Ah, Payday 2. A game I’ve legitimately put 150+ hours into on my PC since it arrived in 2013. And now, with “The Year of the Port” well underway for Nintendo, we find Overkill’s cooperative first-person shooter on the Switch.
For those uninitiated, Payday 2 takes place two years after the events of the original game. Heisters “Dallas,” “Wolf,” “Chains” and the gang are back together as their command and control help, Bain, sets up Crime.net allowing for contractors to hire criminals for odd jobs. This is the core of the game. You will take control of one of these criminals, customize them and their arsenal to your liking, sign up for jobs and rob everything from diamond stores to casinos with fellow villains online. Gamers can hop in and out of jobs already underway and complete missions with either AI or as an online multiplayer experience. How you choose to go about these missions – loud or stealth – significantly alters the play style of your character and the results of the mission. Players can also take on missions of varying difficulty and higher rewards. The goal is to accumulate wealth, guns, gain prestige and outfit your bad guy to your hearts’ content.
There’s definitely a level of complexity and depth that goes into building your character. You get to upgrade weapons, spend skill points to acquire new skills, build a perk deck that allows you to specialize in various areas of crime, select criminal attire and much, much more. Looking to build a heavily armored, dual pistol wielding criminal that specializes in hand-to-hand combat? There’s a way to build it. Alternatively, if you prefer creating a sniper who specializes in stealth and also uses sentries to protect himself, there’s a way to go that route as well. When it comes to creating the ultimate bad guy, if you can dream it, Payday 2 will almost certainly let you do it.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, lets talk about Switch version of this game. Exclusive to Payday 2 on the Switch is the character Joy – complete with unique gear and weaponry. The exclusive character, however, isn’t really enough to make up for the fact that it feels like I’m missing some DLC I’m used to seeing on other consoles. And not just a tiny bit either. The Switch version seems like a stripped down game that is meant to be played in portable mode. Because of this, it looks and feels like Payday 2 but you get the impression this is Payday 2 “Lite.” And I’d be really bummed about that if not for the fact that it being Payday 2 “Lite” is just the tip of the cruel iceberg. There’s more bad news coming. This is a deeply, deeply flawed port, friends.
First, let me get the not-horrible news out of the way. Payday 2, when docked, feels like an experience I would deem “playable.” The game looks a little better, the game runs a little better and the controls work a little better. You’ll notice I said “playable” and not “enjoyable” and that’s because the controller situation with Payday 2 was a mess for me. I can imagine a Pro Controller might make the game feel more comfortable but as I am without said controller, I was left with less inspiring alternatives. Joycons and first-person shooter mechanics don’t seem to go hand in hand. But I’d at least like it noted, for the record, that Payday 2, when docked, isn’t a complete waste of money.
And that leaves me with the really bad news. Payday 2 in handheld mode is, sadly, a complete waste of money. I think the best way to break down handheld mode is to separate perceptions and realities.
When I fired up Payday 2 in handheld mode, I noticed what I felt was longer loading times, a sluggish, even stuttering, transition between menus and everything looks a little less than stellar. And that’s just getting around menus, equipping your villain of choice and all of the pre-heist stuff you’ll get used to. Once you select your job and get into it, you will be welcomed with a really buggy product. Floating cops. Picking up jewelry that that doesn’t end up going with you. Not being able to throw a bag full of cash even after the game lets you know that, for the ten millionth time, you can throw that bag of cash. Sorry, gents. It genuinely wouldn’t let me. At one point, the game froze as I was trying to get everything loaded up on the truck and after about 30 seconds, I was booted back to the main menu as if the game had reset itself. What happened to my game? My loot? All gone. Get to redo the mission again. It was a brutal introduction to handheld mode. I can’t figure out how someone let something this buggy get to print. While I’m sure they can be ironed out in future updates, this version of the game feels beyond unpolished.
Now lets talk about the reality of the controls. Playing Payday 2 on the Switch will take some getting used to. Your hands are either used to a traditional controller or a point and click situation on PC. Never before have you had to hold your hands ten inches from each other and stare at a small screen to lay down precision fire. Payday 2 is a game where every bullet, every grenade and every bit of nuance matters to achieve the best results. It’s really hard to achieve those results on the Switch screen. Normal mode feels challenging. Aiming feels challenging. The entire experience becomes “not fun” rather quickly and that’s if you can handle how buggy the game is to begin with.
The last thing about the Switch version of Payday 2 that I’ll address isn’t really a fault of the game. This is a first person shooter. You kill police men and armed guards to steal money. I understand all that. I’ve been playing it for years. But I’ve been playing it for years in the comfort of my living room. For all the convenience the Switch provides gamers, Payday 2 is a game that actually makes me wonder how viable handheld mode is for the genre. Would I have felt comfortable playing Payday 2 on my flight to or from San Francisco, shooting cops on a small screen next to my fellow passengers? Probably not. Would I have been able to whip out the game on public transportation and lob grenades into a casino while someone sits next to me? I doubt it. The one aspect of Payday 2 on the Switch that makes it unique, also makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Admittedly, that’s a personal feeling and your mileage may vary on the subject. But for me, it was just another thing added to the growing list of things I couldn’t stand about handheld mode.
In my opinion, the only two reasons to own Payday 2 for the Switch would be if you are an FPS fan and need that fix (which, admittedly, there aren’t a ton of options on your Switch) or if you have never, ever played Payday 2 and are giving it a try for the first time. Barring those two scenarios, it’s really hard to justify the 50-dollar price tag that comes with the game when it drops on Feb. 27.
Soundtrack is still awesome
All your familiar faces are there
Core gameplay remains the same
It’s borderline unplayable in handheld mode
Feels like a stripped-down version
So buggy, you’ll need an exterminator
I really enjoy Payday 2. It’s probably one of the best FPS titles I’ve played in a long time. There’s depth to the game, endless customization options and it can be a lot of fun to pull off unimaginable heists, stare death in the face and laugh. I feel like that needed to be said. Starbreeze Studios and Overkill Software have made a game I’ve thoroughly enjoyed over the years. It’s been a unique and enjoyable experience. And that’s why it pains me to say that the Switch version of Payday 2 is hot garbage. This is a game that needs some serious work (and a few super solid updates) to get to a level that would make it really playable for me. And even then, I struggle to see myself enjoying it on the Switch. With this game on PS3, PS4, XBox 360, XBox One and PC, I’m not sure we needed a Switch version. We got one anyways. Unfortunately, these are not the heists you are looking for.
Send it back to the chef. Inedible.
A digital copy of Payday 2 for the Switch was provided by Starbreeze Studios for review purposes.