The first Arizona Sunshine game debuted in 2016, a time when virtual reality was finally starting to break into homes but was still very much in the earliest days of wider adoption. To put it in perspective, Arizona Sunshine hit the scene the same year that we saw the initial Oculus Rift (long before the Meta rebranding) and HTC Vive VR headsets hit the market. It should go without saying that the VR landscape has developed quite a bit in the past seven years. That means Vertigo Games’ sequel, Arizona Sunshine 2, has more to prove in order to remain relevant among the ever-growing competition in the medium.
Zombies and video games are a match made in apocalyptic heaven. There is no denying the satisfaction of facing down undead hordes, blasting off limbs and avoiding their nasty bites. Arizona Sunshine 2 understands the strong bond shared by this special duo. We aren’t looking at a reflective piece that examines the human factor caught up in a crumbling world under the pressure of the relentless walking dead. The Last of Us this is not. Vertigo Games would rather push into the sillier sides of the zombie-slaying staple, evoking allusions to Dead Rising and Dead Island.
Everyone Needs a Buddy
The player embodies an unnamed but voiced protagonist that has become rather effective at dispatching groups of ghoulish monstrosities. And they sure love commenting on all the killing transpiring by their own hands. You needn’t know more than that. Hopefully you don’t have a need to know more because the several-hour story (or more accurately, the lack thereof) isn’t going to be what holds your attention while fully immersed in the world of Arizona Sunshine 2.
Even if the story component isn’t a stellar standout, there is a component to the adventure that is sure to resonate and entice many players. No longer is our protagonist roaming unaccompanied; a dog named Buddy is now along for the ride! Sure, the first Arizona Sunshine had co-op and the sequel carries this feature as well, but the inclusion of Buddy makes the solo experience much more enjoyable. Plus, petting Buddy is preferable to trying to pet your friend.
This extra good boy is as loyal as they come. Direct Buddy toward a certain Fred (read: zombie) and the furry companion will gladly take them down. Even if the target is a bit too large for our four-legged friend, he will at least hold them while the player lines up the killing blow. Buddy is capable of his own threat assessment without player direction, too. The addition of a dog follower may seem simple on the surface, but honestly it makes the main character’s silly dialogue easier to digest when it is framed as a one-way conversation with Buddy. In the first game, the quips were spit out into the void awkwardly with no one (living) around.
I’m sure the successful landing of the character’s peculiar comments isn’t what has drawn people to consider playing Arizona Sunshine 2, however. The core gameplay is evolved a bit from its predecessor, taking advantage of the technology’s growing precision. All manner of firearms can be picked up, ranging from booming shotguns to lead-spraying submachine guns, and each one has its own multi-staged reload. It’s not as in-depth as the mil-sim tactical VR shooters out there, offering up a more forgiving waist-situated inventory system. The lighter tones and arcade-y vibe remain at the forefront of this experience, but the touch of added depth makes those stand-offs against the Freds feel epic.
The waves of shambling corpses coming at you truly instill a feeling of anxiety as they close in quickly and magazines begin running dry. It’s an exhilarating experience coordinating with Buddy (and a co-op partner, if you so choose) to keep from being overrun. In addition to the firearms, there are melee weapons to chop, dice and slice those zombies that decide to get too close for comfort. Additionally, you could opt for craftable explosives or a flamethrower (with a questionably unappealing fire animation) to clear out nearing hordes. There’s no shortage of ways to send the infected dead back to their graves.
Competence Without Innovation
As for the graphics, Arizona Sunshine 2 is serviceable. We have seen many stunning VR games make their way into the market since 2016. That bar has shifted and this sequel doesn’t push toward those loftier heights. Still, what’s on offer should be more than enough to satisfy. The environments span those basking in the… well, Arizona sunshine to moodier dimly lit segments. The set pieces are also a joy to play through, including one section involving a moving train of undead.
Arizona Sunshine 2 may not be a technical showcase for modern day VR, and it was played on the brand-new Meta Quest 3, but it gets more right than not. Sure, Buddy’s AI can get stumped by zombies lying prone and the ragdolls may occasionally go haywire, but nothing here is game-breaking. Plus, the latter of those two only serves to up the hilarity in this Fred-killing wasteland. Performance remained steady throughout, only managing to dip noticeably in the 4-player co-op horde mode.
Arizona Sunshine 2 Review Verdict
Arizona Sunshine 2: Vertigo Games has a strong zombie slaying VR title on their hands with Arizona Sunshine 2. It doesn't elevate the genre in any notable ways, reminding us that the initial entry led the charge in a much different VR landscape than we are looking at today, but it still manages to keep the fun factor intact. It may not be a massive evolution over its 2016 predecessor, but it still maintains an alluring experience (one that is improved by Buddy's presence). – Joshua
Editor’s Note: Arizona Sunshine 2 was reviewed on PC, and a copy of the