One of the first “real” VR games I ever played was the original Arizona Sunshine. The game did almost everything better than the competition in late 2016, including scripted sequences that you’d find in Half-Life, and one-liners that feel ripped straight from the best 80s movies.
It was this unique combination of elements – along with tight gameplay and co-op functionality – that showed me that VR was more than just a fad. The Arizona Sunshine 2 retains all of these positives and translates them into a style more appropriate for late 2023. Plus, it adds a furry, pettable canine companion to the mix.
In addition to the robust single-player experience, Arizona Sunshine 2 also offers a 2-player co-op mode so you can experience this campaign with another human; not just your dog. There is also a 4 player horde mode that has the potential to rival the best Meta Quest games like After the Fall.
I’ve been playing Arizona Sunshine 2 since just after Thanksgiving on both PSVR 2 and Meta Quest 3, but I won’t call it a full review because I haven’t had a chance to experience the multiplayer modes yet. But the single player experience caught my eye and I got the chance to interview the team about the magic that only a dog can bring to such an experience.
Make me a dog person
I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t really like dogs but also doesn’t think that automatically makes me a cat person. I have chickens and rabbits, animals that are both kept outdoors and are as self-sufficient as a pet can be. One of these even gives me eggs daily, and no, I’m not talking about the chocolate variety you get from the Easter Bunny.
But a dog? For me, a dog is an annoyance I don’t want in my life. They’re smelly and sloppy, and I’m too much of a clean freak to deal with it. I had dogs as a kid and never enjoyed the experience, but if Arizona Sunshine 2 proves anything, it’s that I should reconsider my position if we ever find ourselves in a zombie apocalypse.
Plus, if the storyline here is anything to go by, I don’t need to invest the time and effort to get one now. All I have to do is find a downed military helicopter and set the little guy free, Free Willy style.
In many ways, being able to play through the game with a canine companion made it feel almost as personal as playing through the game with a friend. Even better, I can pet Buddy – that’s the name of your dog in the game – and not have to go wash my hands because of smelly dog fur. It’s a win-win if you ask me.
But Buddy isn’t just there to pet, although you can do that as much as you like, even when he’s covered in fresh zombie blood. Buddy is a brilliant mechanic that adds a significant gameplay element to Arizona Sunshine 2. He makes the game feel familiar but not boring.
He’s also a brilliant way to help solve certain puzzles, which require you to give Buddy commands to pull zombies out of the way, pick up something in a place you can’t reach, and more. Plus, Buddy is great for alerting you to “sleeping” zombies that aren’t actually dead yet.
Buddy even helps add a unique stealth mechanic to a game that isn’t otherwise centrally focused on stealth. Most situations involving zombies in the game start with you entering an area before the zombies know you’re there. Buddy can be used to take down multiple zombies before your presence is made aware, helping to thin out the horde before it gets out of control.
And believe me, it will spiral out of control in no time.
Horde mode activated
As a rule of thumb, I always try to play through a game on hard mode first to see what clever tricks developers can come up with. Arizona Sunshine 2’s hard mode is superbly constructed in a way that doesn’t feel cheap or unfair. It feels realistic, and it’s downright scary.
In my interview with the developers, they told me that up to 50 active zombies can be on screen at once, all coming at you for a glorious feast of gray matter. But this isn’t designed like After the Fall, despite coming from the same development house and sharing some similarities. Zombies don’t have to just drop in one hit, although it can happen if you’re good at getting headshots.
Many zombies – especially the larger or armored ones – take several rounds to eventually put down, and this is another area where Buddy’s brilliant strategic elements come into play. Giving Buddy a command is as simple as holding down the B button on the Meta Quest controller (Circle on PSVR 2), pointing to an area or zombie, and releasing the button.
Buddy can go to an area, sit, or badly disintegrate any zombie in your path to protect you. While this mechanic feels a bit OP at first, you’ll soon find its limitations when you encounter these larger zombies. Buddy can pin them down for a while and delay their inevitable trajectory towards you, but he can’t kill them like he can a regular sized zombie.
And when that happens, it’s easy enough to call Buddy to your side and grab one of the two pistols you can store on the pack on his back. This gives you a total of seven places to store weapons that don’t feel overly video gamey, although the two wrist “pockets” are a VR inventory staple at this point.
He helps solve one of the biggest hurdles I had in the first game: figuring out how to just pick two weapons throughout the game. Now I can easily store four weapons – one on each hip and two on Buddy’s pack – which comes in handy for a variety of scenarios you’ll encounter.
And that’s another area where the game really shines; strategy. While many of the game’s scenarios feel similar enough to the first game, the change of location from the Arizona cliffs to a more suburban location helps add variety to the experience.
What begins as a game of survival quickly turns into a cat-and-mouse chase and twists and turns again. The zombie story has been done to death – pun fully intended – but there’s still something immensely fun about slaughtering the hordes as you progress.
Since I didn’t get to play the multiplayer modes, I can’t speak for them with first-hand experience, but I do know that my fondest memories of the original Arizona Sunshine were spent with my best friend as we navigated the rocks and mines of the desert.
Arizona Sunshine 2 lets two players bounce through history together; each taking turns giving Buddy commands. You’ll have to work together to decide who will take control though, as Buddy will listen to both of you, and I imagine it could get hectic if you’re not a team.
Horde mode lets four players jump into battle together in completely separate environments, throwing team design pillars out the window for some mindless multiplayer fun. Now that anyone can get in on the action, I’ll be jumping into these modes and testing them out, hopefully making some great memories in the process.
Fans of the original will love Arizona Sunshine 2. It retains the dark comedy essence of the first, complete with excellent dialogue and one-liners. There’s not much funnier than a man who somehow survived the apocalypse and has gone a little crazy with no other people to talk to.
It has a similar gameplay loop and mechanics to the original, including the endless supply of loot scattered along the way, plus a great new crafting mechanic that lets you scavenge loot and craft the explosives you need to thin out the horde.
And my god is this game gory. Gorehounds will love taking off heads and limbs, just to throw them away so Buddy can play fetch with zombie parts. It’s completely ridiculous and a lot of fun, especially with a game this beautiful. The developers told me that the Quest 3 version of Arizona Sunshine 2 is graphically on par with the PC version of the original title, which is a huge testament to how far standalone VR has come.
Despite the large number of zombie games on the market, this is a must-have game for any VR gamer who wants a premium and well-polished experience.
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