This could be a controversial opinion, but I think it’s about time the zombie underwent a narrative-cultural evolution. It seems like the creature hasn’t truly evolved in years. It’s always the same old story; society’s over, ended by the reanimated dead or infected host humans who, with tooth and nail, want to rip you apart and/or consume your hot living flesh. I haven’t personally come across a true evolution of the zombie concept since Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, which first released over fifteen years ago. Many video games have borrowed elements Boyle’s fast infected hordes, from Left4Dead to The Last of Us. Still, I always wondered if video games might be the form that once again innovated on the nature of apocalyptic creature, given their ubiquitous usage within the medium. I’ve been disappointed so far, and sadly Arizona Sunshine for the PlayStation VR is no exception.
Arizona Sunshine is a first-person shooter set in the sun-baked desert state. As my opening paragraph may have indicated, it’s an Arizona plagued by zombies. You play as a gruff-voiced unnamed survivor who, for reasons I don’t quite understand, refers to zombies as ‘Freds’. This is the closest our character comes to having any sort of personality.
Arizona Sunshine clearly takes inspiration from the tone and style of The Walking Dead; only, it forgets what makes the better parts of that series interesting; interactions and conflict between its human personalities. For the majority of the game, our protagonist is alone against the zombie hordes. Initially, this premise made me nervous. I’m a fan of horror games in that I enjoy the absolute torment of struggling through one (2017, for me, had the holy-terror triumvirate of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Outlast and Alien: Isolation, which I beat in quick succession and changed me forever). However, Arizona Sunshine, at any point its short play-time, was never scary. The strongest emotion I felt was irritation.
So, it lacks the interesting human dynamic of great zombie fiction, and even jump-scare terror of lesser popcorn horror. Okay, fine. This is a video game. If the gameplay is good, I can overlook these faults. We don’t play video games solely for their narratives. Sometimes, we just want to relax and lose ourselves to a new world, and there’s no better method of serving that purpose than in virtual reality. So, as a basic zombie killing simulator, does Arizona Sunshine succeed? Well, no. Not really.
From the first second of the game, I was shocked by how bad the graphics looked. A lot of games that support both normal screen and VR modes take a hit in VR, I know that, but Arizona Sunshine looks like a PlayStation 2 game. I say that in the worst way possible; some PlayStation 2-era games look genuinely great to this day, like Shadow of the Colossus or The Wind Waker. These games still look great to this day thanks to their art design and stylistic choices. Arizona Sunshine looks like games on the other end of that spectrum, its only redeeming choice being the vibrant colours. Apocalyptic games are often plagued by dark greys, but Arizona Sunshine sets a lot of its game in Arizona’s blistering desert. Still, this doesn’t redeem the game’s lack of graphical quality. Plenty of ‘realistic’ games look great on PSVR; the aforementioned resident evil vii, Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, Skyrim. The existence of these games betrays Arizona Sunshine’s lack of optimisation, not the PSVR’s lack of power. Still, graphics aren’t everything. If a game’s core loop is fun, I can forget about visuals somewhat. Only… the gameplay isn’t fun.
The game offers several control options, recommending that you use two Move controllers as your hands as the optimal, intended method. I went for this option. It was terrible.
When playing VR games, I still prefer to control movement with analogue options. The alternative is what Arizona Sunshine offers with the Move controllers; teleportation and fixed rotation. Press one button and you can shoot to a different position. With others, you can spin around. This control method is awful; VR’s key selling point is that it helps create a sense of total immersion. Teleporting around like Son Goku is antithetical to this goal, and combined with the fixed rotation, disorienting as all hell.
The redeeming factor of the actual gameplay is the gunplay. Aiming dual guns with the Move controllers feels organic and allows for great accuracy, although it can sometimes be annoying to try to find the crosshairs in your gunsights. Still, I can’t recommend Arizona Sunshine for this facet alone; Until Dawn: Rush of Blood offers tighter gunplay, better graphics, real scares, actual enemy variety and stronger level design for almost half the price. There are fun, immersive, good-looking experiences available to the PSVR. Arizona Sunshine is not one of them.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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