My PSVR has been sitting idle for the past few months. There just haven’t been any decent new games to warrant releasing it from its cardboard slumber. However, in a very short time, we have had a few encouraging reasons to finally wake it up. From Star Trek Bridge Commander, Farpoint and now we have Arizona Sunshine. Now Arizona Sunshine was originally released as a title for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets, and to a reasonable amount of fanfare too. With a Metacritic currently sitting in the high 80’s, it’s safe to say my hopes are high for this one.
The campaign to Arizona Sunset is a relatively short one lasting a fun filled 4 hours on your first playthrough. The story is very straightforward, following a linear journey as you try and find the source of a radio signal and the hope of not being the only survivor during a zombie outbreak. Your character speaks to himself a lot during the game, usually through jibes and taunts towards the Zombies, or ‘Fred’ and ‘Freddies’, as he tends to call them. While it does slightly take you out of the illusion that you are playing the role, the voice over does add an additional layer of flavour to all the Zombie killing. However, a few times I did wish he would just shut up and let me get on with the game without another ‘Fred’ comment. After you have completed the campaign, other than for the VR experience itself, there is very little incentive to go back. The campaign is a very linear experience, going from A, to B with sometimes a diversion to C to get the object you need to open the door at B. The Zombies you fight never escalate or get more difficult to tackle, other than a few ‘survive the waves’ sections at key points in the story. But, besides the core campaign, which can also be played in 2 player co-op (This was not tested for this review), there is also an underdeveloped Horde mode where either yourself or with an additional 3 players can attempt to survive against waves of zombies for as long as possible. But with only one map and no modifiers or any other way to customise the experience, I feel this mode will be short lived with or without the ability to play it co-op.
Controls in VR games are always, I feel, a very subjective opinion. What works for some doesn’t necessarily work for others and this is especially important when VR controls are so tightly tied to one’s personal comfort level and their ability to physically play the game. And this is one of Arizona sunshine’s strong points as the game offers the player a plethora of different control options allowing the player to find the controls that suit them best. Mobility wise, the player is offered the option to move via teleportation (pointing at a location, selecting it and being teleported instantly to that location) or via free movement with either analogue sticks or button presses, depending on the input method chosen. While teleportation movement has you bouncing around the environments in rapid fashion and is usually the favoured mobility option for those who easily suffer from motion sickness, players with more developed VR legs can opt for free move with smooth motion mimicking the movements an analogue stick would give you.
From a controller point of view, players have the option to choose between using the dual shock controller, twin move controllers or the new aim controller that was released with the PlayStation exclusive, FarPoint. Dual shock seems to offer the controls that have the balance between motion and traditional controls just right, but you are restricted to only using one gun at a time. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an Aim controller to test to see how that fairs. The Twin move controllers, however, give the player the more natural control method by allowing them to use their hands, from being able to use two guns independently and mimicking other real-world actions such as opening doors to tossing grenades. Unfortunately, the Move controllers don’t give the smoothest experience you would have hoped for. While, for the most part, the camera tracks the position of the Move controllers perfectly fine, finer movements become plagued with annoying tracking issues. Aiming a gun, for example, requires you to physically bring the gun up to your face and aim down the iron sights on top, which in itself is an incredibly satisfying experience – when it works as intended. There are moments, all too common when the tracking of the Move controllers will go a bit haywire. Sometimes the guns have a slight shake to them making precision shots almost impossible at distances. Other times your hand will just not do what it is you’re trying to do and will either teleport around or move in directions you didn’t intend them to. They’re all fixable by resetting their positions, but the issue constantly rears its head throughout your time with it.
But when they do work, the feeling of control is incredibly immersive. Shooting is just a simple case of pointing your move controller and pulling the trigger. Bringing the gun up to your face allows you to perform precision shots, like you would imagine, and are incredibly satisfying to pull off. When your gun ‘klacks’ with the noise of an empty clip, a simple button press ejects the clip, then bringing the gun towards your ammo belt automatically reloads your gun. It’s a series of actions that quickly become ingrained in you, especially when things get close and personal. You start to become conscious of how many rounds each gun has, since there is no counter telling you, and ejecting the clip just as they empty and quickly reloading in one quick motion leaves you believing you’re a world class gunslinger. You start pulling off calm and collected headshots on distant targets while strategically spreading shots from a clip between a group of zombies who get too close in an effort to hold them back, it’s a truly empowering experience few other VR titles are able to bestow on you. And just wait till you get the sniper rifle!
Compared to its Oculus and HTC Vive equivalent, there is an obvious graphical downgrade and a distinct softness to the world you’re playing in. The detail on display can range from reasonable to quite basic. Draw distance isn’t great either, as objects pop in at a close distance and textures change from low quality to higher as you get close. And you’ll be getting quite familiar with seeing the same collection of zombies over and over as you work your way through the short campaign. It’s painfully obvious that compromises had to be made to get the game running at an acceptable level on the PSVR. However, it never once got in the way of my enjoyment or pulled me out from the experience.
Annoyingly, other than the pistols, the sounds the guns make lacks the punch I was expecting. The sub-machine guns all mostly sounded the same, like a weak pop gun, while the shotguns lacked the violent blast I expected. A particularly fun scene with a mini-gun is also let me down by the weak sound profile it has. The pistols, however, especially the magnum and desert eagle have a distinct, satisfying blast each time you pull the trigger and I found myself using them constantly the second I got them purely because they sounded powerful.
Something that bugged me while playing through the campaign was seeing all these items you can pick up and manipulate, but they literally have no influence on gameplay. Picking up a hammer or an axe, you would be forgiven for assuming you could then use it against any Zombie that manages to get within arm’s reach. Unfortunately, swinging them at the zombie’s results in nothing other than the object harmlessly passing through them and It’s extremely disappointing. There is a genuine sense of a lost opportunity here to mix up the, admittedly well developed, shooting mechanics that the game is built around. Having the ability to wield anything around would have done wonders to give the world around you a more important part to play in the game.
Which leads us to another Issue I encountered, the game doesn’t to a good job of giving the players cues as to what items are useful to which aren’t. I managed to make it through the first 3 areas of the game; living off half health not knowing what items healed me. I would, ironically, find actual bags with the first aid symbol printed on them, but they were just useless props, like most things you find in the game. Eventually, I did come across a fridge full of cooked burgers which when I picked up and accidentally brought up to my face, I accidentally discovered that my character would take a chunk out of it and my health started to fill up. Finishing off the burger topped me up to 100%. I later found out, that there is a grill in the cave you start in and by interacting with it, the game would have told you how to heal. It’s the same with grenades, I would pick them up but I couldn’t find out how to store them, and I knew I was missing a trick somewhere. Turns out you had to bring it to your chest and let go of the grenade and it would attach to your ammo belt, which I discovered after I finished the game.
All that’s said and done, Arizona Sunshine just falls short of being a true classic. While there is a really solid and very welcome VR experience to be had here, and one that offers the player a full campaign experience and more rather than just a series of co-joined mini-games, there are just too many niggling things that hold it back. It’s just lacking that extra bit of polish that would have made it really shine and stand tall amongst its peers. The addition of 2 player campaign co-op and 4 player horde mode are both very welcome additions, but the linear and short campaign and aforementioned underdeveloped feeling of the horde mode, suggests that you might not get as much mileage from them as you would have hoped. But those starving for a new VR experience will definitely satisfy their hunger from this for a while.