Every once in a while, Supermassive Games gets a wild hair to take its previous work and roll it up into an on-rails shooter styled as a horror rollercoaster. Previously, that led to Until Dawn: Rush of Blood on the first PSVR. Now, with a season of The Dark Pictures Anthology behind it, it’s trying again with The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR for the PS VR2. This game attempts to gather the whole first season of The Dark Pictures games into another gunslinging carnival ride. While Switchback VR benefits from the better technology of the PS VR2 and presents a somewhat riveting thrill ride, the breakneck-paced retelling of the Dark Pictures games so far and performance issues make it a less than stellar attraction among both the Dark Pictures and PS VR2 menagerie.
A ride to die for
The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR is a gathering of bits and pieces of the previous Dark Pictures games, going back as far as Man of Medan, and setting them in an original story playing out on a rollercoaster ride. While this game contains some original characters and narrative, it’s hard to say any of it really stuck with me. The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR moves fast, and spends very little time doing any kind of explaining, contrary to the choice-driven and contemplative nature of most of the Dark Pictures Anthology. Apparently, the character you play in the game had a father that really liked the ride you're being taken on, though it is hard to tell why he would be into a ride that constantly tries to kill him as it retraces the steps of the series in such fast-paced fashion.
The sheer speed of Switchback VR seems to fly in the face of the nature of The Dark Pictures Anthology. This game features a lot of looks back at familiar characters, settings, and scares, but rapid-fire style. You’ll be shooting off disgustingly detailed zombies, abominations, and ravenous rats in the rusted underbellies of naval ships inspired by Man of Medan, and then be gunning your way through the intensely creepy abandoned homes and sinister living dolls of Little Hope. However, you hardly ever have any time to register what you’re seeing or why. Even boss battles that include major antagonists from the Dark Pictures series feel stripped of their narrative impact to simply play out as gimmicked bullet-filled showdowns. As a rollercoaster shooter, it’s intense and the creatures are pretty gory and fun to slay, but as a storytelling vehicle, it’s nonsensical even if you know the narrative so far.
Much like Rush of Blood, Switchback VR is an on-rails shooter on a rollercoaster. You are, at all times, equipped with a pistol in each hand to break special marked objects, solve shooting gallery puzzles like switching the train tracks and disarming traps, and fighting off enemy monsters that accost you in your cart. That is exhilarating much in the same way that games like House of the Dead or CarnEvil were. You can even reload the guns by pressing a button or flicking them like those old-school arcade shooters. There’s a bit of replay value as well. You can take different routes on the tracks by diverting them at intersections, get special weapons like shotguns and grenade launchers from boxes, and shoot for a high score. A high score isn't achieved just by killing the enemies and solving puzzles in timely fashion, but also shooting any objects with a glowing mark on them.
Despite these fun elements, there are some frustrating issues baked into Switchback’s design. For one, there are a lot of spots in Switchback that have you dodge around obstacles that would otherwise hit you. Dodging left or dodging right was fine, but I had a hard time leaning forward and getting low enough to duck overhead obstacles. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the queasiest VR games I’ve played in quite some time. Switchback moves fast, and there are occasions where it feels like the visuals can’t keep up with the pace, resulting in grainy or blurring scenes. When I saw these performance issues, especially while going around curves in the rollercoaster, it was a nauseating experience. I’m one with a constitution that isn’t usually affected by such things in VR, so I can only imagine how rough it could be for others.
Keep your guns inside the cart at all times
It’s a decent enough arcade shooter, and if you look at it that way, the length and mood of the game make sense. However, it doesn’t make as much sense as a game with the Dark Pictures moniker. As widely varied as the quality of those games have been, they take the time to tell a story. Switchback doesn’t. It focuses on the gunplay, action, and thrills. While it does a decent enough job of that, the performance issues bring even that end down a bit. If you’re a fan of Supermassive’s brand of horror, it would be hard for me to recommend this over their other games. If you want to play something more like a modern light gun horror that makes decent use of the PS VR2’s technology, then you could do worse than Switchback, but you could also do better.
This review is based on a PlayStation 5 digital copy supplied by the publisher. The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR is available now on PS5 for the PS VR2.
The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR
- Good gunplay
- Variety of weapons
- Quite thrilling in its execution
- Some decently replayable elements
- Cool enemy creature design
- Very weak story
- Performance issues add to motion sickness
- Extremely short game
- Leaning elements are troublesome
TJ Denzer posted a new article, The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR review: A sinister attraction