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Firewall Ultra Review: Tense Tactical Shooter Mired By Bugs & Baffling Design Choices

Firewall Ultra Review: Tense Tactical Shooter Mired By Bugs & Baffling Design Choices

Looking back at the limitations of PSVR 1’s tech, it’s remarkable that Firewall Zero Hour proved to be such a hit for First Contact Entertainment and resonated with a dedicated community happy to invest hundreds of hours in a single game mode.

You would then assume that Firewall Ultra, its follow-up on the much more powerful PSVR 2 with Sense controllers that allow for more immersive VR gameplay, would be a very straight shot.

Firewall Ultra Review - The Facts

Platforms: PSVR 2
Release Date: August 24
Developer: First Contact Entertainment
Price: $39.99

Game Modes & Maps

In many ways, Firewall Ultra feels like more of a 1.5 rather than a straight sequel, though its no-nonsense objective-based gameplay means you’re hardly here for story. At its core is still the Rainbow Six Siege-style Contracts PvP mode, which pits two teams of four against each other. The teams rotate between attack and defend, with the former attempting to hack into a laptop to steal intel in the allotted five minutes while the latter team have to impede. This sometimes also means camping in the same room with the doors blocked and explosives triggered to catch trespassers. Alternatively, since there are no respawns, either team can win the round by wiping the other team entirely.

There is, however, a new PvE co-op mode called Exfil, which is a bit like the attacking portion of Contracts but against bots. The difference is that besides accessing the firewall, you have to hack not one but three laptops and then also make it to the extraction zone. And all while facing incredibly ruthless waves of bots that really do require all four team members working together to survive.

The majority of the eight launch maps are also remakes of the maps in Zero Hour, including the oil rig and office. There are some interesting changes though, such as how the latter, set in the fictional headquarters of a social media company, now looks like it’s in the aftermath of a raid with lights out and overturned furniture.

One benefit to remaking the old maps is how clearly it shows the visual leap that Firewall Ultra has made in switching to Unreal Engine 5, with more detailed environments and realistic lighting. Some of the maps are purposefully quite dark with poor visibility, so it feels great when you’re equipped with a gun that comes with a flashlight – though that of course risks giving your position away. Ultimately, I preferred the more open environments of the new urban Middle-Eastern map Crossroads. Set in the middle of the day, the map’s openness also means there’s more vantage points where you can be caught out.

Some Ultra Complications

While the solid core gameplay of Contracts remains and the brutal difficulty of Exfil saw our team screaming with glee when we made it out in one piece, a myriad of issues currently weigh down the overall experience of Firewall Ultra.

The biggest concern is with how the game handles aiming. There was a lot of praise for how Zero Hour made use of PSVR’s optional AIM controller, so you would expect the new VR-dedicated Sense controllers to be up to the job. Yet compared to other PSVR 2 shooters I’ve played, including Resident Evil Village and Synapse, it felt such a chore trying to hold the gun in front of me, let alone line it up so that I could actually see a rifle’s reticle or laser sight.

That’s how it works if you manually hold a weapon up to your head with L1 (or R1 for left-handed users like myself), which also has the misfortune of being the same button for interacting with objects like doors, pick-ups or reviving a downed teammate. However, L2 (or R2) gives you a dedicated ADS mode. This realistically just gives you a virtual stock, so that the butt of your gun is on your shoulder, which sometimes just makes it easier to aim by turning your head. While this mode does improve accuracy, it comes at the cost of immersion. I found the mode frequently required positioning my arms in a much less natural way.

Sadly, the ADS mode is not the only instance of immersion-breaking moments in Ultra. There’s also no manual reload option, for example. Likewise, being downed will snap you into an awkward third-person perspective, looking down on yourself as you crawl hopelessly on the ground calling for a teammate to revive you before an opponent finishes you off. It’s just baffling how much the design decisions feel geared towards a flatscreen FPS rather than a VR game.

Even if you can adjust to the control quirks, you’ll still likely be dragged down by the litany of bugs in Ultra. While some can be amusing, such as seeing team members’ limbs stuck in awkward poses when loading into the new Safehouse hub before matches, the majority just put a damper on the overall experience. From laggy, sticky gun inputs to every facet of UI issues, First Contact Entertainment will no doubt address many of these in post-launch patches, but it hasn’t made for a great first impression. (Editor's note: see below) It’s purely down to the core fundamentals of the game still being so exciting that I managed to persevere through launch weekend.

However, that still hinges on finding a team who have mics on, because I cannot stress how vital communication and sticking together is in this game. Even more frustrating is Firewall Ultra’s long-winded process to squad up with friends and begin playing a match. Instead of selecting a game mode on the main menu, you have to enter the Safehouse first, invite your friends, and then go through a confusing menu system via a terminal to get into a match as a squad.

On paper, having a physical hub where you can hang out and shoot the breeze in between matches sounds nice. In reality, I couldn’t help but wonder if a more streamlined no-frills interface would have worked better.

It’s also been tricky to assess Firewall Ultra at launch simply because some of its live service features were not live at the time of review. These features, such as Assignments and the battle pass-style Operations, aim to give meaningful progression to your play sessions. Instead, I spent the best part of launch weekend playing and yet was only able to reach Rank level 2 with barely 15,000 crypto (the in-game currency) to my name – a paltry fraction of what’s required to unlock anything of note. (Editor's note: see below) By contrast, the shop is already open and will let you fast-track progress by spending $4.99 on the premium Shadow Coin currency. Given the slow start to in-game rewards, that’s likely the way most players will be unlocking the game’s other playable contractors.

Editor's Note: UploadVR conducted its review of Firewall Ultra across launch weekend. First Contact Entertainment since issued a patch this week addressing a few bugs. The studio says its network engineers are “hard at work” on fixes for “matchmaking issues.” The patch also grants new and existing players 100,000 crypto (in-game currency), which will help players sooner unlock a selection of weapons and items.

Ultra's Assignments and Operations features also went live earlier this week. First Contact Entertainment says that this should "really help in earning rep [Reputation, used for ranking up] & crypto at a quicker rate!"

Firewall Ultra - Comfort & Control Options

All of Firewall Ultra’s menus, including weapon wheels, are navigated using eye tracking. As someone who has had an erratic experience with eye tracking, perhaps owing to a very strong glasses prescription, it’s frustrating that there are currently no other options for selection, such as gaze-based head tracking.

Firewall Ultra supports playing while either sitting or standing – while I usually opt for the former to reduce motion sickness, I found the more considered and stealthy movement meant that using the latter was not an issue. The game also has a Comfort tab with options for adjusting walking speed, snap or smooth turning, turn amount, the ability to toggle running by default, and the intensity of headset vibration.

You can choose to play either as right-handed or left-handed, with button controls flipping accordingly (e.g. reload switches from Cross to Square, while ADS mode switches from L2 to R2). This can be done via a menu tab or also in-game.

There are also subtitles available when receiving instructions and feedback from your handlers but there are no audio cues from other contractors so communicating with your squad is essential.

Firewall Ultra - Final Verdict

As a live-service game with a long road map ahead of it, it would be too early to consider this our ‘final’ verdict of Firewall Ultra. However, in its launch state, the game is riddled with bugs, as well as frustrating UI and design decisions that often make it a drag to play. If you nonetheless wade through all that, the core PvP Contracts and the new co-op Exfil mode can still be tense and exhilarating with the right team.

If these issues are ironed out, it may have better prospects in the long run with more content to come. However, the pricing structure at launch (with its push towards additional in-app purchases after the initial base game purchase) cynically encourages you to spend more to unlock additional content and features. It’s difficult to recommend Firewall Ultra to PSVR 2 owners right now, especially compared to progression-less but more polished and varied options like Pavlov.

UploadVR focuses on a label system for reviews, rather than a numeric score. Our reviews fall into one of four categories: Essential, Recommended, Avoid and reviews that we leave unlabeled. You can read more about our review guidelines here.

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