Farpoint was a good starting point for PlayStation VR’s (PSVR’s) new Aim Controller, but we were elated to hear that the rifle-shaped device would also support the PS4 version of UploadVR’s 2016 Game of the Year winner, Arizona Sunshine. But if you’ve played Vertigo Games’ zombie shooter on Rift and Vive you might recall one glaring hiccup; you don’t really use rifles for most of the campaign.
Thankfully, Vertigo seems to have noticed that too, and it’s gone an extra mile to address this issue. When it releases at the end of the month, the PSVR version of Arizona Sunshine will feature a new campaign mode that switches out the traditional dual-wielding, pistol-tooting gun play for an arsenal that more accurately reflects the controller in your hand. I’ve gone hands-on with it, and I’m pretty sure it’s my favorite way to play the game.
Arizona’s first level is as good an introduction to the Aim Controller as any. You immediately start out with a gun next to you and it’s but a few seconds before your first swarm of flesh eaters serves up some target practice. You start with a powerful single shot rifle with iron sights that require a steady hand to align. Holding your breath, squeezing the Aim’s trigger and hearing a powerful shot ring out across the desert canyon is immensely empowering, especially when it causes a zombie to drop to the ground.
Later on I grab what looks like a FAMAS, and almost jump with the sudden kickback I get from it. Sniper sections too are that bit more immersive, though I had hoped I’d be able to pick one up and take it on my way with me this time around – no such luck.
This version of the game already includes the smooth movement option that was later patched into the Vive and Rift editions, and navigating the environment with Aim’s twin sticks is easier than it’s ever been. Of course that’s not for everyone, and the traditional teleportation is still included, but holding my rifle at the hip and taking cautious steps through a blocked road, scanning for even the slightest hint of movement had me momentarily forgetting I still lived in the civilised world.
Not everything survives the transition of course. Simple interactions like opening a door, throwing a grenade or picking up items on a desk feel significantly less natural when both hands are stuck to the Aim Controller. You can still act out the natural gestures if you want, but it’s hard to gauge how to throw an explosive when you’re not really sure which hand it’s meant to be in. I find the trade-off of the core gun play more than worth it, but others might prefer to stick to the more traditional PlayStation Move compatible campaign instead.
It’s a small miracle that Arizona Sunshine retroactively works so well with the Aim Controller — and it circumvents PSVR’s occlusion issues to an extent — but it’s a bigger feat still that the game is even running on PSVR at all. Not only that, but it runs spectacularly, and Vertigo Games deserves one heck of a pat on the back for that.
The list of optimisations the team had to make to squeeze the game onto PSVR is exhaustive. Originally it wanted to have the port done in a few months or so, but it quickly realised what it had gotten itself into. To beat it down onto the less powerful hardware, Vertigo has employed a lot of clever tricks. Enemies might look like they rag doll when they die, for example, but Vertigo actually made over 500 animations to make enemy deaths look as natural as possible.
Total zombie count has also been diminished but, don’t worry; Vertigo assures me that it’s been kept to an absolute minimum. In fact it says 99% of the enemies are still in there. Certainly in the three or four levels I played I didn’t notice any difference, and I still got caught by a few swipes from hungry snappers.
Visually, the game looks like its running on lower-end PC hardware, which is still impressive to say the least. Environments aren’t quite as sharp and enemies seem to have their faces stuck on like paper, but that’s only noticeable by taking the time to stop and lean in. In the minute-to-minute gameplay it’s hard to differentiate between the two or even really care about the cuts made. Even then, I was only able to spot differences between the PS4 version and the PC edition simply because I’d played them both.
All told, this is shaping up to be a textbook example of how to port a PC VR game to PSVR. On PC Arizona Sunshine is one of the few first-person shooters that gives players what they really want: a full campaign with hours of content that flies in the face of the flood of wave shooters pouring in (though still offering its own take on that mode too). On PSVR that type of experience is all the rarer, which is why I’m sure players will flock to embrace it in the coming weeks.
Arizona Sunshine hits PSVR on June 27th.