The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR review — A fun, albeit flawed, thrill ride through a horror wonderland

Look, I’m easy to please; throw a VR unit on my head, slap some virtual guns in my hands, and let me go town on a few enemies and I’m happy. The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR does exactly that, so I had a blast with the game. The shooting feels great, there are a few good jump scares, and overall the game is entertaining for the few hours it takes to complete. Unfortunately, there are some graphical issues, a couple of slow levels, lackluster bosses, repetitive enemies, and a surprising lack of rollercoaster thrills that prevent Switchback from being the horror classic that it should have been.

It’s worth noting that I have never played any entry in The Dark Pictures anthology, on which this entire game is based, and those that have may enjoy this game more than the average player. Switchback VR has very little story to speak of, aside from you being a passenger on a train before a horrific derailment after which you are thrust into levels that are based around other Dark Picture games, with every couple of levels culminating in a boss fight pulled from the series.

The main draw of a game like Switchback is its arcade-style shooting and its rollercoaster premise, both of which work well here – although I do wish they had leaned into the rollercoaster aspect more often, creating more theme park thrills rather than maintaining a relatively slow pace throughout aside from a few specific set pieces. The shooting, though, feels fantastic. Hitting targets accurately is surprisingly easy, and since there is no ammunition limit to worry about (aside from when using special weapons), you can just fire wildly with both guns and take out most anything with little hassle. Many of the objects in each level are breakable, allowing you to do your best Rambo impression as you destroy barrels, crates, and various miscellaneous objects in-between taking down hordes of enemies. It’s all wildly entertaining, even if it might not be groundbreaking video game design.

The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR (PSVR2) - Let's Ride! First Level

You begin with two handguns but can obtain other limited-use weapons by shooting demon crates, normally conveniently located before tough sections or bosses, which will spawn either a shotgun, machine gun, or a revolver. In a few levels, these demon crates will also spawn special items, such as a UV light or a shock gun, which are then used to solve puzzles. The handguns have unlimited ammo and can be reloaded by simply shaking your hand up and down, or by pressing the bottom button on either controller. Limited-use weapons can only be reloaded a set number of times which is indicated by skull marks that appear on your wrist, forcing you to attempt to use them wisely and conserve the ammo for more difficult encounters.

Levels are decently long, normally clocking in at anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes each, and feature a variety of locations to ride through ranging from a wrecked plane and underground caverns to houses and theaters. Unfortunately, the enemy variety isn’t as varied and will have you fighting off the same enemies time and again. Since the game is based around multiple Dark Picture games, the enemies do get switched up a bit each time you transition to a level based on another game, but then those enemies simply remain until the next transition. There are a few unique enemy sections, but they are few and far between.

Boss fights are rather bland and see the bosses serving mostly as bullet sponges, testing your trigger finger strength more than posing any real challenge. That said, there is one unique boss fight which is quite fun involving having to fight off enemies and increasingly lethal traps at the same time. I wish more bosses had the same creativity as that encounter.

While the game can be scary, mainly due to jump scares, you quickly learn the tell-tale signs of an upcoming scare and adapt, taking much of the tension away relatively early. During cutscenes you do not have any guns, immediately letting you know that you are in no danger so any scares which occur during these scenes lose their impact. Additionally, there are plenty of times when your gun lights go out, telegraphing an upcoming scare. I would have rather the game rely more on clever enemy placement and the rollercoaster theme to invoke scares rather than providing so many easily noticeable sequences. Despite this, the game does have a fair share of parts which do startle you, especially the first couple of levels when it is all relatively new to you, and it remains an incredibly fun game to have a friend or family member play and to watch their reactions.

Switchback VR is rather short, clocking in at around 3.5 hours on a first playthrough, though there is some built-in replayability. Each level has multiple paths to take which are chosen by shooting arrows on the track. While these diverging paths only last a couple of minutes before connecting back to the main branch, they do provide a reason to try each level a minimum of two times to hit all paths. Additionally, each kill, and each item you destroy that is embossed with a yellow symbol, earns you points which then places you on the worldwide leaderboard, giving you an incentive to replay levels in hopes of pushing your worldwide ranking higher.

Further adding to the replayability is the addition of optional objectives, of which there are multiple per level. Curiously enough though, none are spelled out to you before you begin a level, meaning until you complete an area for the first time you will not even realize you had optional objectives, much less whether you accomplished or missed them. That said, there are a few objectives that are obvious as soon as you stumble upon them, such as sections where you are given a chance to save survivors by solving puzzles, including a setpiece where you shoot levers in a specific order to open a cage and one in which you destroy the arms of mannequins to free a girl that is about to be burned at the stake. I appreciated these challenges and wished there had been more of them to spice up the gameplay. Other optional objectives may include things that appear in the background that you may not even notice, like an area where you can shoot down a ledge to fall on top of a far-off enemy. Having a way to check these before beginning a level or even to pause and view a checklist would have immensely added to replayability. I am a sucker for checklists, if an objective exists on a list, then I must accomplish it.

While most levels involve simply shooting at anything that moves, there are a few areas that switch up the status quo and have you using items to progress, such as using a UV light to find weak spots on boards blocking your way while being chased by a demon, using flare guns to break obstacles or to light switches to open doors, or using a shock gun to trigger switches which can turn on traps to use against enemies, open pathways, or trigger traps which may kill you if you’re not careful. A few of these sections I liked, although they did somewhat take away from the thrill of the rollercoaster ride by slowing down the momentum which had previously been built up.

In general, I wish that the rollercoaster premise had been used to its full potential. There are few large drops or fast sections, which was disappointing. I understand that it is hard to mix shooting enemies and moving quickly, but fast sections would work well to give your hands a break while also utilizing the headset tracking mechanics which allow you to dodge left and right, or duck, to avoid hitting obstacles. The headset haptics are well utilized and provide a small but noticeable vibration when you smack your head against items or get attacked, doing a great job of adding to the immersion. Additionally, the Sense controllers are well implemented and provide satisfying haptic feedback when shooting and reloading, while also tracking your aim perfectly.

Another area of disappointment is the graphics, as there is a good bit of pop-in and background loading which is quite noticeable during play, especially in instances when you aren’t being swarmed by enemies, along with a few sections that are quite blurry – which may be an intentional choice, but I’m not quite sure. The graphics aren’t exactly up to PS5 standard either, though I’ve never been a stickler for graphics, much less in VR games. When the above issues aren’t present, I thought the game looked just fine, as you are constantly moving anyway so you have little time to stop and take in the details, and when in the indoor areas the scenery is quite detailed (and fun to destroy).

If it seems I’ve complained a lot, that is only because I had such high hopes for a more thrilling experience from Switchback VR, but that doesn’t negate the fact that I still had a blast during my playthrough. The levels are fun and varied, the shooting mechanics are great, and attempting to get high scores is addictive. Complaints about graphical issues and lack of enemy variety aside, Switchback VR is still a great time and a prime candidate for showing off VR to your friends and family.

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Richard Allen is a freelance writer and contributing editor for various publications. While he enjoys modern gaming, he is a retro gamer at heart, having been raised on a steady diet of Contra, Mario, and Dragon's Lair.  Chat with him via @thricetheartist on Twitter.



The Dark Pictures: Switchback VR

Review Guidelines

Switchback VR is a fun, albeit flawed, arcade shooter. While the game lacks enemy variety, has disappointing bosses, and has some graphical issues, the core gunplay remains fun and the variety of locations you’ll visit keep the game entertaining throughout the rather short campaign. While I wish the rollercoaster theme was utilized for more thrills, it is still a blast to take down a horde of enemies as you ride through a burning house or a creepy backwoods road.

Richard Allen

Unless otherwise stated, the product in this article was provided for review purposes.

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