Apparently, I pull some funny faces when a game stresses me out. I didn’t scream once when I previewed Switchback VR at a recent visit to Supermassive Games, which I’m taking as a win, but the fact I was reacting without even realising shows how invested I was in the couple of levels I played.
Much like Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, which launched with the first PSVR headset, Switchback is a horror rollercoaster shooter, but the improvement across the board is really impressive.
It also takes real advantage of PlayStation VR 2’s new features, making for a varied and intense experience that’s a real showcase for the new headset.
A huge improvement
My first impression was all about how visually impressive and polished Switchback VR is. Playing for almost an hour, I don’t think I experienced any visual or tracking weirdness, with the level of detail in both levels I played beyond that of many other PSVR 2 games I’ve played.
Some of that will be down to how linear the game is, which will inevitably have allowed the devs to tightly manage the presentation, but it’s vital to ensuring Switchback remains inherently creepy.
There’s stuff to break everywhere - which is how you get points - stuff moves and creaks all the time, and the mysterious atmosphere feels so much more real thanks to better use of smoke, mist, and lighting.
Variety of scares
Being linked to the Dark Pictures Anthology games, Switchback will feature various locations from the series, as well as a variety of themes that’ll ensure everyone will find at least something scary.
Switchback’s variety also comes from how Supermassive has added an element of choice, giving it further links to their anthology series. You can often pick one of two paths to take, each of which will throw something different at you.
One choice the devs recommended I took led me to another of Switchback’s impressive aspects: it utilises PSVR 2’s eye-tracking technology really well.
You’ll come across rooms which tell you not to blink. They’ll have enemies inside that move towards you when you do so, Doctor Who’s Weeping Angels style, and it’s so creepy. I found myself not moving a muscle, not just keeping my eyes open. Not only do the enemies move closer to you, but the room fills more and more.
Speaking to Switchback VR’s Director, Alejandro Arque, he told us that we can expect various different uses of it. He said: “So at the beginning, we did a lot of brainstorming on what we could use the technology for, and how we can apply that to horror. For example, when you blink, things happen. We have enemies that do this. We have events, for example, you went through a mirror room where the light changes because you blink, and then it's more enemies in that section.”
Alongside Before Your Eyes, Switchback features the best use of PSVR 2’s eye-tracking technology I’ve seen.
Great use of haptics
Switchback’s use of the headset and Sense controllers’ haptics is also really impressive. From vibrations when your head hits an obstacle to shaking caused by the roller coaster, it does a lot of really intricate stuff. Each of the game’s weapons feels different too.
Arque told me he thinks Supermassive “achieved something really cool with the weapons” and I have to agree. It’s intuitive, satisfying, and varied.
The devs have done a great job of ensuring that Switchback is well-balanced between an engaging, fast-paced shooter and a game that anyone can pick up and enjoy. If you’re an expert, there’s high-score chasing to try your hand at. I didn’t shoot enough in my first level, staying too passive, but Arque told me that I should “shoot everything that's not marked and leave the marked objects for last” to maintain the score multiplier.
If you’ve played Pistol Whip, one of PSVR 2’s best games, the shooting is pretty similar, only requiring a little more precision and input for reloading. There’s a real arcade element to it, without forgetting to cater for players who want some depth and replayability. The balance is perfect in the levels I’ve played.
The roller coaster aspect also feels more pronounced this time. Arque told me that there are even levels with a more inherent roller coaster focus, rather than on shooting like most, and it certainly feels more thrilling than in Rush of Blood. He also went on to explain how they tweaked it so that it felt realistic without causing motion sickness.
“So we did tweak a lot. And we did a lot of focus tests. But again, we started from Rush of Blood, which I think was quite good. So that was our base that we built on top of, to make sure that it was not making people dizzy. Yeah, we did try to push the limits. We did a lot of focus tests, we did tests ourselves as well with people in the studio. Okay, is that okay? But it was quite nice to kind of find that balance.
With each level being longer than Rush of Blood, reaching 20 to 30 minutes, Switchback has to do a lot more to scare you. I jumped a few times, but I didn’t find the game really scary, which I think is down to a couple of things.
First, I was intently focused on the shooting and not missing a thing, so I didn’t think about what was coming at me. Many of the jump scares are also pretty signposted, with the horror focusing on gore and spectacle rather than the building of atmosphere. The sound design is great, but the arcade-style means there’s no slow build to the horror. Maybe that changes if you play from the start of the game, rather than two levels from the middle of the game as I did.
Much like Rush of Blood, though, I think Switchback will be the perfect game to show off PSVR to new players. As Argue told me, “That doesn't mean the game is easy. But it's like, you know, it's just sitting down like a normal roller coaster. And it's the same feeling. So we try to make sure that everyone can use it.” I can’t wait to hear the screams of my friends and family again.