. With that said, I’ve been enjoying my time with the tactical VR shooter a great deal barring a few caveats.
First and foremost, Firewall Ultra is far and away the most comfortable VR shooter that I have played thus far. Since getting my PlayStation VR2 earlier this year, I have tried many of the headset’s big shooters, most of which triggered my motion sickness. But I’ve been able to play Firewall for sessions ranging from 30-minutes to two-hours and never felt any ill effects. It has the usual motion settings, but the secret sauce appears to be movement speed – your player character moves at a walking pace, and even sprinting feels more like jogging. If, like me, you’ve been leery of VR shooters because of past discomfort, this might be the game for you.
Firewall Ultra is not an all-out sequel to 2018’s Firewall Zero Hour, featuring many of the same maps and operators from the first game, but remastered in Unreal Engine 5 for PS VR2. As a newcomer to the franchise that didn’t bother me, but returners should understand this is more of a “1.5” sequel, if you will. In terms of game modes, things are a bit limited at launch, with only two on offer: Contracts and Exfil. Contracts is the same PvP mode from the first game that sees two teams of four players attempting to either attack and hack a laptop, or hunker down to defend the laptop and its data. Contracts mode is reminiscent of Rainbow Six Siege in both setup and execution; you will even select from one of several operators to play as, each with their own skills and gadgets. Matches are a best-of-three format, alternating between attacking and defending. If PvP is not your cup of tea, Exfil is a PvE extraction-style mode that lets you team up with three other players to locate and extract intel while being hunted by AI enemies. Both modes are fun but can be tough to survive if you don’t have teammates who communicate or value teamwork.
Regardless of which mode you gravitate towards, the gunplay will take some getting used to. Despite billing itself as a tactical shooter, there is no manual reloading or weapon swapping at launch – though First Contact says it is working to add it post-launch as “Ultra Mode”. Instead, you’ll use your eyes to swap weapons by holding a button to bring up the weapon wheel, looking at the equipment you want to select, and releasing the button. In a perfect world I prefer manual reloading and swapping, but honestly, the weapon wheel functionality grew on me. It’s straightforward in a way that makes it easy for newcomers to pick-up-and-play, while VR veterans should have no problem adapting while they wait for Ultra Mode to arrive.
Firewall Ultra has gone all-in on PS VR2’s eye tracking technology, not just for swapping equipment, but also aiming and throwing explosives. It was jarring at first but trust me when I say to give it time. I found myself dropping my left hand often, which was causing my shots to be inaccurate, but I had a real breakthrough once I figured out how to properly use the left trigger to aim down sights. Pulling the left trigger immediately aims your weapon wherever your eyes are looking, essentially taking the guess work out of aiming.
In other words, if an enemy came around the corner and surprised me, I could quickly get on target by looking directly at them and squeezing the left trigger. Once I got the hang of the mechanic, my performance improved dramatically; I’m still not great at the game, but I do have my moments. Throwing explosives also relies on eye tracking but takes it a step further, relying solely on your eyeballs. Equipping an explosive and holding right trigger arms it, but rather than move your arm to throw it, you’ll need to look where you want it thrown and release the trigger to throw it – no physical motion is required. For me, using throwables was more of an adjustment than aiming weapons, and it doesn’t feel intuitive in the heat of battle – I often felt like I was trying to shoot lasers from my eyes rather than throw a grenade.
So, you find a game mode you like, you figure out the aiming, you quit inadvertently blowing yourself up, but what if you just aren’t very good at the game? Beyond the obvious fun factor implications, not contributing anything in the stat columns leads to excruciatingly slow progression. There are several ways to contribute – downs, eliminations, assists, revives, and hacks – but if you aren’t much of a contributor, you will rank up at a snail’s space. Performing those actions awards XP, but in far too small increments. The developer has tuned these payouts a couple of times since launch, but they have yet to find the sweet spot.
For context, I’ve been playing on-and-off for two weeks and I’m still only halfway to rank four. Ranking up unlocks new gear at the various arms dealers, but again, I haven’t been able to unlock anything of much consequence at such a low rank. It stinks because there is a nice variety of weapons, attachments, and gadgets available, but I’ve been stuck using preset classes since launch. With the most recent patch, assignments (challenges) have been made available, which should help with progression in theory. You can only unlock one assignment a day per arms dealer, but the real issue is that they still present a steep hill to climb for players who struggle with the game, because they have completion requirements such as get 15 downs with assault rifles. Personally, I’m fortunate to get one or two downs in a match, and that’s when I’m at the top of my game. The progression system feels at odds with the game’s simplified controls – one feels like it is catering to a wide audience and the other simply does not.
When Firewall Ultra clicks, it clicks. Getting paired up with teammates that communicate, stick together, and play the objective is the norm in my experience. Working together to eliminate the other team or defend the objective is a lot of fun, especially when you pull off a nice kill or two along the way. Like the first game, it is easy to see this semi-sequel having a long tail and a dedicated player base for years to come. To that end, the developer has already announced plans for a year of post-launch content with more modes, weapons, and operators on the way. There are still some kinks to work out, primarily with progression, as well as some other minor bugs, but time is typically a live service game’s best friend.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Hello! I'm Jason, the newest member of Gaming Nexus. My favorite genres of games are strategy, management, city-builders, sports games, RPGs, and shooters, but I don't limit myself to those. My favorite game of all-time is Red Dead Redemption 2 and I have somehow played it for nearly 1,000 hours. I also co-host a weekly PlayStation news podcast called The Dual Sense Podcast, so I stay pretty well versed in that ecosystem. Before that, I co-hosted a basketball podcast.View Profile