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What it's like to kill zombies in virtual reality

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Or why I shoot like an American

The hotel room around me doesn't exist anymore; it has turned into a small patch of desert. I take a second or two to take in my surroundings and get used to the handgun I hold in my right hand.

Soon enough I hear the sounds of a shambling zombie and he stumbles into view from behind a rock. I bring the gun up and aim down the barrel, making sure the sights at the front and back of the handgun are lined up. I squeeze off a round and the zombie goes down.

"You shoot like an American," I'm told.

What does that mean?

Growing up with guns

Arizona Sunshine is an upcoming game for the HTC Vive where your main goal is shooting zombies. There is a story; a radio station called Arizona Sunshine broadcasts a promise of a safe haven from the undead and it's your job to get there without dying, but mostly you kill zombies. You kill them with handguns, and you kill them with shotguns. You kill them with machine guns. But you kill them.

I have to point out that it feels amazing to kill zombies, and the act of using a firearm with the Vive hardware is hard to describe. The motion tracking with the controllers is perfect, allowing you to take the time and aim properly.

"The thing is, people who use guns in real life ... they’re really aiming the way you should aim a gun," Richard Stitselaar of Vertigo Games explains. "Most of the Dutch people have never used a gun, versus Americans, which is why I made the comment."

This was a problem when they were testing how the player shoots. While people who have been to a range or own guns have a good idea how to aim and fire a weapon, the team added things like tracer rounds and laser sights to make sure people who grew up having only used guns in video games would understand how to play.

arizona sunshine 2

Picking up guns and aiming them is only part of the game. You'll need to manage your ammo, and make sure you arrange extra clips and backup weapons in a way that make sense. I go through a quick calibration process so the game can register where my virtual holsters are located, allowing me to keep two sidearms on my body while I use heavier, two-handed weapons.

I practice letting the zombies get close in order to blast them back with a shotgun, and then drop the weapon when it's empty and go for the handgun at my side without letting any of the oncoming horde bite me. It becomes muscle memory by my second demo, but managing your weapons and the time it takes to reload each one, or move onto the next, is important.

During a rare moment of peace I look up and empty a clip into one of the vultures flying over my head. "They always try to shoot the birds," I hear one of the developers mutter.

I play through the demo a few times, and I can't get enough. It feels like the ultimate day at the range, except you're firing at human-shaped targets instead of paper cutouts. I'm not sure how well this concept will work in a fully-featured release, or if the feeling of shooting zombies in a way that feels this real will grow tiresome after a few hours, but for now I'm hooked.