Since its launch on PC and last-generation consoles in 2013, Payday 2 has proven to be one of the more popular co-op shooters around. Considering that, it’s perhaps unsurprising to see it make its way to Nintendo’s hugely popular new platform. But given the game’s largely online nature, it also raises questions about how well this version retains Payday 2’s established charms. The answer is simple: not well. Yes, it’s still Payday 2–full of all the sass, swearing, and swelling dubstep you remember–but almost every aspect is outdated or diminished in some way.
Payday 2 is a first-person shooter about pulling off big heists, then using the money from those jobs to buy weapons and equipment to better tackle the harder heists that lay ahead. Heists can range from a simple smash-and-grab at a local jewelry store to an elaborate, three-day plan set across numerous locations to bring down a drug and weapons cartel.
Using the aptly named Crime.net–the in-game database where mission contracts are offered–you sign up to each mission, set your loadout, and plan your approach. Some missions also offer the illusion of stealth, but stealth in Payday 2 rarely lasts for long. Every mission largely descends into a violent shootout at some point, but thankfully the variety in core mission structure is such that this isn’t a problem. It’s one of the game’s ultimate strengths, and that, at least, hasn’t changed in this edition.
Team up with other capable players and you’ll see why people are still playing Payday 2 despite its age: it can be very fun, if chaotic. Playing with a full room of up to three other players speeds up the game immensely, giving the heists a sense of urgency that’s missing when you’re forced to play solo. Although it’s hindered by the Switch’s frustrating lack of voice chat, your teammates’ status is conveyed in the UI, so it doesn’t take much to see whether they’re in trouble or not.
Every heist is built with teamwork in mind, so if you’re playing on the go or without an internet connection to link up with other players, you’ll be stuck completing many of the more elaborate and laborious tasks with AI cohorts, which rarely goes well.
While not outright obstacles, the AI can be utterly useless. These accomplices never engage in mission tasks. They won’t help you pick up loot or unlock doors, nor will they help you restart the drill you’re breaking into the vault with when it inevitably fails. They take a couple of seconds to react to enemy fire, and also never place down any support equipment. Occasionally, they’ll even fail to revive you, instead standing over you until the counter hits zero and you’re put into custody, effectively a respawn counter. And unless you’ve taken a hostage that can be used to negotiate your release, you’ll fail the mission and get nothing. It can be downright disheartening at the best of times. The worst part about this is some of these exact problems have been fixed via patches for other versions of the game.
Exclusive to this version is Joy–a new character sporting unique gear and weapons–but in all other respects this version of Payday 2 is outdated. It’s missing some weapons, heists, masks, and numerous patches that helped improve other versions of the game. It does have a handful of never-before-seen heists, but existing players hoping to enjoy the fruits of past updates on a new platform will be disappointed when they see what’s missing.
Visually, Payday 2 is a bit of a rollercoaster on Switch. In handheld mode, it runs at 720p, at 30 FPS. On one hand, the game looks pretty good given the handheld hardware at play, but it’s also nowhere near the standard seen on even now-outdated consoles. It’s generally quite dark, and it can be tough to see where you’re going in some of the nighttime missions. Lining up long-range shots is also tough on the smaller screen, and when out in some of the larger, more open environments, the frame rate can take some serious dips. But it’s a much better experience overall when compared to playing in docked mode, which, at 1080p on a big screen, emphasizes the game’s grungier textures. Everything from environments and characters to weapons–even the menus–looks woefully dated and suffers from greater slowdown than when played undocked.
Visuals aren’t the only important factor when deciding whether to play handheld or in docked mode, though. Ignoring performance, the game easily feels best when played with the Pro controller. Playing with Joy-Cons can be a little awkward, with the small and cumbersome analog sticks making it difficult to line up some of your shots. Part of this is alleviated by automatic reticle snapping when aiming down sights, at least.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter which way you decide to play; you’re having to compromise somehow, which is the story of Payday 2 on the Switch. It is an entirely functional video game that (in most respects) looks, feels and plays like Payday 2, and given the right circumstances, can also be a bit of fun. But given how readily available it is on other platforms and the concessions made with this version, it doesn’t highlight Payday 2’s unique brand of shooting and looting the way other platforms have for years.