The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR PSVR 2 Review. Supermassive Games returns to the world of PSVR to peddle its horror wares in a thrilling rollercoaster ride through The Dark Pictures Anthology. Discover what horrors await in PlayStation Universe’s The Dark Pictures: Switchback PSVR 2 review.
The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR PSVR 2 Review – A Thrilling Horror Rollercoaster Ride
Supermassive Games has been quite the busy bee in recent years. It’s put out multiple games in its anthology horror series The Dark Pictures, and also served up a star-studded blockbuster of a horror game in The Quarry last year. Now it returns to VR for the first time since PSVR title Until Dawn: Rush of Blood. It’s quite literally on the same tracks too.
The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR is a spinoff from that aforementioned Dark Pictures anthology, and a spiritual sequel to Rush of Blood. It’s an on-rails shooter in the traditional sense. The uptick in technology however, means it’s more accurate to describe it as a rollercoaster/ghost train simulator.
It has an overarching story of sorts. A group of friends are traveling on a near-empty train when one of them upsets the wrong person. Suddenly the player is thrust into some sort of limbo/dream world that puts them in a cushy railcar, moving along tracks inspired by games in The Dark Pictures anthology (including Man of Medan’s cursed ship, Little Hope’s bewitched village, and House of Ashes’ caves). Why? Well, there is a resolution to that coming. In the meantime, it’s time to blast some nasties.
The majority of Switchback is about riding the rails and shooting things. VR does wonders for capturing that lurching feeling of riding a rollercoaster straight down after an ascent, or turning corners at speed. The sound design adds some authentic flair to every movement of the cart and rustle of something in the darkness. It’s as important as anything else for creating Switchback’s immersion.
Life Is A Rollercoaster
As for the guns, you’re armed initially with a pair of pistols. The idea is to blast anything threatening that emerges on the path, and also take out objects with yellow symbols on them to rack up your score. Power-ups become available to temporarily offer better weapons, but the pistols do a fine job in most instances.
In keeping with Supermassive Games tradition, there are branching paths that offer up some narrative choices and alternate encounters. It’s amusing to see the mechanic revert back to its most literal form, and I’m glad to see that it works wonders even when simplified.
You may be on rails, but the action is not constantly on the move. Embracing the funfair mood entirely, the railcar will stop for sections to indulge in a little set piece. These usually involve a jump scare or shooting a small horde of enemies, but as we’ll get into, Switchback throws in some delightful curveballs along the way.
Being confined to a railcar isn’t as restricting as you’d think. Supermassive Games has done a fantastic job of showcasing PSVR 2’s toolset to immerse you in Switchback’s ghost train ride from hell. You can physically move your body out of the way of trackside obstacles by leaning left and right or ducking. The headset haptics play their part in selling impact, and also make a grim appearance during an unpleasant slow procession through one section of the game.
At one point you can pick up a UV light that highlights weak spots in obstacles as you’re pursued by an unkillable monster. It has limited use and the light fades out rather quickly, so it induces panic as you fumble in the dark to find those weak spots.
The best feature of Switchback is how it utilizes eye-tracking. There are some sections where you come to a stop in an area and a message appears onscreen. DON’T BLINK. Yes, Doctor Who fans rejoice as there are moments when you need to keep your peepers open to stop certain enemies from advancing whenever you close your eyes or look away from them.
These sections seem to take an eternity to get through, and the game gleefully revels in the knowledge that you have to blink at some point. It mercifully doesn’t punish you for light flickering of the eyelids, but any significant blink will bring the foes closer. It’s a fantastic use of the technology for a horror game. Probably the best example I’ve seen on PSVR 2 so far, in fact.
As someone who has feasted on horror for many, many years at this point, I greatly appreciate when a horror game can hit me with a good scare. It’s an increasing rarity, but credit to Supermassive Games because it got me good on multiple occasions. It’s the fine balance of power and vulnerability that does it. Yes, you are armed, but you are also at the mercy of where the rails take you and when the ride’s unknown conductor decides you can start and stop.
There’s so many obvious jump scare moments, but they work because they understand the structure of a good jump scare. Supermassive not only understands this, but also how funfair rides also elicit similar adrenaline rushes. The manner in which it combines these two is a near-perfect union of popcorn terror.
Funhouse of Horrors
The VR experience of ‘being there’ naturally adds much to this. You hear the frenzied strings of the musical score rising, you see that darkness or fog creeping in. You KNOW something is coming and that anticipation is as exquisite as it is uncomfortable. I wanted nothing more than to press on with the next bit. I had to see what other dark delights Switchback had to offer me. Partly because I wanted the build to the dread-soaked moment to end, but also because I was quite looking forward to the next dose Switchback had for me.
There’s more to it than getting scared and shooting moving targets. Boss battles occur where things take a more traditional shooter turn. There’s some light puzzling involving gas valves that need turning in the right order, and the branching paths allow you to save some helpless folks from mortal peril. It would have been very easy to just make a very fancy rail shooter, but these extra touches elevate what’s already there.
About the only downside I encountered was a touch of slowdown here and there. This seems to occur when you do too much shooting at the wrong time. It’s nothing major, but it does sour the immersion slightly. That might well be eradicated in time for launch, if not soon after.
A Deliciously Dark Picture Show
I must admit that I didn’t expect a lot from The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR. It easily surpassed my mild expectations to become one of my favorite PSVR 2 experiences to date. Supermassive’s understanding of what makes for a good VR model is key. As is combining the greatest hits of on-rails shooters and funfair thrills. It’s the sort of ride I’d be getting off at the end and rejoining the queue for immediately afterward.
The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR is due out on PSVR 2 on March 16, 2023.
Review code kindly provided by publisher.