The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR review
I’m not entirely sure why a developer best known for quiet, choice-rich games that border on interactive movies would be so keen on turning them into arcade-style rail shooters, but Supermassive Games is exactly trying do it again – this time with the help of the new PlayStation VR2 headset. Like Until Dawn: Rush of Blood before it, The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR focuses less on storytelling and more on action for mixed results. While fun to hunt through ghouls and bats in my path, this spinoff is plagued by many of the same issues as its predecessor, including a disappointingly short runtime.
Switchback VR’s story feels like an afterthought, putting you in the shoes of an unnamed protagonist on a rollercoaster hellish ride across ten different stages. Most are locations featured in The Dark Pictures Anthology Season 1, but you never really get a lot of insight into why the protagonist visits them, or any of the few supporting characters they meet. That’s partly because Switchback VR is very short and only took me about four hours to complete, but it’s still disappointing considering how well Supermassive usually does its job of giving lore and depth to its characters.
But what it lacks in story, Switchback VR mostly makes up for in gameplay. While the on-rail nature of its action naturally limits freedom of movement, you can move your head to look around in any direction in VR. It was fun to quickly turn around whenever I heard eerie screams or enemies sneaking up on me in the background, or occasionally had to physically duck to avoid falling beams and leaning columns. This situational awareness is key, as enemies will sometimes sneak up to the left and right of your peripheral vision.
You always have two turrets to fend off enemies, each controlled independently using PS VR2’s Sense controllers. While starting each level with the default pistols, you can snag ammo-limited alternatives like a revolver or machine gun by shooting red crates that spawn in appropriate sections of each stage. It’s annoying that these special weapons are locked in the hand you originally shot the crate with, but you can still have fun changing your strategy a bit when you find them. For example, you could use a machine gun to quickly dislodge enemies near your cart and save ammo by firing the pistol at enemies further away. Other weapons like a flare gun are required to solve certain puzzles and keep advancing – they don’t require much thought to solve as you only need to shoot certain objects to advance the track, but it’s a nice change of pace, by just shooting at hordes of enemies.
The firing mechanics themselves have been simplified for VR, with both firing and reloading mapped to two buttons on each Sense controller since so few are needed overall. That’s not a bad thing, since on-rail shooters focus more on throwing as many enemies as possible at you in a short amount of time than on nuanced gunplay. Still, shooting in Switchback VR feels responsive and the motion-controlled aiming is very accurate, which made headshots extremely rewarding every time I fired one.
The heads you pop will vary depending on the stage you’re on, ranging from standard zombies to flying vampires. Most of these enemies will be familiar to those who played any of the first seasons of The Dark Pictures Anthology, each a faithful recreation of the monsters from those games. Killing enemies or destroying inanimate objects like bottles, empty crates, and skulls increases your score for a level, which is a nice incentive to deal as much damage as possible. There are even local and online leaderboards where you can compare scores with other players, but it feels like a shallow exercise when important factors like accuracy aren’t measured.
Switchback VR captures the chilling atmosphere and excitement of each stage – from the dark and abandoned WWII freighter of Man of Medan to the sandy subterranean ruins of the ancient empire of House of Ashes. Unfortunately, the frequent overuse of cheap jump scares quickly overshadows the building excitement that a given location offers. While the first two pleasantly surprised me, it doesn’t take long for them to become more annoying than alarming.
But while the jumpscares barely kept me on the edge of my seat, the few sections where Switchback VR made use of PS VR2’s eye-tracking were actually impressively unsettling. These areas have enemies that move closer and closer to you with every blink, which is an incredibly new experience for any game that kept me wanting to see more. It’s a shame that only a few moments of Switchback VR make use of this concept, but the bits that do are a great example of the potential of this new technology in future horror games made for the headset.
While Supermassive has done a good job of incorporating some of PS VR2’s new technologies, Switchback VR still feels a bit technologically unpolished in places. I noticed a few performance issues while playing: some background textures, like tree branches, popped up randomly as the cart approached, and I had three instances where the screen froze for a few seconds. These issues were relatively minor and didn’t completely upset my ride, but they were still noticeable and annoying on such a short ride.
Despite its short length, Switchback VR offers a degree of replayability by allowing you to travel different routes that help shake up any run. Most of these choices are made by shooting certain gates that allow you to change the course of your cart, which is a good way to fit that choice into the action. You even get a full overview of your route at the end of each stage, along with an indication of the alternative paths you could have taken, which encouraged me to go back in and see what I missed. However, what bit of variety these routes offer isn’t very memorable when you can still see everything Switchback VR has to offer in two or three playthroughs.
The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR screenshots
In some stages you can not only change your route, but also save, kill or abandon survivors that appear in some stages. Each survivor is tied to an optional puzzle that gives you time to find objects in a specific order. However, as with most Supermassive games, most of these small decision points have little or no impact on the overall story.
Boss fights are also included at the end of some stages, but their execution leaves a lot to be desired. In these battles, you face off against antagonists from their respective Dark Pictures entries, such as: B. the final form of the Sailor Girl in Man of Medan, whose boss fight consists of her floating and throwing projectiles at you. Most boss fights end up boring and unremarkable, more like busy work slowing you down than an epic obstacle you need to overcome to complete the stage.
https://www.ign.com/articles/the-dark-pictures-switchback-vr-review The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR review