I love The Walking Dead. Even though the show’s plot tends to move at the same pace as its ambling undead antagonists, it is still – in my opinion – one of the best shows on TV. When I tune in, my viewing time is split. I spend about ⅓ of the episode actually following the story; ⅓ trying to figure out what Andrew Lincoln is saying in his gravelly southern accent; and ⅓ daydreaming about what I would do combat-wise if I ever came face to face with a ravenous zombie.
I won’t admit to you just how many hours I’ve spent running hypothetical survival scenarios in my head – or weighing the merits of blunt-force zombie disposing weapons against their bladed counterparts – but let’s just say it’s more time than I’ve spent on my taxes so far this year. It was therefore an immense delight for me to go hands on with Arizona Sunshine, a VR game that enables me to live out my various post-apocalyptic fantasies.
I was immediately encouraged as the HTC Vive slid over my eyes at GDC 2016 and the scene I would be playing materialized in front of me. This was not going to be some dark corridor shooter that depends heavily on jump scares and forced pacing to trigger my adrenal glands. No, this first environment revealed that this would be – as the title of the game suggests – a bright game that is confident enough in the challenge of its monsters to leave the lights on for you.
“Let’s gear up” says Trevor Blom – Vertigo Games’ lead designer and my digital shooting partner for this demo. I see his digitized head and hands walk smoothly over one of two picnic tables sitting in the sun-scorched desert campground that has become our home base.
I quickly hustle over to my own table and see a pistol, ammo belt, multiple clips, and a sickly looking syringe filled with an electric blue substance of unknown origin. I strap the ammo belt to my chest, load it with clips, grab my gun and prepare to head out.
“That’ll come up later,” Blom says knowingly as he notices me staring at the syringe. I nod once and the game begins.
Blom and I are in the middle of a circular sort of map. There are multiple blind alleys behind buildings or rock croppings for zombies to emerge from. We naturally pick our hemispheres of the circle to cover and defend against the onslaught.
As the first batch of foes staggers out of the distance toward us I breathe a silent sigh of relief. These are George Romero’s slow-stumbling zombies; not the Usain Bolt brand from World War Z. Their pitifu pace gives me plenty of time to line up my first shot using the laser sight on my pistol. Four embarrassing chest shots later the zombie finally falls.
Shooting in Arizona Sunshine feels gritty, realistic and rewarding. This does, however, mean that shooting from the hip or spraying randomly won’t get you very far. Headshots drop zombies in one go so it’s almost always worth it to take a breath and line up that guaranteed kill.
As I move from the first zombie to the second I hold my nerve and let her get considerably closer than her compatriot. With her grotesque features now dominating my view I’m able to draw my bead and drop her with minimal effort. With just two slain foes the first round ends.
After every round, more ammunition appears on your picnic table that can be added to your ammo belt. Reloading in Arizona Sunshine is done by smashing the Vive controller – aka your gun – into your chest – AKA your ammo belt.
Feeling confident after my first round success I raise my weapon and prepare for the next bout. Immediately round two shows me its going to be different. The first zombie out of the gate this round is fast. Really fast.
I waste a good percentage of my clip spraying at this athletically enhanced enemy. Blom finally brings it down before it makes it to our camp and I’m left to pant fruitlessly and take out the last remaining slow-walker. When round three begins I’m ready and I let the fast runner get closer toward me before leveling him in just two shots.
Around round seven Blom clears me to grab the syringe. Once I’ve picked it up he tells me to ram the needle into my chest. Even though I know it’s just virtual reality I still have trouble complying with his request. When I finally make the plunge the screen colors become harsh oranges and time slows down (except for us of course). I laugh realizing that powerups in this game have taken the form giant needles.
No other huge curve balls hit us as we rise to round 10 but the number of zombies – and the amount of near misses – did increase steadily.
My accuracy, strategy, and horde management skills all improved as I played and I feel comfortable saying that if my time hadn’t expired I could have lasted to a considerable amount of additional rounds.
With our headsets off, Blom filled me in a bit about the studio’s plans for Arizona Sunshine:
“There will be a campaign with a few hours of story…The campaign can be done cooperatively with a friend…the endless mode can also be done cooperatively online with a friend or with bots.”
Blom confirmed that the title will be releasing on HTC Vive, Oculus Touch, and Playstation VR; although no solid release date has been confirmed so far. When the release and pricing info are available we’ll bring you all that info ASAP.