You really have to give it to Supermassive Games for helping to keep the horror genre alive. They’ve been cranking out spooky games since 2015 with a degree of regularity, and generally, they’re OK at worst, and are known to go above and beyond. I’m glad they’re still making games, and that includes spinoffs like Switchback VR.
The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR (PS5 [reviewed with PSVR 2])
Developer: Supermassive Games
Publisher: Supermassive Games
Released: March 16, 2023
If you don’t mess with the Dark Pictures series at all and are wondering what the hell is going on, we got you.
In 2015, developer Supermassive Games released the hit horror adventure Until Dawn, which hosted a seated first-person VR shooting gallery spinoff a year later with Rush of Blood. Switchback VR is the equivalent for the Dark Pictures series: Supermassive’s loosely connected franchise that carries on the spirit of Until Dawn. The same principle applies to Switchback VR as it did years back with Rush of Blood: you don’t need to play the proper series to really enjoy it (since both are arcade-style shooters at heart), but there are references and locales that will add a little bit “extra” for folks who are fans.
It goes without saying, but the PSVR 2 Sense controllers are a massive upgrade from the prior Move technology implemented in Rush of Blood. Like, leagues better. I felt like I was fully in control in Switchback, with the ability to independently manipulate each hand (which controls a pistol by default, with room for finding temporary in-level upgrades like SMGs), and reload by pressing a button on the Sense controllers or shaking each device (which can be useful in a pinch, or directly following a jump scare, which Switchback has many of). It’s just elegant enough to feel like the game is taking advantage of the new tech without overcomplicating things for what is ostensibly an arcade blueprint.
Minor functionality is implemented in a few other ways, like bobbing your head from side to side (or ducking) to avoid beams and hazards; often while your cart is racing along the track at top speed. Then there’s the eye-blinking tech (which several PSVR 2 launch window games have utilized) to create more chaos, as enemies will be more relentless if you blink in certain areas (it’s not throughout the entire game).
Gunplay is responsive thanks to the Sense controllers, and Supermassive isn’t stingy with the default magazine size (18), coupled with quick reloading. You can generally just unload on enemies with both pistols as they walk/run/teleport up to your car and attempt to kill you (there’s three difficulty settings in all), and there’s a satisfying click when running out of ammo, coupled with some nice haptic physical feedback on the well-designed Sense tech. It’s very easy to aim and see targets that count for “extra points” too, since they’re clearly marked with a glowing seal. Again, Supermassive struck a good balance here, and didn’t make things too overwhelming.
After completing the short-ish tutorial to learn most of the above concepts, you’ll embark on “rides” through haunting locations, like the shipwreck (and the surrounding area) from Man of Medan. Little Hope, House of Ashes, and The Devil In Me (all part of “season 1” of Dark Pictures) also make an appearance. Because this is an “all-star tour” of sorts, the environments have a lot more variety to them compared to Rush of Blood. Playing through them in fairly rapid succession, I was reminded of all of the wacky ’90s arcade shooters in the best way, where you visit a harbor in French Polynesia in one moment, and a Mesopotamian tomb in the next. There’s also a vague story thread woven in (much like the series proper likes to do) that’s sort of interesting, but also so vague that it’s hard to really connect to it until you’re forced to later on in the game.
Switchback was delayed a bit from its original launch date; and from a visual standpoint, I can see why. There’s still some pop-in present amid some less inspired bits of each track (mostly the wide open outdoor areas), which result in a literal rollercoaster of high and low points throughout the game. The good news is, as I’ve espoused multiple times throughout this review, it’s an arcade game in spirit. So one small pitstop is going to be just that, a short stop, and it’s time to move to the next thing.
After you’ve ridden through each level there’s a score-attack element baked in (with leaderboards), a level-select option (giving you the chance to check out the extra paths in each stage), and a few trophies to potentially mess with on a replay (like if you messed up key moments when you have the opportunity to save other people); as well as several secrets dealing with the credits. I do wish there was a bit more replayability here, especially when you factor in the opportunity to iterate more with this VR-generation-leaping sequel. But I did enjoy blasting away creatures on a world tour rollercoaster ride, and I did get freaked out a few times by some jump scares: so mission mostly accomplished.
At $20 more than Rush of Blood was at launch, Switchback VR is a bigger pill to swallow, but does plenty to sate anyone who is looking for AAA VR horror, and makes use of the PSVR 2’s technological enhancements. I expect Switchback VR to be similarly polarizing because it caters to a very specific niche, but if you enjoyed Rush of Blood, you’ll likely have a good time here as well.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]