For a hardware manufacturer that has built its reputation around family-centric experiences, it’s refreshing to see Nintendo leaning into more adult-focused entertainment with its latest console. Like the recently released port of DOOM, Payday 2 is a popular, mature-rated FPS that has released on Switch significantly later than its fellow console brethren. Sure, it’s a five year old game, but does it still hold up on Nintendo’s diminutive handheld system in 2018? Well, the short answer is a disappointingly halfhearted “sort of.” Yep, this version of Overkill Software’s brand of cops ’n’ robbers gameplay is very much the definition of a mixed bag.
If you’re unfamiliar with Payday 2’s setup, imagine the final action-packed standoff of Heat, fused together with the bank heists from Point Break, and you’re in the right ballpark. You take on the role of a fresh-faced armed robber with the sole objective of raking in as much scratch as possible, by any means imaginable. Following a handful of cursory tutorials, you’re given free rein to choose from a multitude of diverse tasks that range from straightforward bank heists and art robberies, to more unusual jail breakouts, to bizarrely comical sting operations on drug warehouses brimming with factory-lines of wee elves and Santas – reminiscent of that scene from Jingle All The Way. Cute.
Every job begins with a non-combat ‘casing’ segment where you explore your target locale’s interior and exterior geography, cutting fences for easier access and highlighting potential security risks. After surveying the site, you’re free to don your mask and get to work. Stealth is usually a viable option and even grants bonus XP, however, more often than not, missions regularly devolve into fending off never-ending waves of cops with shockingly abysmal AI. It’s not uncommon for your law enforcement adversaries to just stand there like cardboard cut-outs waiting miserably to be snuffed out by your ramshackle crew of underhanded raiders.
Adding insult to injury are your own AI team-mates which are, quite simply, completely inept. Granted, they’ll take out the occasional copper here and there and serve as a human shield when the going gets tough, but core mission objectives must be completed by you, and you alone. If the goal of the operation is to deliver three bags of cash to a getaway van on the other side of the map, prepare to make that trip three times on your lonesome. Yep, it’s just as bone-crushingly frustrating as it sounds.
The major saving grace of Payday 2 is that these aforementioned team AI issues are unanimously fixed when you’re lucky enough to find yourself in the company of a team of human-controlled compadres. When things click and your team is singing from the same wicked hymn sheet, the moment-to-moment action can be a genuine blast to play. Unfortunately, online play on Switch does bring with it its own set of problems.
At the time of writing, there is no discernible voice chat in the Switch edition, which robs Payday 2 of much needed communication between squad-mates. Admittedly, there are some apps, like Discord, that can be used to alleviate these issues, but it still feels like an unacceptable hoop to jump through, particularly in 2018. The number of times I was thrown into a team that ran around like headless chickens was just as common as finding a squad with a modicum of harmonious synergy, and this problem is undeniably underscored by the Switch’s baffling lack of any form of voice chat. Essentially, Payday 2 feels like a game that has been designed primarily around its online multiplayer co-op, and it’s a shame that playing on the Switch plunders much of the title’s core enjoyment because of a lack of basic voice chat options.
On the upside, the core gunplay is solid stuff and feels satisfying, especially with the extra haptic feedback (rumble) from using Joy-Con controllers. Additionally, upgrades and unlockables add a ton of welcome depth, too, and helps to give the experience longevity. These gratifying rewards – which take the shape of gameplay-changing perks and shiny new weapons – are doled out with regularity as you level up after each mission. I’m happy to report that this aspect of the experience is pretty addictive stuff. I can imagine that if you get hooked, there’ll be plenty of interesting stuff to keep you coming back for more, while molding your individual character how you see fit.
Now, onto the presentation, and again it’s a middling cocktail of fairly decent visuals mixed with sub-par performance. The game is capped at 30 FPS, but dips regularly when the action gets busy, especially when under-load while rendering fire effects, shattering windows or explosions. Resolution-wise, Payday 2 runs at 720p in handheld, but receives a bump to 900p when in docked mode. Textures look a little washed out and jaggy, though it does get the job done. The audio, on the other hand is a highlight, with catchy techno-dance tunes that ramp up the tension admirably.
Ultimately, Payday 2 on Switch comes with so many caveats, it’ll make a solicitor’s head spin. It can be a fun little time-sink, if you’ve got some friends to join you on your bank-robbing escapades. However, due to a lack of voice-chat, some soul-crushingly lackluster AI, and regular performance issues, Payday 2’s fun is often the real prisoner that gets held hostage, which is tragically ironic.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game, which was provided to us by Sumo Digital.
Payday 2 can be a fun little time-sink, if you’ve got some friends to join you on your bank-robbing escapades. However, due to a lack of voice-chat, some soul-crushingly lackluster AI, and regular performance issues, the game's fun is often the real prisoner that gets held hostage.