It’s clear that Arizona Sunshine was loved by the VR community, though there’s no doubting that the launch on the PlayStation VR unit was a bit ropey, and that’s being generous. It was patched and become a solid FPS title that was worth a playthrough, but you needed to overlook the initial release problems. Move forward 6 years (yes, it’s been that long) and the sequel is with us, as well as multiple generations of VR hardware passing through the market in the same timeframe. Arizona Sunshine 2 has bigger ambition, bigger scope, and bigger technology available for Vertigo Games to go at, and there’s no doubting they’ve had plenty of years of VR experience to pull on to help with the development. What we should be playing is a high end interactive zombie shooting adventure that delivers story and gameplay in equal measure… and that’s thankfully what we get. Don’t think it’s not without the odd bug or two though.
You awake to just another day in the apocalypse: there’s little beer left in the fridge, suspicious looking burgers and sausages smoulder on the grill, and zombies stare at you from all directions. You’re safe… to a degree, with your wits you’ve rigged up a haven where you can chill in your trailer and wait for the end to come. Not that the world (or Arizona Sunshine 2) is going to let that happen. Your peaceful existence is shattered when an army chopper crashes nearby, making you realise that it’s not just you vs. the hordes of undead; there are actually others out there. Better get a move on then and look for survivors or, at the very least, new supplies. Grab your guns and a sharp tool and set off into the bleached landscape in hope of rescue, companionship or even just a brief conversation – any of these will do as our hero battles his inner Fred for control of his sanity. What he discovers in the heli crash will definitely brighten up his day, and bring a furry friend into his life just as he was giving up on it.
Arizona Sunshine 2 doesn’t go all in on a complex and twisting story – you are only here to kill zombies after all – yet it isn’t just going to use denature as a plot device. Discovering a dog in the wreckage of the helicopter, your job is simply to take the pooch back to its owners and try and get some semblance of humanity back in your life. Naming the mutt Buddy, you set out across the state, fighting your way through infested towns and dark sewers, as well as taking part in a few pretty spectacular set pieces, all in order to bring the dog home. Along the five hour or so runtime of the story you’ll bond with Buddy, uncover a more sinister objective of the government (shocking, I know!), and separate more brains from the undead than you can measure. In a standard flat FPS this wouldn’t be enough to keep you engaged beyond 30 minutes, but the genius of VR kicks in straightaway and elevates a fairly linear shooter into a great interactive adventure that knows what it does well, and delivers solely on that.
It’s you that’s inhabiting the hero. It’s you that physically moving around, looking, grabbing and throwing. It’s you at the centre of it all and Arizona Sunshine 2 knows how to leverage that feeling of control and agency that the VR hardware facilitates brilliantly. The core gameplay mechanic is killing zombies, whether that’s shooting them or smacking them with sharp objects. Firearms are the preferred method of taking them down because it allows you to keep a distance, yet they come with the trade off that they can’t hold a lot of ammo and you need to physically reload them each time. There’s no doubt that’s the star of the show – hitting a button to eject the empty clip from a pistol, grabbing a fresh one from your chest holster, slamming it into the magazine well, and pulling the slide to load the first round into the chamber. You’ll do this literally hundreds of times and it never gets old. That physicality of using both your “in-game” hands to do what a single button press does in most titles is refreshing to say the least, though gets quite frantic when you’ve a horde chasing you down. Handguns are just the start, and even they come in several variants, though soon enough you’re breaking open shotgun barrels or reaching for drum mags to slide into Tommy guns. Figuring out how each weapon needs to be handled is fun in itself, though it took me far too long to realise with a six-shooter you need to upend the gun to drop the empty cartridges to the floor.
Two short guns can be kept in your holsters – one left, one right – and two spares placed in Buddy’s webbing. You can also carry a long gun on your back. These two handed rifles are a lot more powerful, though suffer from the usual disconnect of having to coordinate your real world controllers which are totally independent with a virtual rigid item. Pumping a shotgun isn’t too bad, lining up a scoped rifle shot is a different matter. It’s takes a bit of practice and can be overcome, though I tended to gravitate towards the one handed weapons unless it was a grenade launcher or absolutely essential to clear a path. Melee weapons are an option, even if they break quite quickly and aren’t as prevalent as the firearms, but they do the job. Swinging them hard enough at the right angle is enough to decapitate or dismember, and in a pinch can be thrown to knock Fred’s back. Likewise, you can throw a punch and buy some crucial time to grab something more effective. Axes, machetes and crowbars are stored in one of two slots in your gloves, and through a crafting-lite mechanic you can also manufacture grenades, Molotov’s and mines. These are great for crowd clearance as well as blowing up barriers, and have the advantage that they can be shot from distance if you’ve not armed them before throwing. Basically, whatever feels natural to do with the arsenal on hand can be done, and that’s a testament to the game design.
Movement is fully 3-dimensional around the areas, though the nice looking landscapes can’t hide that it’s mainly a corridor shooter; and those that don’t like full motion in VR can dial up the comfort settings as they see fit. Arizona Sunshine 2 has a decent set of options to adjust to find your preferred playstyle, and there’s going to be a sweet spot for just about everyone. Standing, sitting or roomscale is supported, and all appear to be equally usable, so it’s really about what suits you best. Being comfortable is always important in VR, though here there’s an emphasis on preventing any distractions that will take you away from the detail and visuals. I’m not going to say it’s on a par with The Last Of Us Part II for detailed apocalyptic environments, but there’s a good amount going on with little pop up or texture loading, and it’s stays pretty stable for the most part. Maybe “for the most part” is doing some heavy lifting… I encountered multiple crashes as it loaded in new levels (5 in the course of the story); major framerate dips in one section of backyard traversal; and some interaction challenges when looking at objects I needed to operate. Weirdly though I’m not going to say these were overly problematic, just minor inconveniences. It’s never too long either before you’re back in the thick of the action, watching carnage unfold as you spread zombie guts and brains across the floor, walls and ceiling.
Whilst the original instalment of the series left me thinking that the technical challenges of the PSVR kit were too much, that’s not the case with Arizona Sunshine 2. Sure, there are a few hiccups, yet I’ve found the game wonderfully compelling and have bought into the adventure fully as I travelled the desert towns with Buddy and a wise-cracking survivor. It’s mostly funny, occasionally frantic, and even manages to be heartfelt too; and that I didn’t expect. With the option to play 4 player co-op in the story or horde mode (which isn’t quite as good as the main game), there’s some longevity to be had, but for me it’ll be the main campaign that gets revisited as the set pieces are worth a relook, alongside getting to send Buddy to rip zombie throats out. Whether you’re a VR owner on PC or PlayStation, this is definitely one for the wishlist.
A PSVR2 review copy of Arizona Sunshine 2 was provided by Vertigo Games PR team, and it’s available now on PC and PS5 VR platforms for around £50.
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