18.06.2024

Arizona Sunshine Updated Review: The Best VR Zombie Shooter Yet

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Before approaching this review, I had to ask myself: What really makes a good zombie game? Obviously, zombies are at the core of the experience. They’ve got to be scary, first and foremost. In Arizona Sunshine there are a handful of moments that raised my hairs and gave me goosebumps, but it wasn’t as frequent as other games that bill themselves as primarily horror experiences. Instead, just like its approach to everything, the horror elements are only a small part of a much more complex puzzle.

You’ll hear them shuffling toward you, growling and moaning with each step, and you’ll feel the terror as an entire horde of them comes pouring over a gate or down a mine shaft after you. That’s all here. But what you won’t find is the inability to escape, or reposition yourself, or at least move out of the way. So many other zombie shooters in VR right now are obsessed with either locking you in place, neutralizing your ability to move other than what your room allows, or location-based teleportation to pre-defined areas. Luckily, Arizona Sunshine’s movement system offers flexibility, even if it’s still a form of teleportation.

By pressing forward on one of the Oculus Touch controllers’ analog sticks, or pressing the touchpad of a Vive controller, and then aiming out in front of me, I can choose where I’d like to teleport in the world, which results in a blink of the screen to simulate the movement. You’re faced with managing an endurance meter so you can’t just endlessly teleport across entire levels. It’s an effective solution to the movement problem, one popularized by Cloudhead’s The Gallery, and it avoids motion sickness. However, it would have been nice for the option of a more traditional control scheme for those that don’t suffer from motion sickness.

Even though the zombies in Arizona Sunshine retain a lot of what make zombies so scary in pop culture, it loses some of that effect once you realize how simple the A.I. is in the game. They either slowly walk around until noticing you, crawl on the ground if shot in the leg, or sprint toward you. One thing I really appreciated is that, regardless of the type of zombie, they’re lethal. If you make the mistake of letting one get close enough to hit you, they’ll start wildly flailing their arms making it tough to shoot their head and dealing severe damage very, very quickly. Within seconds, a single zombie can drop you from full health to death without much trouble. Luckily, there’s no risk of turning from a bite to worry about that I noticed.

Throughout the campaign mode I grew fond of the main character’s wit and humor. I began the journey waking up inside of a cave, presumably a hideout location. A zombie head rolls into the cave after getting lopped off by a bear trap — a safety precaution the main character took before resting. Jokingly, he refers to the dead monstrosity as ‘Fred’, a comical moniker he uses to refer to any and all zombies throughout the game.

After exiting the cave, I hear a human voice over the radio for the first time. I set out on my mission to find the source of the transmission and, ideally, a safe haven from all of the madness. It’s a simple story that never veers off track and has zero twists or turns, but it gets the job done. The focus isn’t so much on the overarching narrative, but more so on the world and the main character’s relationship to the apocalypse that makes it so pleasurable to play through.

Over the course of the 4+ hour campaign, the character’s humor is effective at offering a foil to the otherwise horrific hellscape of the Arizona desert during the apocalypse. Between scavenging for food and ammunition it’s refreshing to hear the protagonist remark about how ugly one of the Freds appears to be, or how the horde of Freds is ruining the intimate get-together he had planned for the single dead zombie in the middle of the room. Hearing my character exclaim, “You just had to invite your entire damn family, didn’t ya Fred!?” is much more entertaining than the stock grunts and complaints.

That personality shines through in the end, as well as his anger and frustration mounts and all serves to mark the ending of the campaign in a huge climactic battle. That personality was enough to make it an adventure worth taking, but it never ascends to he heights of other narrative VR games, such as The Gallery, in its storytelling. The utter lack of any other characters, or at least diversions in the plot, make this a very by-the-numbers story of the zombie apocalypse, one that we’ve all heard before, even if it’s exciting to play again in VR.

Which is what a lot of the experience boils down to. In terms of game design and mechanics, there isn’t a whole lot to make it sound very exciting on paper. You can move around large environments, point flashlights in the dark, shoot zombies, and fight for your life — but that’s been in games for years. The difference between a game like Arizona Sunshine and anything you’d play on a 2D display is that in this game, you feel like you’re part of the world. You embody the character, rather than piloting them through the window of your television.

My memories of playing the game feel more like I visited this place and vividly recall getting lost in the mines, scared for my life. In this way, it’s much more than just a simple video game. By crafting a full campaign mode that lasts several hours, Arizona Sunshine effectively transports you to this other world in such a convincing way that you feel what your character feels much more so than you would in any other traditional game.

Playing the campaign in multiplayer offers the exact same experience, but increases the difficulty in just as many ways as it decreases it. While you have a second pair of guns and pair of eyes in the world, you don’t have twice as much ammo to go around, forcing you to share and ration out each stash. The dark levels also require immense teamwork as only person is afforded the use of the flashlight. You better trust whoever you’ve asked to watch your back.

Vertigo Games proved that even in the most saturated genre we’ve seen for VR games this year — shooters with zombies — there was still room for something fresh. Arizona Sunshine combines the narrative power of a fully-featured 4+ hour campaign mode, with the intensity of a wave-based horde mode, and then adds multiplayer to both experiences. The protagonist’s witty humor make it worth recommending on his charming personality alone, with enough depth and variety to keep people coming back for several hours. By doing so many things so well, Arizona Sunshine quickly rose to the top of the pack as the best overall zombie shooter we’ve seen yet in VR.

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