Back when the PSVR first released, Supermassive Games put out Until Dawn: Rush Of Blood – an on-rails shooter that took the themes of their wonderful teen horror title and converted it into a reasonably spectacular roller coaster ride… with guns. We’ve now got a new generation of PlayStation VR hardware to play with, and not to be outdone, they’re back with a similarly veined theme park ride, though this time taking in the sights and sounds of the Dark Pictures series. The first game was a fair amount of fun and showcased the emerging tech reasonably well, but is Switchback VR here to do the same job, or to try and elevate the game beyond its simplistic premise?
More than you’d probably expect, there is a story in The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR, and it starts on a train. Seated with what we’ll presume are friends, you’re able to survey the carriage and its occupants before someone rudely knocks your coffee off the edge of the table and onto their trousers. It turns out they have expensive taste in pants and aren’t best pleased at their own carelessness, so pin it all on you. Rather than a bit of mouthing off and threats to take it outside, they turn out to be Belial – a powerful and vindictive demon – and decide to crash the train and drag you and the other passengers to hell. Overreacting much? There is a chance of redemption though if you can survive a chariot ride through a twisting, turning nightmare where everyone and everything is out to kill you. Get whisked along the tracks, shoot off weapons to stop the ghouls from overwhelming you, and save the other passengers and you just might stand a chance of being rescued.
That’s as complex as the story needs to be and what follows are 10 levels (including a tutorial) that showcase a romp across the other games in the Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan, Little Hope, House of Ashes and The Devil In Me. Each of the references to the previous games is split across two levels, and you get an atmospheric and bloody tour of the core locations that feature the antagonists and horrors from each. Switchback VR’s objectives are straightforward – shoot everything and rack up a score – and you’ll quickly get to grips with what needs to be done and when. A large proportion of each section is spent building tension and (usually) gearing up for some form of jump scare… typically something popping up out of the pitch black right in front of your face accompanied by a scream. That’s not to say there isn’t the odd puzzle to solve or interesting weapons to use, there’s definitely something different layered in for each level.
Whilst the chariot propels you forward on the tracks, you’ve full movement within its confines, and the Dark Pictures: Switchback VR wants you to make use of as much of that space as possible. This is a perfect game to be seated for, and you can expect to be swivelling left and right, and even behind, as you rocket through the sections. Failure to keep your wits about you will mean missing Easter eggs (which the game delights in telling you at the end of a level), and reduces the potential to shoot for big points. Scores are built from blasting anything destructible as well as enemies, and the more that’s destroyed the higher the combo meter climbs. Keep the combo going as high as possible and that’ll return the best result for the level. Adding to the tally are special items denoted with a pentagram and hitting those adds a well earned points boost. The stock weapons are dual wielding pistols, and special weapons that range from Uzi’s to shotguns to UV lights are picked up by targeting the right containers. Each secondary firearm though has limited ammo that gets drained quickly, so it’s a good job the defaults are pretty handy.
Switchback VR takes full advantage of the PSVR2’s feature set – from the adaptive triggers and headset haptics to the eye tracking. The latter is particularly well implemented to not just manage the foveated rendering, but to also play into the threat in the world. Much like Dr. Who’s Weeping Angels, there are parts of the game where blinking causes statues to move, and that need to desperately try and keep your eyes open is a great piece of immersion. Whether it’s there or not, it seems like the eye tracking also helps with your aim so that you hit more targets than you miss at distance, and there’s no denying that absolutely makes you feel fantastic. Utilising the assets from the Dark Pictures titles means there’s a level of authenticity to each situation, and the improved resolution of the OLED screens really brings out some lovely details, not to mention HDR really working hard with the light/dark contrast. I spotted an occasional slow texture resolution as some came into view, but it was few and far between, with the game performing solidly across the runtime.
Which brings us to probably the biggest (and only) issue I have – length. The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR clocks in at around 2 1/2 hours for a playthrough, and whilst there are replay options by changing tracks and paths through the levels, or choosing a different fate for the passengers of the train, it still feels a touch too short. Sure, in an intense horror game you don’t necessarily want a long claustrophobic experience in the VR headset, yet I definitely got to the end and wanted more. Whether that was more story, additional levels, or modifiers to go back and play the whole thing again with, I’m not sure; it just felt like there should have been something. Those looking for something new to play that shows of what the PSVR2 can do should absolutely jump onboard and be taken for a ride, there’s a lot to see, just don’t be surprised if your ticket doesn’t take you to the end of the line.
The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR is available now exclusively on PS5 for around £30.
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