If virtual reality has proved anything over its short lifespan to date, it’s that it lends itself to both first-person shooters and survival horror really, really well. Dutch developer Vertigo Games has combined the two genres to create Arizona Sunshine, which casts the player as an unnamed protagonist in the midst of a full-fledged zombie apocalypse in the heart of the American Southwest. The game was originally released for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift in December 2016 and now shuffles on to PlayStation VR along with added support for the newly released PS Aim controller.
Arizona Sunshine kicks off with the protagonist waking in his hideout, a cave in an Arizonan valley. The game shows you how to move and equips you with a firearm. It’s obvious as soon as you step out of the cave and into the bright, oppressive environment of the Arizona desert that whatever fate befell the world took place some time ago and that our hero believes himself to be the last man on Earth; this becomes more apparent after dispatching the first wave of the undead, as you stumble across abandoned vehicles and hastily vacated makeshift campsites. Whilst exploring your surroundings, the protagonist discovers a radio and a weak transmission encouraging survivors to make their way to a rallying point.
Your journey towards the origin of the signal takes the protagonist on a journey of both hope and heartbreak, with hordes of zombies impeding your progress. The undead comes in both the Romero-esque slow, lumbering feet dragger and the more nimble, ultra-focussed 28 Days Later-style runner varieties. As soon as a zombie gets within arm’s reach they begin tearing chunks out of our hero’s flesh, so taking them out before they reach you is a must. Headshots are the best option, though half dozen rounds to the torso can also do the trick. A hidden HUD found by looking down at your waist allows you to keep tabs on how much ammo you’ve got left.
The world of Arizona Sunshine is well realised and looks exactly like any of the endless list of zombocalypse themed movies or TV shows. The landscape is bright, with the Arizona sun beating down on the surface and glinting off of vehicles; as I’ve already mentioned the world appears devoid of human life, there’s a certain stillness that’s only interrupted by the groans of the undead, all of whom have a greyish brown skin tone, their flesh rotten and their clothing tattered; and unlike other VR shooters, attacks can come from multiple angles. Vertigo Games certainly know their stuff when it comes to making the world feel like it’s come to an end.
Although unseen, our hero (voiced by Sky Soliel) is instantly likeable; with a knack for one-liners that rivals Nathan Drake, using humour as a coping mechanism, affectionately referring to every zombie he encounters as “Fred”. Having discovered a frozen zombie inside a fridge at a ranger’s lodge, for instance, our hero asks “What ya doing there Fred? Chillin?!” Yes, the joke is kinda cheesy but helps to break up the tension after having dispatched a wave of walkers mere moments beforehand.
As mentioned, Arizona Sunshine supports the PS Move and PS Aim, as well as DualShock 4. I can’t comment on playing with the DualShock, as I felt it would make for a less immersive experience. There are pros and cons to playing with either of the motion-based controllers – playing with the PS Move allows you to wield dual firearms, throw grenades and allows for greater interaction with the environment, such as opening doors and drawers.
Playing with the Aim controller offers up a range of two-handed firearms such as Stens and sniper rifles, but makes interactions with objects awkward. I also found that my gun randomly glitched when playing with the Aim, and at one point was facing towards me as a swarm of zombies closed in on my position. No matter what I did to realign the controller, the game refused to readjust and ultimately sealed my fate – hopefully Vertigo Games will patch this in the near future, as I was much more comfortable with playing with my shiny new Aim controller.
Movement in-game is achieved by teleportation-like jumps over short distances of around ten to fifteen feet, with the screen adjusting to the new location after a slight delay. This is a smart move by Vertigo Games, as not only does it lower the sense of nausea brought about by standard locomotion, but it also allows the game to be played with PS Move controllers as we as the PS Aim. Changing your point of view can be achieved by shifting the protagonist’s perspective in 30° increments. Teleportation and changes in perspective using the Move controllers are achieved by using the Move and face buttons respectively; whereas the same functions are assigned to the Aim’s thumbsticks.
Aside from the bugs with the Aim controller’s tracking, Arizona Sunshine is everything that I want in a VR shooter. The learning curve is gradual, with small pockets of the undead here and there at the outset and a huge swarm by the game’s finale. If you’ve got both Move and Aim controllers its worth playing with both from start to finish, as using two-handed weapons is a completely different experience to wielding two separate firearms. The game’s plot is involving and well-paced and is of a decent length. If you’ve ever wondered how you’d fare in a world where the dead roam the Earth, give Arizona Sunshine a go, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.