Although I’ve played a decent amount of VR throughout my time, I’ve never laid rest to the hordes of undead that troubled players of the original Arizona Sunshine or The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners. With that said, and sticking strictly to videogames, I’m no stranger to rending chunks of viscera from their emaciated frames, though it’s often from a safe distance.
Once you don the headset, it becomes immediately clear that your jaunt through the sun drenched streets, grim dark sewers, and biosecurity tents of this small Arizona town isn’t likely to offer the comfort of keeping the undead, known colloquially in-game as Freds, at arm’s length. The game’s brand of up and close super violence, which might seem rather naff and safe in a traditional game, comes to life in a rush of immersive ferocity.
The narrative that plays out might see the return of the crude, nameless survivor from the first Arizona Sunshine, but it certainly isn’t much to crow about. His jokes and one-liners are still ordinary and suit the sewer that a big portion of the game takes place in. The campaign is a flurry of big action set-pieces that serve as the backdrop for the hero’s search for Patient Zero. After learning of their likely extraction by an invested government party, which would in turn ensure the player’s own safety, you’re joined on the rollicking adventure by a German Shepherd you call Buddy.
Other than serving as the emotional fodder in an otherwise forgettable story, Buddy is an obedient king and an absolute multi-tool in the field. His disarming adorableness is outweighed only by his love for literally disarming Freds. He loves a pet, he can fetch, he’s a pack mule for your many guns, and he can sic ‘em as good as Chopper. Directing your canine friend is linked to the triangle/circle buttons on either controller, meaning it’s a fast and easy option to defend yourself from whichever Fred is bearing down on you as you’re languishing with an empty clip.
There’s no denying that the combat loop in this game is enormously fun. There’s a heft to melee weapons like the hatchet that makes separating head from shoulders a pretty confronting task, while I found the weapon-aiming to be near to flawless. I particularly loved how every gun has its own reload mechanism, and how remembering that in survival mode can, at first, be panic-inducing before becoming second nature. Whether it’s snapping your wrist across to lock and load the revolver’s barrel or thumbing yet another shell into your shotgun, it feels authentic and powerful.
I did encounter issues from time to time with detecting and retrieving the guns from my hips. I’d often find myself backing myself into a corner trying to pull a sidearm that simply didn’t want to participate. Fortunately, I had no such issue with replacement ammo or the carried items, like grenades or keys, stored unexplainably in the hero’s gloves. I also appreciated that everything is handled in-game and you basically spend no time at all in menus, which forms the glue that holds together the game’s immersion.
The one thing that did stump me briefly was the crafting. It’s presented as this obnoxiously big suitcase where you smash ingredients together to make explosives, the mechanic wasn’t apparent to me right away and didn’t seem exactly intuitive once I did realise. Similarly, I don’t know why so many of these VR titles feel the need to remind me of my arms by making climbing a pivotal part of the piece—it’s tired, so let’s move on from it.
Arizona Sunshine II’s six or so hour campaign, as well as the rather unsurprising horde mode, can also be played in full, cross-platform support co-op. It proved to be a pretty stable experience for me as host, though my partner did experience a handful of strange audiovisual glitches that forced a restart or two. That said, it was also a heap of fun, even if seeing another person tends to expose the game’s jank and iffy animations you’d be ignorant to otherwise. I did sadly suffer numerous hard crashes near the game’s end that would occur as I went to load into the subsequent level. Sometimes I’d get lucky and it’d keep my progress but more than once I had to repeat whichever harrowing gauntlet of undead closed the level out, which was a shame.
These issues aside, it really is a nice looking game. The levels might be linear, but they’re home to some surprising environments that look so good from within the headset, not to mention they’re often capped off by some ludicrous set-piece like riding an airport stair car across the tarmac, or escaping an overrun shopping centre. The game’s lighting is also something of a feature, creating a real believability to the place you’re in.
Obviously, it’s the gore that really sells the experience though. It’s a pretty bloody game whether you’re dealing death by hand or not, but there’s a case to be made that Arizona Sunshine is home to the most satisfying headshots in the business. The squishy pop that sounds when a head is rendered to pulp is great, too, it really does feel like the area of effort for the audiovisual team.
There’s iterative improvement to be found in this sequel. Thanks to a team’s upskilling and newer technology, it’s kind of expected. It plays a little smoother and looks a lot nicer, but what’s important is that this Arizona Sunshine sequel takes a concept that’s been long tired and makes it feel fresh and fun through sharp combat, a friendly pup, and that lovely Arizonan sun.
Arizona Sunshine 2 is a bloody, pulpy and, most importantly, meaty experience that turns undead dismemberment from a somewhat dated trope into a fun workout that gives you more than enough toys to play with. And with a loyal pup at your side, this sequel is not only a blast but it feels like the killer app the platform has been needing.
Super fun and responsive gunplay
Buddy is a handy pup to have by your side
The campaign is a good length
Co-op is a good laugh even if it exposes the game's jank
Story is pretty whatever
Did experience a few inexplicable hard crashes
Equipping items from the hip is still somewhat fiddly
Not all of the mechanics, especially crafting, are immediately intuitive