Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, a rails shooter with a rollercoaster theme, was one of the surprise highlights of PSVR’s catalogue, so there was understandable enthusiasm surrounding the announcement of Supermassive’s spiritual successor, The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR. Unfortunately, this is a dour shadow of a follow-up, let-down by overly long levels, boring combat encounters, and some pretty poor visuals.
The positives are few, but not entirely non-existent. The UK developer makes good use of the PSVR2 Sense Controllers, for example, arming each of your hands with a pistol that can be upgraded with weapon pick-ups at select moments in the game. The tracking throughout is flawless, and the handling is enhanced by delicate use of haptic feedback and the adaptive triggers; you can even feel the clatter of your minecart travelling over the rails, which is a lovely little touch.
The campaign has its moments, too: one sequence will see you pass through a tunnel filled with the animated flesh of corpses, and you’ll physically feel appendages brush against your face through the headset’s built-in rumble motor. Another uses the device’s eye-tracking to detect each time you blink, meaning that the scene changes every time you close your eyes. These are harrowing moments, for sure – but that’s part of the release’s intended appeal.
Unfortunately, these standout examples are flanked by four or so hours of lousy lightgun shooting. Inspired by locations from games like Man of Medan and Little Hope, you’ll find yourself blasting away at poorly animated enemies for much of your playthrough here, with minimal visual feedback. Sure, you’ll see the odd cranium collapse, but most foes will shrug off your bullets like nothing’s happening – it’s all quite anticlimactic in the worst possible way.
The lacklustre boss fights demonstrate this most disappointingly, as you unload hundreds of bullets into their bodies, without any sense you’re damaging them at all. To make matters worse, the encounters are samey and predictable: adversaries will approach from one of three angles and attack in the exact same way, killing a lot of the tension the title’s trying to create. And while we appreciate the attempt to extend the experience, levels go on for far too long, killing the incentive to replay.
That’s a shame, because there are different routes you can take to encourage multiple playthroughs, and there are some minor decisions you can make about whether you want to save, abandon, or murder supporting cast characters. It should be noted that the plot device tying the scruffy storyline together is barely worth mentioning, other than to say there are lengthy loading times each time it segues from gameplay to a cutscene and back again.
The 3D audio is fairly well leveraged, and Supermassive has done a good job taking advantage of the headset’s HDR panel, as the game can get extremely dark in some parts. But the visuals, by and large, are substandard; even compared to an original PSVR game, this would be fairly middling, and we’ve seen what developers are capable of in Horizon Call of the Mountain and Resident Evil Village. The fact that some sequences are obscenely blurry is, frankly, inexplicable.
The levels do improve ever so slightly as you progress to the sections inspired by House of Ashes and The Devil in Me, but even then we found the integration of puzzles to be pace sapping and at odds with what the developer’s trying to achieve. For example, one sequence sees you firing a flare gun at giant switches, while in another section you’ll need to shoot plant pots to pass by swinging blades. The fact that some of these ideas get repeated is unbelievable.
There are a few instances where the studio really leans into the rollercoaster aspect, and it’s quite fun moving at intense speeds while you’re chased down by enemies or as lightning crackles through the sky, but you’ll actually spend a lot of the game moving incredibly slowly – or even at a standstill while you shoot repetitively at unflinching foes. A rails shooter, in our eyes, should be a thrill ride from start to finish – but Switchback VR barely manages a whimper most of the time.
Until Dawn continues to elude Supermassive, and now even Rush of Blood appears out of reach. Switchback VR is a scruffy game that fails to match up to its well-liked PSVR predecessor, delivering low-budget visuals, lousy combat encounters, and some pretty low-energy level design. There are a handful of memorable moments, and some may find fun in the jump scares – but this should and could have been so much more.