Much like the armed robbers of its heist-happy world, PAYDAY 2 rarely strays from the blueprint of its criminal lifestyle. Case the joint in question, scope out the vault, note the security, return with masks and guns in tow, drill some safes, shoot a small country’s worth of cops to death and escape. The location may change, the conditions of the job might be tweaked here and there, but Overkill Software’s crime sim knows its secret sauce and rarely messes with the ingredients.
It’s this simple core that makes this first-person shooter both consistently fun and numbingly repetitive, but it’s a spin on the traditional FPS format that, nevertheless, helps it fit the co-operative-centric ethos of Switch. If you’ve played the series, or this particular entry before on another system, this version doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the mix, but the bigger question is, what has the Swedish developer had to take away to make this port work on a handheld device?
The answer is: a lot less than you might think. Payday 2 on Switch is remarkably close to the full package you may have played elsewhere (including the updated Crimewave Editions that shot their way onto PS4 and Xbox One in 2015). It’s still the same exercise in time management and gunplay - where you’ll spend most of your time between fixing drills that are boring into vaults while killing an endless stream of law enforcement. Stealth is still an option on some heists, but most will descend into a Heat-style showdown as you don masks and raise hell. There’s a diverse mix of settings - including hijacking planes, taking down armoured cars and robbing a Christmas-themed drug factory - but it still boils down to the same basic template.
Crime.NET - the game’s matchmaking infrastructure - also returns in full, supporting online play, local play and solo with AI. The AI is still passable at best, and the same issue that dogged both of the previous versions remains unchanged here. You can play the game’s mixture of loosely connected heists entirely offline on your own, but without the tenacity and ingenuity of actual players on your team, your artificially-manned squad is only good for distracting cops and the occasional revive. You’ll still need to fix drills, transport bags and safes and other more complicated tasks yourselves. It’s just another reminder that this is an experience designed to excel with other players, where the difference between the most significant payday and a measly haul is a lot of teamwork and plenty of testicular fortitude.
So where does this Switch iteration sit in terms of other versions of the game? The PC build is so far removed from the console versions that comparing it to Switch would be an exercise in perpetual frustration but in terms of content, the Nintendo iteration packs in most (but not all) of the heists currently available on PS4 and Xbox One. There are 50 missions in total compared to the 58 you can play on other consoles, but when you consider this number includes plenty of DLC missions you’d need to pay extra for on these other platforms, you realise the Nintendo entry is pretty well stocked.
The same goes for masks. The PS4/XO versions boast over 300 while the Switch has almost 280 facial adornments to its name. Switch has as many weapons as the other console versions, and all of them can be modified to improve their performance (while making them a lot harder to conceal when casing a potential target). The Switch entry even has one up on all the other Payday 2 instalments out there in Joy, a Japanese-American hacker with a LED mask, a set of upgradeable skills geared towards (you guessed it) hacking and a new voiceover. She’s a timed exclusive, but it’s still great to have something that’s just for Nintendo Switch owners, even if it is only for a short time.
Performance wise, it’s a mixed bag. On smaller jobs and in more confined areas, that promised 30fps holds relatively true. In more extensive areas with police, security guards and mobsters spawning all over the shop, that frame rate can get seriously choppy. It doesn’t break the game, and it only happens in short bursts, but when coupled with a sloppy hit detection model (an issue that’s dogged the game since 2013) it can make for a frustratingly inaccurate shooter. Strarbreeze has officially confirmed the Switch version is launching a year behind the console and PC versions of the game in regards to content and technical updates, but side-by-side, the review code we played wasn’t far removed from the version currently available on PS4 (at least in terms of core gameplay), which is remarkable when you consider the vast difference in hardware.
The visuals have taken a hit too, but it’s not as bad as you might expect - especially when compared to the sacrifices made to get DOOM running on Switch. Assets outside of each mission area take the worst knock and loom in the background perpetually void of detail, and the dynamic lighting effects have been dialled down, but it’s a surprisingly faithful port everywhere else. It is, ultimately, a four-and-a-half-year-old game, so Payday 2’s relatively smooth port over to Nintendo Switch benefits from being a game designed with less strenuous specs in mind.
Regarding new additions, Overkill has implemented touchscreen support for navigating its menus, which have now been given an overhaul to support finger-based navigation. The UI functions a lot smoother than the one found elsewhere, and it’s both responsive and easy to use. There’s also support for HD Rumble, which gives gunfire satisfying physical feedback, although there’s no motion-control functionality, for better or for worse. You can also play locally on the same network with friends, should you have any on hand. It runs at 720p in handheld and - according to the developers - "up to 1080p" in docked mode (it's closer to 900p from what we can tell), but some pretty uninspiring textures and asset designs make playing in handheld the more attractive avenue for this retooled career criminal.
It also goes without saying that there's also no support for voice chat on Switch, so you'll need to invest in a Discord server or something similar if you want get the most out of Payday 2's co-op-centric gameplay. That's a definite negative when you consider that versions on other systems have party chat functionality, and could prove to be a real deal-breaker for some players; the ability to communicate plans and tactics on the fly is a key part of the game's appeal.
Payday 2’s devotion to its core gameplay mantra makes it a unique way to team up with other players on Switch, but it does seal the game’s mechanics in a time capsule that only serves to noticeably age it when seen through the prism of 2018. The inclusion of many of the game’s far more exciting DLC missions as standard does make its diverse mix of heists a more tantalising prospect for new adopters, and the relatively smooth port means it's a great way to experience the FPS on a handheld, but with the game launching with a year's worth of updates and content missing make its relatively high price tag stick out like a sore thumb.