There’s a certain thrill that comes to outrunning (and outgunning) the law, and video games have been no stranger to that. Of course, the Payday series has made its bank (literally and figuratively) on giving players the chance to live out their lives as a band of on-the-run outlaws pulling off the perfect heists, and now with the game’s Nintendo Switch version (which releases today in Europe and next week in the US), pulling off heists with friends anywhere will definitely be appealing to a certain group of players, especially to Switch players.
As the game first debuted on PS3, Xbox 360, and PC back in August 2013 (with later releases on PS4 and Xbox One), the Nintendo Switch version not only marks the latest release for the almost five-year-old shooter, but also its first portable iteration. Much like the release of 2016’s DOOM on the Nintendo Switch last December, the fact that a big-name shooter like Payday 2 being playable on the Switch is impressive in its own right, and is an enticing prospect for Switch players that are looking for another first-person shooting experience on-the-go.
For the most part, the Switch version is a solid port with some thoughtful additions for the platform (such as the new local multiplayer option in CRIME.NET and a timed-exclusive new character, Joy), though a few of the system’s weaknesses (mainly technical) are pretty apparent in the newest version of Payday 2. While Overkill Software’s nearly five-year-old shooter sounds ideal for taking your crime sprees on-the-go or for playing with friends, the Switch version of the game provides some exhilarating heist action that suffers from sloppy execution.
Payday 2 is a co-op first-person shooter where up to four players take on a variety of heists as a band of masked criminals, with the main goal(s) being to get as much as cash as possible and either get out stealthily or take on waves of police with guns blazing in a daring escape. As the first-person shooter equivalent of living out scenarios pulled from Heat, Reservoir Dogs, and other classic crime movies, the missions themselves range from simple heists like robbing a jewelry store or a bank vault, to way more elaborate jobs that require taking on swarms of police forces and coordinating with your team members to not only survive, but to pull off the mission with the most money possible.
With some of the heists taking place over multiple “days” (which boils down to several in-game “rounds”), coordination and teamwork is king in Payday 2. Many of the missions can be very involved and there are a limited number of times that players can be revived mid-match, making the pressure of pulling off each heist as effectively as possible that much more important. There’s a constant sense of pressure surrounding you and your teammates, and by-and-large Payday 2 succeeds in making each match stressful in the best way possible.
On top of the persistent police forces that players will encounter, each mission also includes a number of obstacles to overcome, such as security cameras and trip alarms, that can make the heists significantly more challenging. To counter that, players have a variety of ways to bypass these environmental challenges through their abilities and equipments. Over the course of progressing through the game, players can choose specific classes, perks, and equipment loadouts to make themselves tailored for specific situations or the heist at hand, whether they want be suited for taking on police or more adept at supporting teammates and keeping them alive.
Each of these classes is largely developed through an RPG-like skill tree structure that players can tweak and modify to their liking, making Payday 2 pretty flexible in letting players build a character towards their skills and strengths. Likewise, players also have a vast array of weapons and customizations that they can unlock over the course of the game, with new piece of gear, weapons, or equipment that you earn providing a chance to fundamentally change the way that you play the game.
By and large, each of the classes is designed to fulfill a specific role on the team between five archetypes that have varying strengths and specialties: the Enforcer can wield heavy equipment and carry bags of money/valuables more quickly; the Ghost can expertly bypass alarms and security systems; the Mastermind can heal the team and influence police forces to stand down; the Technician can crack safes and vaults in a pinch; and the Fugitive can dispatch the police most efficiently when cornered.
Assembling your team, however, is only part of the challenge, as the missions that you and your companions will go on depend widely based on the task at hand. The missions themselves are delivered through the game’s CRIME.NET menu, which players can complete either online with friends or through matchmaking with other players; CRIME.NET Offline features the alternative of playing matches with AI bots as your teammates. The Switch version, however, now has the option of using CRIME.NET locally, so you can hop into a game with four other players on the same network, making the game more convenient for local co-op play.
The gameplay of Payday 2 largely remains unchanged on the Switch, but if there’s one big different compared to its console and PC big brothers, it’s in the visuals. Technical performance is the biggest sore spot for the Switch version of Payday 2, with the frame rate in particular often taking the biggest hit on top of its somewhat flat-looking visuals.
I wouldn’t necessarily call Payday 2 the most impressive-looking game out there to begin with – even on a high-end PC (or the PS4 and Xbox One’s Crimewave Edition), Payday 2 visually is a bit uneven with flat-looking textures and models interspersed with some impressive environments and its unique cast of criminals to play as. While the fact that a title like Payday 2 is running on the Switch is novel by itself, the game’s dated visuals and more subdued color palette might leave some players wanting, compared to the Switch’s more vibrant and distinctive titles like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey.
For the most part, the Switch actually manages to hold up decently in running Payday 2, though the performance level between playing it docked and undocked can be noticeable. As far as resolution, the game runs at 1080p in docked mode, while playing handheld drops the resolution down to 720p. The framerate, however, was where things became a bit more uneven: playing the game in docked mode gives a mostly consistent 30fps frame rate, though switching over to the undocked version of the game saw some noticeable dips, with the biggest instances occuring when a lot is happening on-screen (large concentrations of enemies, explosions, etc.).
The controls in particular also have some growing pains, depending on what configuration of the system you are using. Personally, I found that the Joy-Cons continue to be a bit ill-suited towards fast-paced shooters (and especially back when I played DOOM on the Switch late last year), and Payday 2 is no exception. By no means is the game unplayable using just the Joy-Cons. But, personally, I found that the ideal set-up would be to play the game with a Pro Controller either docked or in tabletop mode, which made for a far more comfortable FPS experience on the system.
The other notable difference with Payday 2 on the Nintendo Switch is that content-wise, the game (at launch) will be at a setback compared to what is available currently in the game on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. As noted by publisher Starbreeze Studios earlier this week, the Switch version will include the game’s content up through the “Most Wanted” update that released in the middle of last year – comparatively speaking, that’s behind the “Master Plan” update that the PS4 and Xbox One versions got late last year, and even further behind what the PC version has now as far as content and updates.
Ideally, those wanting the most up-to-date and feature-rich version of the game may want to go with the PC version, and while developer Overkill Software has said that post-launch updates will be in store for the Switch version, the company’s noted track record with updating the console versions may leave some players wanting. Ultimately, the portability of the Switch version will be the biggest draw, though whether that offsets some of its weaknesses compared to the console and PC versions of the game is up for debate.
While the Switch has proven itself to be a versatile console that has catered to a large variety of genres ranging from RPGs to platformers, and beyond, Payday 2 doesn’t quite make the case that the system may be ready to take on full-fledged shooters just yet, let alone one released nearly five years ago. Payday 2 will deliver the goods to Switch players looking for a compelling dose of thrills and shooting mayhem, though those looking for a bigger score might be better served by the game’s PC version where most of the action (and more consistent updates) are at.