If you build it, they will come.
After three weeks and at least a hundred matches, I have never waited for more than one minute to get into a game on Firewall: Zero Hour. That may seem like a strange way to start a review, but if you are a PlayStation VR owner, that is a very powerful statement. There are currently 320 games in the PS VR library, and many of these are great multiplayer titles. Drive Club, StarBlood Arena, Korix; all of these are full-fledged multiplayer games that could have (and should have) gained massive followings. And yet, for each of those games, I have ended up buying multiple copies for friends and family, establishing my own player base, just so I have someone to play with. But this is not the case with Firewall: Zero Hour. There are tons of people playing, and unless I have done so intentionally, I have never been put into a match with the same person twice. Firewall: Zero Hour is the breakthrough title that PlayStation VR has been waiting for, and frankly, it is with a sigh of relief that I can finally say it: Firewall: Zero Hour is a system seller.
It’s pretty incredible that some folks outside of PS VR circles still haven’t heard of Firewall. From inside the fanbase, the view is somewhat different. Firewall’s popularity is positively raging. At least six people that I follow on Twitter have changed their handles to “Firewall Joe” or some such variation. The few games that did have some small following or community have mostly gone silent; everyone is playing Firewall. This game is having a moment, and it is lovely to see.
Firewall: Zero Hour is, at its core, a four on four strategic military shooter. After completing some optional training activities, players can dig into the meat of the game. Firewall matchmakes players into teams of four, which are then pitted against each other on a variety of maps. One team plays defense, protecting the McGuffin (a laptop full of…data and…stuff). The other team plays offense, attempting to get at the laptop and pull downloaded data from it. There are a number of different characters to choose from, with a few more that can be unlocked after achieving certain levels. Each character has their own “perk”; quiet movement, faster reloads, less bullet damage, that sort of thing.
Teams are placed randomly in the sizable maps, a reasonable distance from each other. Defensive teams can immediately start coordinating their strategy to protect the laptop. This usually involves identifying doors to cover, and determining likely paths of incursion, and spreading out to cover nearby weak points. There is generally about a minute to make a plan, as offensive teams need to reach a waypoint to hack a firewall access point, which then reveals the location of the laptop to all players.
The maps are large and detailed. There are tons of great touches that make these arenas feel like real world spaces. Frankly, Firewall is one of the best looking games I’ve played in VR, and the map design is a huge part of that. There are warehouses, office buildings, hotels, shipyards, all the usual boilerplate shooter locations. But these locations are special, because as you wander through them in first person VR, they look and feel like real places. Like all other shooters, after a few rounds you start learning the maps, picking up on where choke points and blind spots are. But unlike all other shooters, players have the sensation that they are physically occupying these spaces. It can’t be stressed enough how much it changes the game that you can simply lean out and peek around a corner. You can gesture to your fellow players with your gun. You can reach out and literally blind fire around corners. The sense of emersion is simply stunning, and it makes the stakes feel so much higher than in a traditional, “flat” shooter. A lot of games chatter on about their “heart-pounding” action. Firewall delivers.
Players move at a very deliberate pace in Firewall. To an outside observer, the game might seem “slow”. Even the “sprint” looks pretty glacial compared to some of the more mercurial shooters on the market. However, in practice, the speed of movement is absolutely perfect. Running around corners will gain you a lead sandwich pretty quickly, so slower and more cautious creeping is definitely the way to go. Firewall is a game that has been very finely tuned, and as a result, I was able to turn off the “clockwork” turn mechanic and engage with smooth turning without a hint of nausea – a landmark in my VR progression.
The parameters for winning change depending on which position you are playing. On defense, simply wiping out the opposing team is good for a win. On offense, you don’t need to kill all the defense folks, you just need to locate the laptop and have enough time with it undisturbed to download the necessary data. This leads to a number of wrinkles for offensive players. It is possible to wipe out the entire defensive team, and still lose a match. Proximity mines placed by defenders remain in place even after the team is decimated, stymieing offensive teams if they aren’t careful. Additionally, defenders can place carefully hidden “signal blocker” devices, which must be found and destroyed before on offensive win can be obtained. With a five-minute timer counting down to the end of the match, this can lead to some hilarious split-second twist-of-fate type endings. I have won matches on defense after my entire team has been killed on numerous occasions, which is always a crowd-pleasing moment.
If killed, players are kept in the match, and given access to a number of security cameras that are scattered around the maps. They are then able to call out directions to help their teammates determine where opposing forces are. On good teams, people end up talking over each other in their haste to help the team. “Two on your left! Down the hall! One guy down in the foyer!” It is this dynamic of constant communication that evens the playing field for new players. Even when you first start the game, and you are getting killed very quickly, you can still be an enormous support to your team by helping post-death. This keeps players engaged in the match, and really helps pick-up teams get to know each other, strengthening overall teamwork and making strangers feel like friends. Smart, smart game design.
While the four on four matches might not seem like they would be enough to sustain an entire game, there are enough mechanics in the game to keep it fresh. Each match is so different that you could play the game for hours on end and never had the same experience twice. While the development team at First Contact Entertainment have announced that they will be working on new modes for the game, everyone I spoke with in-game was more than pleased with the amount of content upon release.
Firewall can be played with a Duel Shock controller, but the experience is not optimal. It is understandable that the dev team bailed on the Move Controllers, as teleporting around in a game like this would break…everything. With the Duel Shock, you can move around with the analog sticks, while physically “aiming” by pointing the actual controller at where you want to shoot. It works, but if you have the option to play with the Aim Controller, you can really open up a whole new world for yourself. The sense of emersion increases exponentially when you are actually holding a gun-shaped object in your hands, and the aiming is much, much more precise.
Speaking of the Aim Controller, First Contact took the time to give players the ability to configure the controls for left-handed players. I can heft the Aim Controller to my left shoulder, and flip the analog sticks so that the movement still feels natural to me. As someone that has gone through life repeatedly getting excited about new toys only to learn that I can’t really use them, this level of configuration is deeply appreciated.
There are a few places where Firewall could use a little tuning up. Progression in the game feels really slow. With each match, players earn some amount of experience points and in-game coinage (obviously gaining a lot more for a win than a loss). Experience point slowly gain levels for the player, unlocking possible cosmetic purchases, weapons, and weapon mods (scopes, grips, stuff like that). It is fun to dip out of matches when you have leveled up to see what new items are available to modify your favorite character; it just doesn’t happen nearly often enough.
The flow of matches could also be sped up a bit. Currently, four player teams are bounced back to the lobby after every match, even if no one has quit the team. This leads to quite a bit of down time, with the four team members staring at each other in the virtual space, flipping their guns around and doing funny poses. This is only entertaining for so long. A best of three structure, or a flow where teams only get bounced to the lobby when someone quits would be very welcome.
But these quibbles are minor, because when you are creeping up a stairway and someone pops out of the doorway and starts lobbing grenades at your team, your heart starts beating too hard to concentrate on complaints. And I expect that the devs at First Contact are well aware of these issues and will address them in updates.
Firewall: Zero Hour is a game that will bring a large segment of gamers to the PlayStation VR that might have otherwise never considered the device worth their time or money. The fact that a dedicated community has sprung up around the game carries enormous weight. These folks are excited about Firewall for good reason. This is the game that signifies the maturity of PS VR as a platform. This might be a lot of weight to put on the shoulders of a military shooter, but Firewall is up to the task. This is one hell of a game.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a 45-year-old dad with four kids, ranging in age from 1 through 17. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on PS4, PSVR, PS Vita, 3DS, Wii U and a janky PC. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect.View Profile