March 16, 2023
Switchback VR is Supermassive Games having a third swing at PlayStation VR. After Until Dawn: Rush of Blood (which was decent) and The Inpatient (which wasn’t as good), Switchback VR is a strange greatest hits of The Dark Pictures Anthology season one, and like the VR Until Dawn experience, you’re back on a rollercoaster, but this time around the power of PlayStation VR2 is present, and it makes a huge difference.
I don’t want to wax lyrical too much about PSVR2, as I’ve done that elsewhere, but the feature set means that Switchback VR is oddly reminiscent of Astro’s Playroom. Obviously thematically they couldn’t be much more different, one is a glorious celebration of platforming action, while the other is about scaring your pants right off. But in the same way Astro’s Playroom was a showcase of the DualSense controller’s bells and whistles, Switchback VR does the same for PSVR2.
Where even titles like Horizon Call of the Mountain didn’t quite show off the haptic feedback or eye-tracking to the full extent it was possible, Switchback VR is one of the best games to sit down and show people your shiny new hardware. After introducing the concept of what’s actually going on here, you’re immediately going to be getting used to the haptic feedback of each individual gun, or how it feels to smash your head into a beam you didn’t dodge properly.
You’ve been in a train crash, you see, and are reliving moments and locations from that first season of The Dark Pictures Anthology. Going through each game in order, starting with Man of Medan, there are two stages per game, and one final level that’s wholly original. Villains, enemy types, and locales from the four games are all present and correct, and there are easter eggs for major fans littered throughout the highly destructible environments.
Boss encounters are included, and these are some of the highlights of Switchback VR, especially the battle relating to The Devil In Me. In fact, of all four main games, it’s only House of Ashes that feels a little bit of a let down. Man of Medan excels thanks to the spooky underwater themes and creaking ships, while Little Hope relies on jump scares and darkness, whispering voices tickling your ears as fog engulfs you. House of Ashes is a little more simple, but introduces puzzle elements which aren’t quite executed as well as I’d like. Being on-rails, you might miss a shot that’s related to a puzzle solution, so to solve that… you go round again.
The Devil in Me is the biggest highlight and makes use of the PSVR2 to its fullest. Late on the game tells you “Don’t blink”, via blood scrawled across a door. “Yeah, whatever” you might think, before being greeted with a mannequin, unmoving and foreboding. Nothing is happening. Nobody is moving: you’re just staring at a still, but creepy model. Don’t blink it said, but your eyes are drying out so you blink. Everything has moved. There are now loads of enemies, encroaching on your personal space. The trouble is once you blink, you’ll do it again, and now they are constantly switching places, and now they’re attacking you. It’s a terrific use of the eye-tracking feature, and as an introduction to what PSVR2 is capable of producing, it’s a corker.
Elsewhere in The Devil in Me levels, there’s the introduction of a shocker gun which is used for some excellent environmental puzzle solving, and to dish out the pain on enemies. There are more than your standard pistols throughout Switchback VR, from Uzis to Shotguns, there’s even a UV light which can highlight breakable objects during specific moments. These all have limited ammo, and some are better than others. Spraying and praying is fine on easier difficulties, but to get the big points and get up the leaderboard, I suspect more accuracy is needed.
Switchback VR is a seriously enjoyable 3-5 hours in VR, with a load of replayability. Each level has multiple paths within it that vary up how things play out, with different encounters. There’s hidden secrets everywhere, and it’s a nice touch how after each of The Dark Pictures Anthology games is completed, you’ll see choices you made, so to speak, which relate to discovery, or things you did or didn’t do. You can even save a fellow passenger per game, which means the “how to keep everyone alive” ideal is maintained even in a VR experience.
The only time it falls down really, is when you die. Loading times aren’t great for a PS5 exclusive, and there’s no quick reloading when you die here. Likewise, maybe I’m nitpicking but some of the visuals don’t match up to other PlayStation VR2 experiences. It’s fine, and decent at times, but it also could be better. Lastly of note, is that there are a few immersion breaking moments throughout. What would be cut-scenes in another game, here Supermassive just remove your guns from you. After a while you realise the threat isn’t there because your guns are gone. It makes sense to not allow you to “ruin the moment” by blasting gunfire over these moments, but after a few levels, you just feel like it’s a bit less scary.
While it relies heavily on jump scares for the fear factor, Switchback VR is just a superb way to spend your time. Fans of Supermassive Games’ previous work will adore seeing these game worlds from a different perspective, and there some inventive changes to a tried and tested gameplay. It’s not quite the “ultimate showcase” I’d hoped for, but it’s a damn good time, and it made me sweat and jump out of my skin plenty, which I’d call a massive win.
Superb boss fights
Plenty of replayability
Inventive use of PSVR2 feature set
Load times aren’t great
A bit heavy on jump scares
Switchback VR surprises and delights with its jump scare rollercoaster ride through its greatest hits, offering a great reason to don a headset.