First Contact Entertainment gave me something new to experience in consumer VR with a recent hands-on demo of Firewall Ultra.
The 4v4 tactical shooter coming “soon” to PSVR 2 gave me a new tactic to try. I found myself attempting to assault my enemy’s senses with a flashlight. First Contact says the game uses Sony’s eye-tracking to tell whether your eyes are closed, so if you’re careful you can keep yourself from being temporarily blinded by the searing light beam of a bright flashlight cutting across a dark room. You can also hold up your hands to shield your eyes from the bright lights.
PSVR 2’s eye tracking is also used to make selections in the game’s menus, as part of stabilizing your aim, and to target where you throw grenades. It’s also “used to avoid the effects of flash bangs and flashlights, so you can close your eyes physically to avoid that from affecting your vision,” First Contact’s David Jagneaux explained. “My favorite use of it is on the cameras where after you’ve died in the game you transition to looking in the cameras and you can look at enemies, and it highlights them in red for your teammates who are still alive to see where they’re at. So you’re still useful even if you’ve gone down.”
The Firewall Ultra demo showcased a more detailed vision of fast-paced tactical team battles compared with its 2018 predecessor, Firewall Zero Hour. I last played Zero Hour with Jagneaux on the original PSVR when he was UploadVR’s Games Editor. Now he’s at First Contact and we recently played Ultra together on PSVR 2 before sitting down for a short interview.
“How dare you,” I asked him about his departure from UploadVR. I didn’t wait for an answer and proceeded with questions about Firewall Ultra.
“The people that play the previous game I think have a lot of expectation for what this game can be. And I think that the people that are new to PSVR hopefully will approach this with a lot of interest and hunger for something that’s meaty and has true progression,” Jagneaux said. “Resources have shifted to this game, obviously, but there’s still a very active community and people play it all the time.”
We played three matches on two maps, with best of three rounds each. I found myself drawn into the deep tactics available here. The maps, Oil Rig and Social, featured multiple routes to the objectives using either vertical or horizontal paths. PSVR 2’s OLED display and Firewall Ultra’s varied lighting tempted me to crouch and hide in dark corners, but when you’re hiding for 20 seconds and your team is getting mowed down in a hallway nearby, camping may not last long.
I couldn’t get the hang of throwing an eye-tracked grenade in my demo time, but I also didn’t go through a complete tutorial where I successfully accomplished that task a couple times. The game will have a full tutorial at launch, according to First Contact.
HDR & Flashlights
Last year at SIGGRAPH, I went eyes-in with Meta’s high-dynamic range Starburst VR headset research prototype and I felt myself squinting at a light that was so bright my eyes reacted the same way they might staring into a bright indoor light bulb. While Sony’s PSVR 2 headset doesn’t have the same range or brightness attributes as Meta’s demo from last year, Sony’s headset is also VR’s first consumer HDR head-mounted display. Comments on our reporting of Meta’s research device last year considered HDR’s potential use for simulated flash bangs. Seeing that overall concept realized here just a few months later by Sony and First Contact stands out as an example of PlayStation’s commitment to moving VR gaming forward.
Firewall Ultra uses Unreal Engine 5 and also features dedicated servers rather than peer-to-peer networking. That networking change could lead to a more reliable matchmaking experience, according to First Contact. The game should also expand the arsenal available to players, with Jagneaux confirming Ultra adds sniper rifles absent in the first game.
Firewall Zero Hour supported the PlayStation VR Aim Controller with the sequel supporting Sense controllers. A Sony representative said they had “nothing to share” on the potential of a new PlayStation VR Aim Controller or gun stock accessory that could be used with games like Firewall Ultra.
We’ve come to think of PSVR 2’s early 2023 release as a sort of soft launch for the platform. While First Contact wouldn’t confirm a release date for the game yet, if it arrives before Christmas there’s a good chance Firewall Ultra will serve as a major draw for players to adopt Sony’s second-generation VR platform in both 2023 and the years to come.
Sony paid for UploadVR’s travel costs to attend a Firewall Ultra demo at PlayStation’s headquarters in California.