Arizona Sunshine Review

Nothing says “I want to go home” than standing out in the hot, unrelenting summer sun. Summer is my least favorite part of the year because of the excruciating heat and frightfully sunny days. I should point out, though, that I’m typically unhappy with the weather if it’s not raining or at most, 70 degrees. Through the magic of VR, Arizona Sunshine gives me the chance to fight zombies in a scorching, desert climate from the comfort of my air-conditioned play space. Which, come to think of it based on personal experience, is probably the optimal way to experience the state of Arizona (I tease because I love you all, Arizonans).

By all rights, the setup for Arizona Sunshine is absolutely miserable. Not only must you endure the unforgiving, trashcan melting sun, you’ll do so while trying to survive the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. God, can you imagine the smell?! The nameless and faceless main character is a survivalist with a sense of humor who makes me think of Woody Harrelson’s Twinkie-loving hero from the film Zombieland. He’ll taunt and egg on the zombies, whom he collectively calls “Fred,” as he ventures out of his sanctuary to track down a radio broadcast that might lead to other survivors. To reach them, he must hike across nature trails, go spelunking in a disused mine, and weave through dense trailer parks while fending off attacks from the walking undead.

Arizona Sunshine is a decent, middle of the road shooter that’s not bad but not great either. It doesn’t do much to break out of its own mold nor that of the FPS shooter genre, for that matter. The game’s defining feature is the use of the PlayStation Move wands to aim and shoot zombies. While this is certainly the most “fun” part of the game, the wands restrict movement, trapping “free roam” traversal into a clunky, tank control scheme mapped to the wand’s face buttons. There is a secondary control set that uses teleportation, a common mechanic in VR games to prevent motion sickness. There is a third option to use the DualShock controller but that just defeats the purpose here, so I didn't try it out. After some experimentation, I chose to play the game on free roam because I found it to be the lesser of two evils. Movement around the map is a bit slow for my tastes (a run button is always appreciated), and it was too easy to get stuck on the environment. Neither free roam nor teleport makes getting around comfortable, especially during engagements when zombies attack from all directions. Zombies are manageable by themselves or in small clusters of two or three. They mostly stumble slowly in your direction to attack, giving you plenty of time to line up a shot, while others can sprint. There’s never a good way to anticipate which zombies can run after you, an unpredictability that adds tension to every encounter. Hordes, on the other hand, can be difficult to manage because of the restrictive movement.

Shooting zombies with in-game weapons via the Move wands has depth and realism. You’ll never be too far away from a gun as you rummage through offices, display cases, living rooms, and shops. The classic library of armaments is here: pistols, revolvers, shotguns, machine guns, and even two-handed special weapons like chain guns and sniper rifles. You can carry two guns at any time (with two additional weapons holstered at your side), firing them akimbo into the undead masses. Reloading a gun, be it a standard 9mm clip or a shotgun cartridge, is done by releasing the empty clip and angling the gun towards your waist, listening for the satisfying “click” of a fresh magazine. I like how a minimalistic UI forces you to pay attention to how bullets are spent in engagements. Unless you’re counting shots, there is no way to know how many bullets remain before a reload. Though you can release the magazine at any time, you’ll lose that was left in the magazine. Then again, unused bullets can be picked up and added to your inventory, so I guess it really doesn’t matter.

The benefit of using the Move controllers to shoot is precision aiming. Each weapon has a red dot laser sight (even the shotguns, hilariously enough) that provides a nice visual cue of the bullet’s path. I found the laser sight to be almost useless in the bright, open area environments because it is hard to see it from a distance and on non-darkened surfaces. At night, it’s a completely different story and lining up satisfying headshots couldn’t be easier. Aiming down the barrel of the gun is possible and affords even more precision. It’s a fun tactic because you have to bring the wand up to eye level and make necessary adjustments. I really enjoyed firing the sniper rifle for this reason, however, I found it to be mostly useless with smaller guns. This is because of the inherent “jitteriness” as a result of the PlayStation camera tracking the Move wands. Taking the time to line up a shot only to have it miss at the last possible moment because of an uncontrolled technical flinch is a real son of a bitch.

The game’s quieter, no zombie slaying moments are occupied with searching the area for keys to unlock doors and winches to operate bridges and elevators. You can interact with a lot of random items, many of which do nothing. Masks and hats can be found in random locations and while they look somewhat important, you're never told their purpose. Masks can be put on, though I expect that is a novelty for online co-op games. All of the interactive debris--rolls of duct tape, rubber duckies, shovels, pill bottles, water bottles, soda cans--serve no function. At the very least, I should be able to use a shovel as a melee weapon!

The campaign can be played with one or two players. I'm not convinced that the campaign needs co-op because of how mostly uninteresting it is, and the inclusion of a second player wouldn’t make things better. There's a lack of variety and exploration is limited to following a linear path that leads from one arena to another, testing the player’s mettle and aim. The included Horde Mode is better served with another player because the format is generally more fun that way.

Arizona Sunshine is a "just OK" zombie game that, with the exception of being a PlayStation VR title, doesn’t really differentiate itself from other, better shooters. The Move wands add immersion to the action at the expense of comfortable and sensible movement (I’d kill for the option to move backward). For those who feel that graphics matter, the game is not especially pretty. Frequent texture popping and load-in ruins already bland and uninteresting environments occupied by 3D models that range in quality. At its worst, it looks like a middle- to late-stage game for the PlayStation 2. Take away the novelty of VR and free aiming, and you’ll find there is nothing to differentiate Arizona Sunshine from any other run-of-the-mill first person shooter. Wait for a sale or, if the urge to play a VR shooter compels you, consider Farpoint instead.

Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.