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I probably owe the team at Supermassive Games, the developers of the new PSVR 2 exclusive The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR, an apology. That’s because I've spent pretty much the entirety of my time with the game so far calling them every single curse word I could think of.
The reason is simple. They've created a VR game so scary I've had to literally stop playing just to slow my rapidly rising heart rate.
The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR is a rail-shooter for the PSVR 2 that functions as a spiritual sequel to Until Dawn: Rush of Blood which was released in 2016 on the original PSVR. Like its forebear, Switchback straps you onto a rickety minecart and sends you flying down a rollercoaster track filled with nightmarish enemies and jump scares so effective you’ll physically leap out of your chair.
Even though it’s managed to frighten me more than pretty much any other game I’ve played — yes, even more than the new Resident Evil 4 remake — Switchback VR is still my favorite experience on the PSVR 2 to date.
It does have some annoying technical issues, but if you’re in the mood to be scared senseless then this is one coaster you need to ride.
Haunted house of horrors
The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR clearly takes a lot of inspiration from the classic Haunted House attractions you'd find at a traveling funfair. You know the sort: the ones that have you questioning the safety of the ride while overcharging you for a bag of cotton candy.
Each level sets you on a track located in horror settings from The Dark Pictures games. There’s a rusty ghost ship, a fog-covered town, an underground temple and a hotel laced with SAW-like traps. Each environment is richly-detailed and the perfect location for a scare-filled ride. The opening two levels set on the aforementioned ghost ship are particularly chilling.
You don’t just have to face terrifying locations either. Each of the 10 levels is brimming with horrible enemies like slowly-rotting zombies and vampire bats emitting blood-curdling shrieks. Throughout your descent into hell, you’ll also encounter rats, ghosts, mannequins, witches, creepy dolls and more.
Whatever you’re afraid of, you’ll probably find it at some point in Switchback VR.
At least you have a pair of weapons to defend yourself. The game gives you two pistols (Which can be upgraded for more powerful firearms at specific points in levels) and it’s your job to blast away any foes that get near your cart. Assuming you can stop screaming long enough to actually aim properly.
However, the biggest scares come when you’re robbed of your weapons and forced to confront your fears without any means of defending yourself. These sequences occur regularly and usually involve all the lights being extinguished before some deformed creature jumps out at you.
There’s definitely an over-reliance on jump scare tactics but, thanks to the immersive power of the PSVR 2, even if you know a jolt is coming, you’re likely to finch. And maybe even let out a scream. There are a few times the game is a little more creative with its scares. A delightfully-creepy sequence where masked mannequins move closer towards you every time you physically blink stands out as a real highlight.
I’ve found Switchback’s levels to be so intense, that I’ve taken to playing the game in bite-sized chunks in order to decompress in between play sessions. That might sound like a negative, but it’s actually high praise.
The game does such an accurate job of making me feel in genuine danger that it’s too stressful to play for long periods of time — that’s the mark of an effective VR horror game.
A familiar nightmare
Switchback VR will definitely be best enjoyed by players who are at least somewhat familiar with the mainline Dark Pictures games. To date, there have been four games in the anthology series and, as noted, the levels in Switchback VR are inspired by locations from that quartet: Man of Medan, Little Hope, House of Ashes and The Devil in Me.
Switchback does tell its own story in a half-hearted attempt to link all the levels together, but it’s pretty flimsy and certainly not a selling point. Nevertheless, the chance to experience familiar locations from The Dark Pictures Anthology has greatly added to my enjoyment of this VR spin-off.
That’s not to say you can’t enjoy Switchback if you’ve not played any of the regular Dark Picture adventure games, but rather those who have will enjoy an extra element of novelty as they spot returning enemies and speed through recognizable locations
Not quite a PSVR 2 showcase
Unfortunately, as much as I’m enjoying my time with Switchback VR, it’s not quite a PSVR 2 showcase. This is primarily because of frequent technical issues that include low-quality textures, very noticeable pop-in and occasional framerate stuttering. The latter is even more noticeable in VR compared to playing a regular game on a TV.
The game also suffers from surprisingly lengthy loading times in between levels or upon death. The waits aren't horrendous, but considering the PS5 console has done a remarkably solid job making long loading times a thing of the past, the frequency of loads in Switchback VR certainly stands out. Perhaps the devs were just trying to simulate the real experience of queuing for a roller coaster at a theme park!
Overall, Switchback VR is definitely disappointing from a technical perspective. In its current state, it's not a game that really showcases the power of Sony's second-generation headset.
Fortunately, a recent statement has confirmed that Supermassive Games are aware of the various issues, and are working on fixes to smooth over some of the disappointingly jagged edges. Hopefully, this update is available soon, as the graphical and performance issues do currently mar an otherwise mostly stellar experience.
PSVR 2 owners looking for the most value for money possible should also be aware Switchback VR is a relatively brief experience the first time through. You should be able to play through all the levels within four hours, but there are incentives to replay. Firstly, to chase a higher score but, primarily, because each track features multiple routes so there’s no way to see everything in a single ride.
Overall, if you have a solid tolerance for horror, then Switchback VR should absolutely be on your PSVR 2 wishlist. It’s a frighteningly fun experience from start to finish.
In fact, it's made me shout out in terror so often I’m pretty sure my upstairs neighbors are getting concerned.