Arizona Sunshine 2 review: Never go without your Buddy
For me, Arizona Sunshine 2 is one of the best VR games of the year. I'll explain why in my review.
Admittedly, after the first few hours, I didn't feel that Arizona Sunshine 2 was going to win me over. I had fun, the gunplay felt good, and the environment made me want to see more, but somehow the story didn't really want to get going. At that point, I didn't realize that I was playing my favorite VR game 2023.
- Note: This review only covers the Meta Quest version and the single player campaign of Arizona Sunshine 2.
Arizona Sunshine 2 review in a nutshell
Vertigo knows how to tell a story in VR. What starts out as a fun zombie shooter with a biting sense of humor becomes an intense and emotional experience that is even comparable to The Last of Us to some extent.
Although the gunplay is excellent and the game world is captivating, I will remember Arizona Sunshine 2 for one thing in particular: probably the best companion in video game history — Buddy.
I want Arizona Sunshine 3! And I want it now!
- Tested on: Quest 3
- Available on: Meta Quest, SteamVR, PSVR 2, Pico
Arizona Sunshine 2 is suitable for you if ...
- you have a soft spot for post-apocalypse and zombie adventures
- you want to experience an emotional VR adventure with your best Buddy
- really good gunplay is important to you
Arizona Sunshine 2 is less suitable for you if ...
- you can no longer see zombies in VR
- you have a problem with the depiction of violence against animals
The story of Arizona Sunshine 2
After the events of the first part, our hero, known only as "Survivor", is growing increasingly lonely in the Arizona desert. His only company is stray zombies, which he calls "Freddys".
One day, a helicopter crashes over his camp, and the nameless protagonist rushes to the crash site, hoping to finally meet a human being. Instead, he finds Buddy the sheepdog and the information that there is a Patient Zero out there that the army desperately wants.
His plan: if he finds the mysterious person first, the soldiers will find him, and he'll finally have company again. He'll also be able to give the guy a spanking for what he's done to the world. So he and Buddy go on an adventure.
Powerful gunplay and precise controls
Of course, there are plenty of zombies to kill along the way. The arsenal of weapons in Arizona Sunshine 2 is huge — you can collect around 40 detailed weapons during the game and use them against "Freddy". In addition to the usual categories such as pistols, shotguns and machine guns, there is also a whole range of explosives such as grenades and molotov cocktails.
However, you have to make these yourself at the sparsely distributed crafting stations. Ingredients can be found in shelves, drawers, suitcases, crates, or elsewhere in the game world. In typical VR fashion, weapons are reloaded "realistically": Empty the clip, pop in a new one, and pull the sled.
As in Sniper Elite VR: Winter Warrior for example, this can quickly turn into an annoying fumble if the action points are poorly set, and you accidentally grab the stock instead of pulling the sled, for example.
Fortunately, this rarely happens in Arizona Sunshine 2. Most of the time, it's my own hectic pace that causes me to make a mistake. In the options menu, you can also reduce the degree of realism of the weapon handling a bit and no longer have to follow every move to the end.
Each weapon feels different and brings a new option to the fight against Freddy. The rich sound of the guns and the bloody effects of the bursting undead are fun. Zombie skulls burst, limbs fly around, and the desert of VR Arizona glows red — glorious.
The gunplay in Arizona Sunshine 2 is excellent, but the real highlight of the game is the story. Did anyone see this coming? I didn't.
A plot development that I didn't see coming
After the nine-hour campaign, I was completely overwhelmed by the emotional rollercoaster ride. Arizona Sunshine 2 is funny, touching, exciting, and well written. However, it takes a while for the plot to get going — at least at first glance.
In the first few hours, the search for Patient Zero seems more like a means to an end, a trivial reason why I should embark on my hero's journey in the first place. Apart from some witty comments of the protagonist and some nice gunplay, almost nothing happens for a long time.
Even the environment has almost nothing to tell. There are no notes with lore snippets or NPCs that would advance the plot. Instead, I march with Buddy from level to level, finding some cool weapons and shooting my way through zombie skulls.
What I didn't realize for a long time was that something was happening to me along the way, organically and unintentionally. I was building a relationship with Buddy the dog.
Never go without your Buddy
Buddy is the secret star of Arizona Sunshine 2. The German shepherd runs up to me in the opening sequence and stays by my side from then on.
Buddy is very well animated. When we first met, he was skeptical at first, lowering his head and retreating into his crate. It was only when I approached him cautiously and slowly put my hand in front of his nose to sniff that he lost his shyness. We finally broke the ice with a game of fetch.
When I move the "prey" back and forth in front of the dog, he eagerly follows it with his head and eyes. When I stroke his head, his ears go under my hand. Along the way, Buddy sniffs objects with interest, likes to mark his territory, and lets me know of impending danger.
More than just a companion
Of course, Buddy also knows various commands. At the touch of a button, the German shepherd jumps on zombies or fetches a key from behind a fence that I can't reach. I can't count how many times Buddy has saved my bacon throughout the game.
Time and time again, I catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of my partner taking down an undead that was about to sink its teeth into my neck.
When I run out of ammunition in hectic combat and can't reload fast enough, Buddy is there to knock the oncoming Fred off his feet before it can get to me.
All of this brings the virtual dog to life, builds trust, and makes him, for me, the best animal companion in the history of gaming.
Great second half with intense scenes
The second half of the game is where Arizona Sunshine 2 really takes off. Not only does the story pick up speed, but the levels become more varied as well. I crash zombie pool parties, take aim at Freddy's on a moving train with a Gatling gun, or find myself on a concert stage in front of dancing undead.
The relationship I develop with Buddy the dog makes the experience extremely intense at times. I must also issue a warning here: Violence against animals is a theme in Arizona Sunshine 2, and there are some scenes that can be very difficult to digest due to the immersive power of VR.
Even our seemingly simple hero becomes increasingly profound. Beneath the hard shell of the cynic who talks tough, a fragile core emerges that simply longs for closeness.
The voice artist Sky Soleil portrays this development exclusively with his voice — there are no cutscenes or the like. An extraordinary achievement!
In the course of the game, the "Survivor" is confronted with situations that are not in his personal script, has to face a moral dilemma and has to throw his principles overboard. In the end, as so often, the question arises: who is the real monster here?
Not quite perfect on Meta Quest
Arizona Sunshine 2 is currently a Quest 2 game, but will be optimized for Quest 3 before Christmas. The game environment and the lighting look dynamic in the current version and make you want to see more. The art design is coherent and creates a believable world.
It's a shame that Vertigo didn't optimize Arizona Sunshine 2 for Quest 3 right away. Because technically not everything runs smoothly: sometimes edges flicker, sometimes characters seem to float half a meter above the ground or Buddy's snout sinks into the asphalt when he sniffs around.
I also had to restart the game twice because an important door wouldn't open. Fortunately, the problems were limited and never spoiled my enjoyment of the game.
Verdict: Arizona Sunshine 2 is an absolute VR hit
I didn't think it was possible, but Arizona Sunshine 2 could be my personal highlight of the VR gaming year 2023. Precise shooter gameplay, bawdy humor, perhaps the best companion of all time, and an emotional rollercoaster ride that scores with great scenes, especially in the last third.
A little more variety in the level design of the first half of the game and in the variety of enemies, as well as one or two boss fights, would have done the game some good. Technically, not everything runs smoothly either, but this should be largely remedied with the announced Quest 3 upgrade.
Apart from that, Vertigo has done so much right with Arizona Sunshine 2 that all I want for Christmas is the announcement of at least one sequel. A clear buy recommendation!
You can buy Arizona Sunshine 2 here
Arizona Sunshine 2 is available in a Standard Edition ($50) and a Deluxe Edition ($60).