The PS VR Aim Controller had its breakout moment with 2017’s Farpoint, a tense alien shooter whose intensity owed a lot to the Aim Controller’s perfectly mapped controls. With a physical object in hand–one that’s perfectly synced up with your in-game movement and manipulations–the feeling of presence is unmatched. First-person shooting takes on a whole new challenge when its your own aim and nerves affecting the outcome. Firewall Zero Hour, revealed this weekend at PlayStation Experience 2017, wants to magnify that challenge and intensity in 4v4 PvP arenas. Your aim, quick thinking, and awareness might be serviceable, but how they do stack up against other human players?
Your skills will be tested in breach-and-clear gameplay highly reminiscent of Rainbow Six. In my heads-on demo at PSX, I spent a couple matches each on both the attacking and defending side. In Firewall, both teams play the role of mercenaries hired to either retrieve or protect valuable data on the map. A tense, creeping vibe kicks in as you and your squad move slowly through the level, checking sightlines and calling out routes.
A few design choices separate Firewall from the pack and help establish this tense atmosphere. By default, movement is extremely slow. Push forward on the Aim Controller’s forward analog stick (or the left stick, on a DualShock), and the speed is like a careful walk forward. It feels like these mercenaries are moving with purpose, knowing that a single wrong turn or missed detail could be their last, and the speed gets you in the same mindset from the jump. You can sprint by holding down the stick (I suggested a toggle sprint, like most other FPS), but even this speed isn’t terribly fast–more like the soft jog of trying to move quicker while staying very quiet. Additionally, you’ve got just one life to live in each round, and death comes swiftly. The effect of slow movement and high stakes in VR is powerful. As my team slowly approached a large mansion from the outer courtyard, I took every opportunity to look around, pointing my scope in the courtyard’s dark corners to make sure we weren’t being flanked.
As we entered the mansion and began sweeping through the ground level, tactical depth became apparent. There’s a layer of spatial strategy that so few shooters ever tap into. Most of the time, lone wolf warriors are too busy sprinting around the map to methodically move through a space, calling out updates for the team, pairing or splitting up in purposeful ways. By contrast, Firewall is very squad-oriented. PS VR’s built-in microphone makes communicating a breeze, and you absolutely need to. Without a heads-up on enemy positions or knowing what areas your teammates are covering, you’re liable to retread old ground while the opposing team is moving unseen to flank you.
Like in Farpoint, aiming and shooting with the PS VR Aim Controller is a breeze. Holding the scope to your eye and squinting feel natural and accurate, and you can control your own destiny with controlled bursts of fire versus spraying and praying. The game is also totally playable with a DualShock 4, but Firewall really came alive with the immersion of sweeping my head and gun to the right upon hearing gunshots in the room over, or poking my weapon around corners before my body followed. This almost tactile involvement summons weird instincts I didn’t know I had. After just a few minutes of adjustment, I was crouching to blind-fire over obstacles, tossing a flashbang into rooms before entering, and using small features like a pillar or furniture to impede enemy fire.
Firewall is very much in a pre-alpha state and has a ways to go before the development finish line, so we don’t know much about the full selection of maps and modes.I’m told that the game can be played solo, but the team was a bit cagey on whether that will look like a full single-player narrative. I had the opportunity to select from one of three preset loadouts at the beginning of each match–featuring automatic assault rifle, a shotgun, and an MP5 submachine gun–but all three loadouts had the same pistol sidearm and throwable items. The bones of broader customization were there, but the extent isn’t known. That said, First Contact has years of combined shooter experience and has approached “good map design” from that informed perspective, crafting choke points and routes with placeholder building blocks before the art team ever comes in. I greatly appreciate the team’s unwillingness to compromise on certain hard-coded shooter elements. All of the standard controls vets would expect–Circle to crouch, Square to reload, Triangle to weapon-swap–are in play, and the right analog stick’s angled turning a la Farpoint or Resident Evil 7 remains a great solution that keeps the whole map in play.
Firewall Zero Hour looks poised to push PS VR forward with a full-featured competitive multiplayer experience. Fulfilling that promise would be impressive enough, putting a VR shooter among mainstream contenders. But the tense air and tactical demands enforced by Firewall’s design could separate it from the crowd. Look for more on Firewall from PSU in the lead-up to its likely 2018 release.