VR Corner – Arizona Sunshine 2

Posted on December 6, 2023

The original Arizona Sunshine was one of the first games built fully for at-home VR, back in 2016. A first-person shooter full of zombies, it was considered a trailblazer, offering several chapters of undead-slaughtering goodness, that could be completed with a friend by your side in co-op. Now, literal console generations of VR headsets have passed, and with newer 2023 models now in the mix, the opportunity is here for Arizona Sunshine 2 to lead the charge once again. The long-anticipated sequel offers all of the gory, brutal Fred-killing you could hope for, and even adds a doggo companion into the mix so that your experience is a little less lonely. The result is a game that is a whole lot of fun, even if it’s lacking in overall polish.

The Premise

You’ll play as the unnamed protagonist from the first game, who still wants to find other humans or a rescue. After setting up camp in a safe place, a helicopter crash gives him a glimmer of hope for survival, as he ventures into the world of zombies once again; he still refers to the zombies as ‘Fred’ or ‘Freddy’ for reasons unknown, and remains largely annoying throughout the whole experience. I don’t know if ‘bad voice acting’ or ‘bad writing’ was part of the brief, but this dude still manages to spew the most cringe-inducing dialogue as he talks to himself, tells bad jokes, and eventually, talks to his new pal, Buddy.

Early on, you’ll find Buddy, a German Shepherd companion who spends the rest of the journey with you. It’s a decent-length campaign, around 8 hours or so, with various chapters that will have you exploring sewers, searching through abandoned towns, and even riding a runaway train. These set-pieces are all rather effective in VR, still; the core premise of Arizona Sunshine 2 remains satisfying, and doing so with a furry four-legged pal by your side enhances things greatly, creating an emotional connection that simply wasn’t there in the original.

In fact, the emotional weight of having a dog by your side in such a dangerous environment could be difficult for some players. I know I struggle when there are dogs in video games as companions, as I worry that they will suffer a sad fate that I will have to witness. But in virtual reality where I can physically pat the dog and spend time with it in a more immersive environment? The stakes, at times, certainly felt high, and it’s worth noting that dog lovers could be put in some tough spots throughout the game, which for me, made the shooter far more compelling.

The Feeling

Having a dog to play with in VR is a treat. I lost my German Shepherd to cancer last year, and weirdly, Buddy managed to kind of fill the void that my boy Ziggy left. You can pat Buddy (and see his little ears wobble beneath your hand), play fetch with him, and have him do basic commands. More importantly, he can be used as a great distraction for zombies, even being directed to take them down for you, to help thin the horde. He is also able to retrieve items for you, like a key that’s out of reach, or perhaps help to grab a corpse with his teeth and drag it out of the way when blocking doors. Needless to say, he’s the best VR boy you could have.

There were occasions when Buddy didn’t cooperate fully, however, which is where some of the rough edges that permeated the original Arizona Sunshine rear their ugly head here, too. He would often clip through, or sometimes completely teleport through, walls and the environment. Sometimes he’d directly ignore my commands. In one instance, there was a toy out of reach that I really wanted him to grab, and he just flat-out refused to, spinning in a circle instead. Not in the cute dog-chasing-his-tail way, just in the glitchy gamey way.

“…Buddy can hold guns for you, wear cute hats, and even be pushed around in a shopping trolly…”

Even with Buddy not adhering to my commands consistently, he still is a wonderful addition to what is otherwise a spooky land full of walking dead trying to eat my brains. I particularly enjoyed the fact that he can hold guns for you, wear cute hats, and even be pushed around in a shopping trolly as if I were cruising the aisles of Bunnings on a Sunday morning.

Shooting also feels excellent. There are over 40 weapons to muck around with, each with full manual reloading that is satisfying without being overly complicated. It’s a simple grab, lock and load that, once learned, is easy to pull off in the thick of combat, whether it’s popping ammunition into a handgun or attaching a fresh canister to your flamethrower. You can hold three weapons at once (two to the sides on your belt, and one on your back), and bouncing between them is a treat. There’s also a light crafting system where you gather basic supplies throughout the world to then make grenades or Molotov cocktails that are good in a pinch, or the new addition that was sorely lacking from the first game, melee weapons.

Yes, Arizona Sunshine 2 brings a range of striking objects into the mix, whether it’s a crowbar, an axe or a machete, helpful for carving up Fred’s in close quarters, preserving ammo or just saving them from lunging at you when you don’t have time to reload. They’re stored in a finicky manner on your wrist with other throwable and healing items, which is a little inconvenient when you need them in a hurry, but having the option is super handy; carving up skulls of walkers is very gratifying and gory in the way that it should be.

Climbing is another portion of the game that is more prevalent here, and it mostly feels good as well… except when it doesn’t. For whatever reason, the developers decided that if you don’t make it to the very end of a climbing section and land perfectly where you’re supposed to, you just teleport back to the start. This is true of any climb, so there were moments I’d spent over 30 seconds climbing somewhere unwieldy, only to have to begin from scratch. This, along with the fact that the screen goes black when you’re too close to a wall (i.e. almost inside it), leaving you exposed to zombies trying to rip you apart that you can’t even see, means that movement in Arizona Sunshine 2 doesn’t feel as elegant as it could.

Across the various chapters, there isn’t a whole lot of variety in the game – you’re mostly moving from area to area, slaying zombies, after all – but at least some more effort has been made this time to switch up the environments. One early scene has you operating construction equipment to move through hundreds of creatures at once, while another has you picking off undead while riding atop a moving train. Navigating the game is linear, but it’s well-paced and doesn’t have a lot of downtime between killing, which is as it should be.

And, again, co-op remains my favourite way to play Arizona Sunshine 2. It’s far more entertaining smashing through zombies with a mate by your side, both of you able to direct Buddy when needed and work together to survive. Some key moments where we felt like we were being overrun, or when we had to sprint to an exit while being surrounded by zombies, made for some exciting and intense moments. It’s a shame there isn’t a revive mechanic (instead, you just have to get to the next checkpoint to bring your teammate back), and there was that time when my co-op partner spawned inside a table and couldn’t move, but otherwise, the teamwork and silliness makes even the annoying glitches at least a little bit comical.

The Style

Arizona Sunshine 2 is all about the fun nature of slaying zombies, and it nails that feeling. Headshots are crunchy in the best way, and they’ve done a good job of flooding the screen with enemies during key moments without sacrificing frame rate. I found even by using smooth motion instead of teleporting that I wasn’t getting nauseated during my play sessions, and the simple narrative is more than enough to move you along, with a lot less fumbles when it comes to doors, levers and other objects like in the original. For the most part, my physical actions were represented in-game as I expected, and while it won’t win awards for being the most gorgeous VR game on the market, it does the job where it counts.

There’s also an included Horde mode for four players, with three additional Horde mode maps confirmed to be released during Year One on the game’s content roadmap. Other post-launch updates include a free Quest 3 Upgrade for the Quest platform in December introducing real-time shadows on dynamic objects, which should help to elevate it further compared with its Steam VR and PSVR 2 counterparts.

The Verdict

Focusing on a story-based cinematic zombie-slaying experience, Arizona Sunshine 2 offers a tight campaign that has memorable moments and a lovely pup companion by your side throughout. Buddy the Dog adds a lot to the adventure, both mechanically and emotionally. Plus, a decent-length story, more weapon variety, and added functionality like melee weapons make this sequel feel like a more fleshed-out, well-rounded experience from day one. While some components feel clunky and it still has some rough edges that I hope will be polished out with future updates, the core gameplay loop of Arizona Sunshine 2 still manages to make it an essential game for your VR library.

Arizona Sunshine 2 is available now for Meta Quest, Steam VR and PSVR2.