(Pocket-lint) - Set in the barren landscapes of a post-apocalyptic America, don't let Arizona Sunshine's title confound: this is a VR zombie shooter for the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift set in the baking heat of Arizona state.
Like many other zombie game narratives before it, Arizona Sunshine operates on the usual struggle survival, with dim hopes of the possibility of safe haven somewhere nearby - typically through hordes of the undead who want to eat your brains.
Built from the ground up, exclusively for virtual reality, Arizona Sunshine has a lot to offer. It's not only a great campaign, but the online co-op and multiplayer modes are excellent too. Is it the best zombie shooter around?
Single-player zombie killing madness
The main campaign in Arizona Sunshine is a well-crafted affair of zombie butchering, ammo looting and task completion. The main aim is to get your character to a supposed safe haven - one that's hinted at via a radio at the start of the game.
The makeup of map design gives you plenty of freedom to move around and explore the virtual environment, but it's more a point A to point B affair than a game with total open-world freedom.
Despite this, there's plenty to do and explore. You'll need to poke about in cars, cupboards and drawers for spare ammo, and check nooks and crannies for new guns, different headgear and hidden ducks (there's an achievement for that).
Ammo is sparse and the brain-nommers come thick and fast, so you'll need to conserve bullets and choose your targets wisely.
There's a great variety to the level design too. One minute you'll find yourself in the hot sunshine weaving in and out of abandoned cars while running for your life, the next you're deep underground in a mine battling it out in the dark.
The lighting and atmosphere is where this game really shines, especially in the variety of moving between light and dark areas. Down the mine, for example, only the occasional lamp or the beam from your flashlight illuminate the way, which makes it ultra creepy.
Zombies are varied, with some being more dangerous and aggressive than others. You have to account for their differences in order to survive. Some come in full military body armour and others with motorcycle helmets and masks that make them harder to put down. Shooting off limbs is a good way to avoid getting hit, but losing a leg doesn't stop the zombies coming, it merely slows them down.
Arizona Sunshine requires standing or room-scale space. We had a lot more fun with it when we had plenty of space to move around to turn, duck and dodge. You don't necessarily need loads of room though, as movement around the world is actioned by "beaming" from one place to another - simply press a button and point to where you want to go and that's it.
Ammo is sparse but the gunplay is superb
The classic lack of ammo situation is nothing new, we've seen it in plenty of games before, but it really adds an intensity to Arizona Sunshine. Well, until you get the hang of shooting accurately and taking down enemies with your first shot.
Gunplay is superb, too. Aiming is as easy as lining up the sights on your weapons, but pistols aren't accurate at long range, so we found you're better off letting the zombies get close before you start shooting - which puts you in more danger but also allows you to stay alive without running out of ammo.
You'll find ammo scattered around the map. Grab the clips and attach them to the ammo belt on your hip for later use. Reloading is easy, which is a relief when you're in a sticky situation. Eject a spent magazine from your weapon by pressing the trackpad and simply whip the gun close to your hip to reload it, a technique we found to work really well - unlike some other VR games.
There are no melee weapons though, so it's bullets or death. You will come across grenades too, but we found these were a bit frustrating to use due to a limp throw meaning they tend to land a little too close. Once you get the hang of the controls you can quickly duck out of the way when that happens.
Another borrowed game feature is the classic zombie closet. Certain areas of the campaign include pieces of machinery or other trigger points that will set off alarms or loud noises to bring on hordes of the undead. We started to notice a prevalence towards gifting a large box of ammo before these events - which always spells trouble but gives you fair warning of a tougher fight on the horizon.
Online co-op play with friends
If you're lucky enough to have friends with VR headsets then good news - Arizona Sunshine has both a co-op campaign mode and a multiplayer survival mode too.
Co-op is where Arizona Sunshine particularly shines. Although ammo becomes even more sparse, as you're required to share it with co-op players, it's so much more enjoyable when you have a friend to help you out. The character animations on your friendly human players are rather hilarious - as watching them move about usually involves legs going off in weird directions, arms and hands bending off at random angles and other hilarity. If you're worried about permanent realism, then this might be off-putting, but we found it amusing.
Co-op multiplayer also includes an easy-to-use in-game VOIP system (voice-over networks). So calling out enemies, telling your friends about loot or coordinating attacks is easy. Which makes survival more realistic too.
There are some other amusing perks of playing co-op too. In the mine level, for example, the host gets a torch, but the other player only gets a glow stick, which makes their game a lot more intense - unless you stick together.
Horde mode means certain death
What zombie game would be complete without a survival mode that throws endless hordes of the undead at you to see how long you can survive? Arizona Sunshine fills this need with horde mode, which is playable both on your own and with friends. We don't find it holds as much interest as the main campaign, but it does offer multiple maps to play with and plenty of bullets to fire off.
Survival is the name of the game here, with a scoreboard keeping count of your kills and accuracy in real-time. There's nothing quite like having a digital VR screen nagging at how awful your accuracy is while you play and there is a subtle hint to survive horde mode too, smart, accurate shooting and careful ammo management.
We found horde mode was as much fun as it was physically exhausting. Though you can beam about in the play area much like in the campaign, horde requires a lot more movement as zombies come thick and fast from all directions, meaning there's a lot of turning and whipping your arms about in the right direction to put them down.
Each wave spawns more ammo which you can quickly snap up. The further you progress through the waves the more new weapons appear, but then more zombies come too, so it's tough. We certainly worked up a good sweat quite quickly and were astounded to see the online scoreboard showing some people had survived 300+ waves. Need more practise.
Horde mode also forced us to find other quirks of the game. For example: if you reload before your ammo is fully spent then you'll end up dropping and wasting ammo. You can pick-up clips that aren't completely empty from below your feet, but it pays to keep firing until your gun is empty. Luckily, the ability to dual-wield guns allows you to overlap gunfire and keep on shooting while you reload empty weapons.
More bikini-clad zombies and even more story with Dead Man DLC
As if all this isn't enough, the developers are constantly updating and improving the game. These improvements include the Dead Man DLC - an expansion to the game that works as a prequel to the main story.
This extra content follows Corporal Dockson, a US Army Special Forces, whose mission it is to fight his way through a missile silo to launch a nuclear-warhead in order to stop the spread of the undead.
Unlike the main campaign, this content mostly sees you fighting zombies in dark, tight, claustrophobic corridors. The highlight though is the added support for two-handed weapons - shotguns, fully-automatic submachine guns and an assault rifle too. These guns can be used with both hands - the spare hand being used to steady the weapons or you can dual-wield like Schwarzenegger in Predator.
The content is around 30 mins to an hour long depending on your abilities, which might seem a bit short, but it's also available for around £2/$2.49. So it's well worth paying for to keep the action going.
Arizona Sunshine is a hard fight with plenty of replayability and hours of gameplay, especially if you can find someone to join you in co-op or multiplayer - because killing zombies with friends in VR is twice the fun.
The map design and physics of the game are well crafted and we found ourselves fully immersed in the post-apocalyptic world. The only real complaint is the occasional crash, which can hinder the fun.
Overall, Arizona Sunshine is one of the best zombie VR games we've played so far. In fact, we'd say it's one of the best VR games available right now.
Alternatives to consider
The Brookhaven Experiment
If the idea of deep dark places, zombies and horrible spider monsters trying to eat your face, then the Brookhaven Experiment is another one not to be missed. This game has some interesting weaponry, visuals and locales that every zombie nut will enjoy.
Read the full article: The Brookhaven Experiment review
Killing Floor Incursion
Killing Floor: Incursion is likely the most atmospheric, well-crafted and enjoyable zombie shooter we've played in VR. It's creepier than Arizona Sunshine, especially if you prefer your zombies leaping out of the dark constantly, but it's also quite short. Still, this game should be high on your list.
Read the full article: Killing Floor Incursion review