There’s no question that if Arizona Sunshine controlled as well as the fantastic Farpoint, it’d be easy to recommend. Much like Impulse Gear’s sci-fi shooter, this sun-baked romp through post-apocalyptic America feels decidedly old-school – but the novelty of virtual reality more than makes up for its rudimentary encounters. Unfortunately, where developer Vertigo Games falls short is leveraging PlayStation VR’s veritable riches of control options, failing to offer a satisfying scheme across three sets of peripherals.
Having been ported from PC-based headsets, it’s clear that the PlayStation Move is perhaps the intended option – a disclaimer even pops up when you attempt to use the DualShock 4 informing you that the experience is better with motion controls. We beg to differ: the game stumbles with imprecise motion tracking and unwieldy locomotion, and we ended up working through much of the title’s five-hour campaign with a traditional controller in hand, such are the issues we encountered.
The problem with using Sony’s glowing wands is that they lack analogue sticks, meaning that you’re restricted to teleportation movement or an awkward option where you must direct your invisible body by pointing your hand. Both options are far from ideal but just about passable when the sun-baked environments are calm, but they fall apart when you’re expected to evade oncoming attacks from the walking dead – or ‘Freds’ as the wise-cracking lead character likes to call them, for reasons that go over our head.
What of the PlayStation VR Aim Controller, then? Things fare slightly better once you’re accustomed to the outing’s unexplained idiosyncrasies. Opening doors, for example, is tedious when you try to pull and tug on the handles – but double-tapping the action button will do the heavy-lifting for you. And yanking on the analogue stick will enable you to quick-turn – a good getaway option that the title doesn’t care to teach you.
The problem with Sony’s weapon-shaped peripheral here is that the implementation is squiffy: shots tend to land above the position of each firearm’s iron-sights, and they swim around in your hands even when you know you’re holding them straight. It’s a far-cry from the flawless implementation in the aforementioned Farpoint, which is unfortunate considering the entire campaign has been re-tuned and re-balanced for two-handed weapons.
So we played with the DualShock 4: free-movement enabled, with incremental turning set to 30-degrees. It’s good that the game gives you these options to experiment with, but less fortunate is that you need to back out to the main menu in order to toggle between the different types. It’s just one in a long list of irritating design decisions that will leave you sucking your teeth as you progress through the story, and it detracts from the things that the title does well.
And here’s the thing: there are positives – and plenty of them. Interactable objects abound each environment, making the world feel tangible in a way that’s ordinarily reserved for Bethesda Game Studios releases. It also looks great in our opinion: there are aliasing issues for sure, but levels feel large and inter-connected; you can look back at the road you’ve travelled and reminisce on your journey, which is particularly pleasing in virtual reality.
The plot of the campaign is neither here nor there really (you’re essentially tracking a radio signal), but the character’s descent into madness is a nice touch – even if his loss of patience may somewhat reflect your own irritations with the game as you progress. There are some cool moments that will keep you invested, though, like a trip into the darkness of an old abandoned mine and a shootout at a country fate.
And you can play the entire campaign in co-op, or turn your attention to a four-player Horde mode. It’s quite the complete package, complemented by a solid soundtrack and a decent sense of presence. But any opportunity to feel the warmth of the Arizona sun on your shoulders will be swiftly cooled by control issues: a re-calibration here, a wayward shot there, or a burning in the pit of your stomach as motion sickness takes hold.
It’s not hard to see why Arizona Sunshine comes so highly acclaimed: its undead slaughtering story mode is undoubtedly dated, but the novelty of virtual reality keeps it alive. Unfortunately, this PlayStation VR version toys with Sony’s full roster of input options, and never really settles upon one that feels right. It’s a shame because there is a lot to like here, from the vibrant visuals to the generous helping of solo and multiplayer content – but without a comfortable means of controlling any of it, your enthusiasm will very quickly cool.