On a cold February evening in 2016, Arizona Sunshine changed my life.
Well, kind of. Despite being a gamer for 30 years at that point, I had never heard of VR. When my wife bought me tickets to an immersive zombie experience, I had no idea that I had unwittingly stumbled into a 30-minute interactive ad for the HTC Vive that culminated in an eight-minute session of Arizona Sunshine.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Seven years – and countless zombie games – later, a familiar looking corpse has shuffled its way back into my life. With a groan to match the undead, it was time to shrug off my zombie fatigue and see if Vertigo Games has shambled its way back to the front of the horde.
Platforms: PSVR 2, PC VR, Pico, Quest (Review conducted on Quest 3)
Release Date: December 7
Developer: Vertigo Games
The Story So Far
Arizona Sunshine 2 is a character-driven arcade shooter that follows the exploits of the foul-mouthed, wise-cracking protagonist from the original. The story begins with the player chasing a crashing helicopter, arriving at the wreckage just in time to hear a mysterious radio message.
The message indicates that the military are narrowing in on `patient zero’. This naturally prompts our delightfully unhinged protagonist to decide that he should complete the mission and be welcomed into what’s left of civilization. Before setting off, you befriend a now-abandoned dog in the back of the helicopter, who you glibly name Buddy. So begins your friendship, with the two of you setting off on the 6-hour campaign.
A Dog Named Buddy
Buddy – and your relationship with him – is the heart of both the narrative and combat in Arizona Sunshine 2. The player controls Buddy with simple point-and-click commands, which will see him do anything from taking down a Fred (all zombies in the Arizona Sunshine seres are called Fred), fetching ammo from an inaccessible spot or solving basic puzzles.
Using Buddy as crowd control during intense action sequences is a thoroughly engaging mechanic. Having your companion topple zombies long enough for you to thin out a pack adds a lot of depth to the action.
The more you rely on Buddy during gameplay, the more invested you become in the relationship your character forms with his canine companion. The game’s script uses that to its advantage, cashing in some fairly heavy emotional cheques across the campaign.
For an arcade romp in zombie territory, Arizona Sunshine 2 is surprisingly well-written.
There’s definitely a fair share of foul language and crass one-liners, but the emotional investment that this game drags out of its players is quite remarkable.I’ve personally never cared more about an assortment of pixels than I did about Buddy the dog.
The narrative beats are expertly crafted to balance tension, action and emotional investment. The dialogue is wonderfully written, delivering a tone that’s well-balanced and entertaining. Despite the dumb jokes and the bad language, more than anything else Arizona Sunshine 2 provides a character study in loneliness, desperation and the lengths a person will go for their best friend.
This writing is complimented perfectly by the voice acting, which is among the best I’ve experienced in a video game. The dialogue in Arizona Sunshine 2 plays out like a one-man show, focused on the bravado and encroaching madness of the main character – a performance expertly delivered by Sky Soleil. The pithy, occasionally vulgar dialogue is underpinned by a manic sensitivity that lifts the game from a crass Duke Nukem affair to something deeper and more rewarding.
Back For More
Arizona Sunshine 2 is exactly what one might hope for in a sequel. It takes everything that worked in the original and refines it to near perfection.
For starters, the gunplay is among the best in VR. As far as arcade-style combat goes, the arsenal available is completely satisfying. The aim and recoil feel consistent and fair, and the sense of accomplishment from nailing a headshot from far away is second-to-none.
It’s heightened by detailed animations, where heads pop and limbs fly in a way that sells the impact of each weapon. The range of weapons is fantastic – from hand guns to flamethrowers, everything is a joy to use.
Players can holster one large weapon and up to four small weapons by way of a canine carry-all, an ingenious touch. The inventory feels deliberately limited. It forces you to take chances, try new weapons and experiment with play styles.
Take Another Swing
As a sequel, Arizona Sunshine 2 excels in addressing the elements that were lacking in the original, most notably with the inclusion of melee this time around.
Taking a `physics-lite’ approach to dismemberment, melee is a great addition to the franchise. Heads and limbs react to melee hits in a way that isn’t exactly realistic, but `real enough’. Imagine Saints & Sinners, but with the demand for gritty realism replaced by a desire to just have fun.
The game’s level design is also worthy of praise. Despite a linear format, levels never feel dull. There’s ample scope for exploring and searching for loot. Environments and missions flow together to give a sense of variety, weaving between traversing levels and navigating intense set pieces.
The pacing and tension fluctuates throughout the campaign. You’ll swing from being an over-powered action hero one moment to desperately firing your last clip into an impossible horde the next.
Twice As Nice
One of the most popular elements of the original game was the ability to play the campaign with a friend. This feature thankfully returns in the sequel, with the full campaign playable in two-player co-op. Once complete, each individual mission can be selected to play again with a friend as well.
There is also the classic four-player horde mode. In our review build, I was only able to access one map – the canyon level from the original – however more maps are planned for ‘Year One’ of the game’s post-launch content.
Editor’s note: UploadVR reached out to Vertigo Games, who confirmed there is only one Horde map available at launch.
Sound & Vision
Arizona Sunshine 2 is an impressive looking game on Quest 3. There’s a strong overall art direction that’s well conceived and well delivered. The environments feels expansive and grounded, with impressive texture work and lighting. The campaign takes the player through a range of areas, providing a diverse and engaging backdrop to the action.
This is impressive by itself, but a significant achievement when combined with the excellent character work on the `Freds’. With the sheer volume of zombies on screen at any given time in Arizona Sunshine 2, Vertigo reaches a level that surpasses even After the Fall. Watching the hordes of undead descend is an unnerving sight to behold.
Editor’s note: While editing this review, we also tried out the game’s opening sequence on PSVR 2, which demonstrates a clear increase in environmental detail, especially with elements like shrubbery or foliage. The game also uses reprojection on PSVR 2, allowing it to run at 60fps reprojected up to 120Hz in-headset.
The sound design is equally impressive. Gunshots have real weight and convey power, clearly highlighting the difference between weapons. The ambient sounds create a foreboding atmosphere that amplifies a mounting sense of tension and the score matches the tone of each scene with precision, undulating with the action. From alerting the player to new threats to raising the adrenaline, the music provides as much atmosphere as the visuals.
Arizona Sunshine 2 delivers the standard array of comfort options, including teleport locomotion, snap turning and vignettes. The game is best enjoyed using artificial locomotion, however there is no jumping or parkour to contend with, so a basic ability to handle VR movement should suffice.
Not Without My Jank
Despite the highly polished product that Vertigo have made, Arizona Sunshine2 is not without some jank. While not often, occasionally a door or a zombie will behave erratically, glitching as though having a seizure. Every now and then Buddy will clip through an object or bring down a zombie only to have it float inches above the ground.
Overall the game performed well, however I did experience one level that suffered regular freezes, eventually ending with a hard crash. That said, absolutely none of these minor issues lessened my enjoyment of the experience.
Arizona Sunshine 2 Review – Final Verdict
Vertigo Games has brought the Arizona Sunshine franchise back from the dead and living its best afterlife. With pitch perfect writing, acting, pacing and outstanding action, Arizona Sunshine 2 offers some of the most engaging and accessible arcade violence yet to grace VR.
UploadVR uses a 5-Star rating system for our game reviews – you can read a breakdown of each star rating in our review guidelines.