The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR doesn’t pull any punches. Each level is a downright terrifying string of nightmare-inducing setpieces, disturbing encounters with grotesque foes, and frightening jumpscares that’ll keep your heart in your throat from beginning to end. It’s one of the scariest gaming experiences ever conceived and a must-play for PSVR2 owners.
When it comes to the horror game genre, we all have our favorites. Be it Resident Evil 4 for revolutionizing the formula, or perhaps Dead Space for its minimalistic sci-fi approach. Regardless of your Mount Rushmore, almost every title in the space suffers a similar fate. Before long, the horror element wears thin.
Power creep is an inevitability in games of that ilk as you uncover more powerful tools to dispatch of the frights around every corner. Over time, the scares are minimized as you grow more accustomed to the tricks along the way. Incredibly, Switchback VR manages to avoid that pitfall. No matter how long you play, the game still proves itself to be a truly engrossing experience that keeps the scares alive from beginning to end.
Making the most of the PSVR2 unit, Switchback’s various levels scare in unique and unexpected ways, placing you at the core of unbelievable terrors you just haven’t experienced quite like this before.
The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR – Key Details
- Developer: Supermassive Games
- Price (PS5): $39.99 USD | £32.99 GBP | $59.95 AUD
- Release date: March 16, 2023
- Platforms: PlayStation 5 (PSVR2 required)
The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR – Trailer
Not for the faint of heart
Before you jump into Switchback VR, it’s worth knowing what you’re in for. This isn’t a stroll through a few spooky rooms with the occasional zombie. It’s a non-stop, moment-to-moment rush looking to use your senses against you and genuinely frighten all who take the plunge. If you struggle at the best of times with regular horror games, you might do well to avoid this one for now until you’ve built yourself up.
Designed from the ground up with PSVR2 in mind, Switchback is purpose-built for Sony’s new hardware, with each and every level taking advantage of this tech to some degree in order to deliver those frights in inventive ways. These extra layers of immersion and creativity are what elevate the game from your average on-rails horror shooter to a deeply chilling experience that burrows into your mind and won’t crawl out anytime soon.
With each passing minute, you can expect your heart rate to spike and your skin to crawl thanks to Switchback’s relentless nature. There’s rarely a lapse in the action as you’re constantly funneled from one jump scare to the next. Whether it’s an enemy dropping from the ceiling right in front of you, a picture frame falling to the floor by your side, or a monstrous new foe making its presence known behind you, each fright is just as impactful as the last and with nowhere to hide, you’re completely at the whim of the horrific rollercoaster track laid out ahead.
Though, unceasing jump scares are one thing, but there’s so much more to the level design than just that. Each level takes you through a unique environment with vastly different themes to send shivers down your spine. One may feature corpses hanging from the ceiling as you try to guess which one is about to reanimate and ruin your day, another might send you along the path of an ominous cult looking to make you their next sacrifice with a bone-chilling ritual. Each is just as captivating as the last and of course, just as spooky.
Relentless frights on every track
Along the way, you’re expected to defend yourself with a range of firearms. The default pistols are fairly weak as you might predict, but reliable thanks to their limitless ammo supply. A number of more impactful weapons can be found over the course of a level, though they’re all limited power-ups as opposed to long-lasting upgrades. If you find an SMG on your travels for instance, don’t expect it to bail you out from the encroaching terror for too long. Just a few clips is all you’re ever given, making every shot that much more vital.
Equipped on each weapon is a meager flashlight, an essential tool needed to shine a path forward. More often than not, given the theme, darkness encapsulates the setting. With PSVR2’s stunning OLED displays, this means the blacks are properly pitch black, you really can’t cheat this one and crank the brightness. Thus, your flashlights are quite often your only means of seeing not only what lies ahead, but what’s about to jump out from any given direction, as enemies can attack from all angles, even from directly above.
In some utterly cruel situations, however, you’re left without any such tools in which to protect yourself. Your guns vanish before your very eyes and you’re simply left to be tormented by whatever nasty trick the developers have up their sleeves next.
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One particular instance that proved truly disturbing saw a hallway mapped out along the track in front. This was no ordinary hallway, however. In place of regular cement walls and flooring, a grotesque spiral of limbs, gore, and disfigured heads lined every inch of the surroundings. Some of these haphazard body parts just so happened to stick out of their nesting point, forcing you to quite literally move your head or bump right into them.
Combined with headset haptics in PSVR2, where you’re actually feeling these sensations as you brush past the bloody limbs, is enough to make anyone wish they’d skipped lunch. Amusingly enough, I noticed my weapons shaking just after the sequence, as my hands were left trembling in real life from the unbelievable dread.
It’s how these elements coalesce throughout each track that keeps you unnerved at all times as you never know what’s coming next. Even in replaying levels for a second or third time, much of the suspense remains intact for a few reasons. Namely, said levels are quite expansive not only in their layout but in the options they present.
Every course has multiple sections that split off. Left or right, the choice is yours, but of course, there is no right or wrong answer, both directions lead to equally frightening sections. This provides a deeper sense of replayability as you look to explore everything on offer and experience all that you can. After all, these choices aren’t just mindless decisions on where to go, but ultimately expose you to different segments you’d otherwise miss.
Take a right-hand turn in one level, for example, and you may find yourself in one of the heavily marketed ‘don’t-blink’ sections. Thanks to the PSVR2’s eye-tracking capabilities, each blink changes the room around you and yes, it’s just as freaky as you’d expect. Meanwhile, taking a left might bypass that sequence altogether, instead taking you down to a different area with a miniboss looking to gouge your eyes out. There’s a great sense of variety around every corner, as Switchback refuses to take its foot off the gas for even a moment to let you catch your breath.
A rollercoaster you’ll want to ride more than once
Tying into the Dark Pictures series in its own charming way, Switchback VR keeps track of your every move much like the non-VR titles. Say you go down one particular path and miss a key sequence, the game will track that decision and factor it in later down the line. The same can be said for stress-inducing moments where you’re tasked with saving a captured human. Fail at whatever menacing task lies ahead, witness said civilian’s demise, and to a degree, their blood remains on your hands for the rest of the game, a fact you’ll be reminded of between each level.
While these choices don’t quite weigh as heavily or impact the overall outcome to the same degree as the mainline titles, they still provide an added incentive to go through multiple times and experience situations from different perspectives.
Not only that, but the typical rail-shooter scoring system is in full effect here too. Between getting your soul siphoned from your body, those looking to maximize points can target special objects in each environment while keeping a combo alive by dodging all incoming damage. Much like the House of the Dead series before it, Switchback is just as thrilling for the more arcade-oriented experience as well.
While the game won’t necessarily blow you away with its visuals quite like PSVR2’s Horizon: Call of the Mountain, and certain interactive cutscenes can appear oddly blurred, Switchback is largely a feast for the senses. From its use of 3D audio on the PS5 to the aforementioned haptics through both the Sense controllers and the headset itself, it’s among the most immersive horror experiences on the market today.
The Verdict – 4.5/5
Given the attention to detail, exceptional level design, near-unending variety, but most importantly, its inventive approach to ‘scare tactics’, The Dark Pictures: Switchback is an absolute must-play for fans of the genre and those looking for a real fright. Go in with open eyes, let the distinct worlds and the many unsettling inhabitants enrapture you, and you may well be left trembling in no time at all.