Payday 2 (Switch) Review
I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into Payday 2 on PC. Its mix of bombastic action and tense stealth was so much fun, and the constant stream of updates and DLC meant that I could keep playing it forever. I wasn’t sure how to respond to the news of a Switch port though because, while portable Payday sounded amazing, the game’s developers have a murky history with console ports. I was always hearing about matchmaking issues and missing content, and I was hoping beyond hope that the Switch port wouldn’t suffer a similar fate. Unfortunately, the Switch version of the game does have some issues that prevent it reaching the heights of the PC version, but that’s not to say that it’s a bad game.
Payday 2 sees you and a crew of AI or fellow humans taking on dozens of different heists. You could be breaking into a bank vault, stealing a rare artifact from a museum or infiltrating an FBI safehouse to take out someone who ratted you out. There’s a mix of heists that can be done stealthily and ones that have to be done guns-blazing, so you have options in how to play. Some of the heists that were added in as later content on the PC version are much more involved than the earlier ones and allow some interesting customisation in how you approach them. An example of this is a casino heist that allows you to spend money on things like alternative escape routes or bribing staff to assist you during your raid. Some of these options can make a heist feel totally different across multiple playthroughs. Another thing that keeps heists fresh is the randomisation of some elements. Most heists have parts that change each time you play it – these could be the layout of some rooms or the routes that guards patrol. It means that you can’t get into route routine because there’s always something you’ve got to keep an eye out for.
The stealth mechanics are interesting because the stealth routes don’t mean “You can’t get spotted” but rather “You can’t let the alarm get raised”. This means that your stealthy ‘run’ might mean charging into a bank and taking everyone hostage so they can’t raise the alarm, or using jammers to interfere the alarm while you and your crew rush through a secure facility before the signal comes back. It’s a much different dynamic than the usual stealth flow in games. There’s a great sense of tension in stealth heists because one thing going wrong can bring in opposition that you’re not prepared for. Loud heists are more standard and will see you fighting off waves of law enforcement while completing objectives. These normally involve a series of timed checkpoints that you need to wait to clear while defending yourselves. These could be a drill that takes time to break through a vault door or an escape vehicle that needs to arrive on the scene. These are much more action-packed and are complemented by a killer soundtrack that builds up to a drop whenever a new wave of enemies is about to launch an assault. The gunplay isn’t as smooth on a controller as it is on PC, but that may be down to personal preference. There’s no gyro aiming either, which would have been a nice addition as we’ve seen with other games on the system.
Now, there are fewer heists (and other content) than in the other current versions of the game on PC, Xbox One and PS4. The Switch version is one major content update behind the other consoles, which means it’s missing out on a few heists, weapons and perk decks that those versions have. Those versions are themselves quite far behind the PC version that at times feels like it has a new update every few seconds. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how far behind the PC version this port is, because it picks and chooses parts from different updates. It has mostly everything up until the addition of the biker heist and character packs, with a few smaller additions from after that update. But then it’s also missing things that happened before that like some improvements to the bot AI, and the Side Job system. This system gave you a series of daily, weekly and monthly objectives that would give you weapon mods and other boons if you completed them. It significantly reduced the amount of grinding you needed to do to unlock items and it’s definitely missed here. There’s still a lot to play and unlock in the game (it even has a timed exclusive character with an interesting set of hacking perks to unlock) but not having the full experience, or even the same content as the other console versions, is disappointing.
Payday 2 does a much better job of easing you into the mechanics than it did when I started playing. Back then there was just a freeform practice area where you could try out your different skills and equipment with a tiny bit of explanation. Now there’s a full-on tutorial where you’re introduced to mechanics like taking hostages and answering the pagers of guards that you’ve killed so that the central command won’t raise the alarm. Some issues still remain with its onboarding, like the fact it doesn’t tell you which heists are good for beginners. They should be focusing on things like jewellery store robberies and hitting up malls for protection money but could end up diving headfirst into a more complicated heist. The other issue is that the metagame aspects can be difficult to understand at first. You use the money you earn in heists to buy new equipment and upgrades. There’s a skill tree system that allows you to specialise in certain areas. You might increase the efficiency of drills you use to break into vaults, or allow yourself to heal teammates more effectively. But then there’s also a perk deck system which also allows you to purchase upgrades in a totally different manner. Newcomers will likely struggle to work out which skills and perks are the most useful ones and which ones complement the ones they already have. It’s easy enough to get the hang of once you’ve spent some time in the game, but it’s an intimidating first impression.
Another thing you can spend your hard-earned cash on is customising your character. Payday 2 features a diverse cast of characters you can choose from that includes heisters from almost all over the world (and even some fun crossover characters like John Wick!), each with their own personalities that shines through their voice lines. They all sport their own signature masks that says something about who they are, but you can instead give them a mask that says something about you! There’s a huge array of masks that you can unlock, and customisation options that you can apply to them. Want to run around wearing a giant panda head that’s coloured in the most gaudy shade of neon imaginable? You can do it!
There’s one other negative aspect of this Switch port that needs to be mentioned – the performance. It’s really inconsistent. In docked mode it performs quite well, staying at a stable 30fps most of the time. On some of the larger heists though, and during moments with a lot of effects and enemies on-screen, it gets a bit jittery. Handheld performance is all over the place. Sometimes it’s fine, but other times… not so much. On larger heists especially it gets really sluggish. It’s still playable but hardly the ideal way to play. Graphically speaking Payday 2 was never a pretty game (it’s 5 years old on an even older engine) but it looks perfectly alright here. It’s really dark though and has no brightness slider to make adjustments so it’s hard to see in some interior sections of heists. I’ve noticed a few graphical issues like the highlights around mission objective to make them visible from a distance not appearing if you’re at a range, and some rare instances of enemies popping in.
On a more positive note, the multiplayer works really well. I’ve been able to join games with ease and have friends join in with no issues. This is important because multiplayer is a key part of the game; it’s where everything comes together. You and your crew bring your own specialised loadouts that work in unison and can totally dominate heists if you know what you’re doing. A sneaky player might take out the guards while another keeps all the civilians in check. Then another player brings their super drills to bust into the bank vault and a final player follows that up by cutting through all of the safety deposit boxes contained within. There’s a harmony in the chaos that you’re playing out. It’s so much fun playing with other people because you can split up the mission objective between each other and marvel at the hijinks you get up to. The collective heart attack you share when someone gets spotted in the middle of a long stealth run takes years off your lives, and is an unparalleled feeling. Even just having another player with you is a treat because it takes a load off of your shoulders. Communication is key for some heists though, and the Switch’s archaic voice chat solution means that you have no means of communicating in public lobbies. You’ll need to stick to the more straightforward loud heists if you don’t have anyone you can use external voice chat with.
Solo play is definitely possible – most of my hours on the PC version were spent playing by myself. It’s a lot more time-consuming though because you have to do everything yourself, from completing objectives to carrying piles of loot. The bot AI is decent enough in defending you, but they can’t perform more meaningful tasks like carrying lootbags. The mission design and gameplay loop mean things are still enjoyable, but that can soon change. You could be half an hour or more into a heist, slowly bringing over ten bags of loot to the drop-off on your lonesome, only for a sneaky enemy to take you out and the bots to not rescue you in time. Failing a heist means you get nothing and need to try again, so all that time was wasted if you didn’t enjoy it. That heist could most likely be completed in half the time if you had even one other person. I enjoy playing solo, but there’s a depth to the gameplay that you’re missing out on without multiplayer, and moments where you get frustrated and need to step away for a while.
Payday 2 is an absolute ball when it’s at its best. It gives such a good feeling as you grow from nothing, gradually unlocking more effective skills and equipment and taking on tougher heists. It’s even better when you’re playing with other people because you can complement each other with your different skillsets and split up the mission objectives between each other; there’s a harmony in the chaos you cause. The unfortunate thing though is that between the missing content and the performance issues, the Switch port is far from the definitive version. As someone who already loved the game, I can endure the drawbacks in order to get a portable version of the game because it is really good when it comes together! But at the same time, it’s so hard to recommend newcomers to take a gamble with it at full RRP. Wait for a sale or a patch, because there’s something great hiding behind the issues.
The code used for this review was provided by Starbreeze Studios.
+ Large variety of heists
+ Action and stealth are both enjoyable and can make the same heists play very differently
+ Co-operative play gives missions a nice flow
- Content and performance are behind other current versions
- Solo play can be frustrating
- No means of communication in multiplayer