Nostalgia-Soaked Gunplay FTW!

HIGH The Devil In Me boss fight.

LOW Trying to kill hordes of rats and scarabs.

WTF The ‘flesh tube’ tunnel.

Rail shooters are just better in VR, to the point where it doesn’t seem like there’s any point in offering them in any other format. Gun controllers for consoles are a thing of the past, and clicking on a screen makes even the most detailed and thrilling shooter feel like little more than jumped-up whack-a-mole.

Move things into VR, however, and suddenly the action is immersive and compelling. Every enemy is a looming threat, and every killed foe a triumph. Rail shooters, at their best, drive players into a panicked frenzy as they struggle to cope with the hordes of foes coming for them, and moving that action to VR, where the player is trapped inside that world, puts them completely at the developers’ mercy.

A spin-off of the Dark Pictures franchise, Switchback takes players on a journey through the first four Dark Pictures games as they attempt to blast their way out of hell. Players take on the role of a victim of a train crash who finds themselves in a series of strange locations — rolling through a derelict ship, a puritan village, and more — all while taunted by a demon who’s desperate to collect their soul.

The first thing players will notice about Switchback is how perfect the motion feels. It’s vital that the moving rollercoaster feels natural, of course – if they hadn’t captured that rush, there really wouldn’t be a game. Whenever the cart reached a hill and started being gently pulled up the track, I found myself holding my breath knowing that a big dip full of breakneck turns was on the way. The physics of whipping through Switchback‘s various worlds are so good that I literally had to play sitting down – not only is it the intended experience, but I found myself getting wobbly on my feet every time we hit a sharp turn.

As could be expected from the developers of the Dark Pictures franchise, the scares on offer are stellar. While most of the levels are focused on fast movement and constant shooting, each one takes time for slower moments of terror. Whether that’s the gradual introduction of a transforming villain, a fog-shrouded highway filled with ominous shadows, or far too many sinister dolls crammed into a single room, Switchback knows how to set its players on edge – especially in the Devil In Me-themed levels, which slow things down to recreate the feeling of a “dark ride” pulling the player through a spookhouse full of combat setpieces and deadly puzzles.

Switchback‘s shooting is fundamentally satisfying – weapons sound and feel powerful, and whether I was shooting zombies, bats, or just bits of scenery, every trigger pull had an engaging weight to it. There’s a decent variety of weapons, but the developers made some odd choices in how they handle. In what must have been an attempt at realism, weapons without pistol grips have to be aimed completely differently than the main weapons, tilted far down in order to be fired ‘straight ahead’. This logically tracks when the player’s hand holding their controller is mapped onto the model of the gun, but it’s jarring to suddenly find myself aiming at the ceiling.

One element of the shooting that might prove annoying to some is how liberally Switchback employs aim assist. While I won’t say it’s impossible to miss targets, I will say that I had to put in effort to not hit things. So long as the player is pointing their gun in the general direction of the thing they want to shoot, they’re basically guaranteed a hit. I understand why the developers did this – it’s hard to shoot moving targets, and that’s basically all the targets here. Still, it would have been nice to have a ‘precision’ mode, where instead of enemies being bullet sponges that are impossible to miss, the guns do a ton of damage but the player has to earn the hits.

Another issue is the strange lack of enemy variety. Other than a handful of setpieces involving mannequins that move when the player blinks or some killer hellhounds, each of the four settings offers only three or four types of enemies, which might not be so bad, had the developers managed to do some visual differentiation within the types. Each area takes around 45 minutes to play, and after a few minutes it becomes impossible for players to overlook the fact that they’re fighting the exact same pair of zombies or mannequins over and over again. A little more variety would have gone a long way.

Also troubling is Switchback‘s lack of bells and whistles. It’s a thrilling arcade experience while the player is inside it, but very little thought has gone into giving the player a reason to replay.

The one major hook are four fellow train passengers who appear in the levels — the player is asked to solve a little shooting puzzle to either save or kill them. There’s no real story outcome to these choices, however, and Switchback has just one ending. The game keeps track of the player’s score, but there’s nothing to unlock via good performance. At the end of each area, the player will be presented with a series of things they did or didn’t do during the level (seeing a sneaky monster or setting off some dynamite, for example) but it’s just a record of things that happened, and there’s no record to act as a checklist for the player to complete.

Switchback is a compelling ride – it’s spooky and adrenaline-pumping and exactly what players want out of a rail shooter… but it could have been so much more than it is. There are flashes of innovation and brilliance, but I wish some of that kind of forward-thinking design had gone into the metagame. It may have been released in 2023, but the lack of features and replayability make it seem more like an arcade machine from 1996.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Supermassive Games. It is currently available on PSVR2. This copy of the game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the PSVR2. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood, Strong Language and Violence. Children under 13 shouldn’t be playing PSVR2, and that’s also a good cut-off for the game, despite the M warning. For a Dark Pictures game, there’s a surprising lack of gore. Yes, the player will spend a lot of time blasting off zombie heads, but it’s not particularly gruesome. Even the humans who can be killed die in oddly bloodless circumstances. I’m not saying this horror rollercoaster shooter is fun for the whole family, only that it’s nowhere near the kind of brutal one might expect from the franchise.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game has subtitles which cannot be resized or altered, but there’s a huge number of enemies that use audio to warn players that they’re approaching, with no accompanying visual cues. Be prepared for frustration if you play on anything but easy difficulty. This game is not fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. The game is controlled exclusively with PSVR2 motion controllers, using the trigger to fire weapons and choose options in menus, and the face buttons to reload weapons.

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