Payday 2 for the Nintendo Switch attempts to let you live the life of a professional criminal, complete with your own hideout located within a dry cleaning business, more weapons and gadgets than a James Bond movie, and the thrill of completing various types of heists and missions to appease everyone from the Russian Mafia to even just your earpiece contact, Bain. But does Payday 2 make it a joy to play with these cons, or does it not do much more than just rob your time?
I had just successfully lit a flare to signal a helicopter to come pick up pallets of cash that minutes ago were dumped by my three-man team out of the back of a cargo plane, after shooting our way through waves of enemies through two levels of the plane to reach a console that would open the cargo plane’s back door. After letting the pallets of cash fly out of the plane and make their way to the ground, my eye in the sky, Bain, let me know that there were some parachutes left in the hangar and to take one and go follow the cash pallets. After dropping in on a roof and gunning down a few cops to ensure my safety for a few moments I had lit the aforementioned flare and was told that my team would have to protect the pallets and hold out until a helicopter could arrive to take the money away. On paper, this sounds like a dream video game scenario, living out a wild fantasy that would not only land you in jail, if you didn’t die during the escapade but also just not be realistically possible. It’s something that feels reserved for an adrenaline-filled action film, but in reality, Payday 2 for the Nintendo Switch just kept falling short of what it was trying to accomplish.
When my team made their surprise appearance aboard the cargo plane, the waves of enemies seemed to come out of nowhere and pretty much all looked the same. They also didn’t care much to fight my two AI partners, both of which seemed to be leashed to me at all times unless I ordered them to stay in a specific spot. Parachuting down to the ground was nothing more than a seemingly controlled loading screen of foggy blues and whites mimicking the sky and its clouds, until the extremely small middle of nowhere intersection, where I was tasked to tag and defend the pallets of cash, came into view. The most boring part, which I had experienced way too often in Payday 2, was the waiting game of holding down R while my character was “completing an action”. The issue was that it could have lasted two or closer to thirty seconds of my character just staring at an object doing nothing while watching a circle fill up, not knowing if my clingy AI characters would know to clear areas around us and check for SWAT teams coming. Something, like hacking into a computer, picking a lock, or even drilling into a vault, could have been more intuitive than just watching a circle fill up on the screen.
Payday 2 originally came out almost five years ago in August of 2013. Since then, its made it’s way to most of the home consoles and has built a strong community that takes advantage of its strong Co-op elements and an impressively deep array of weapons and items. Payday is at its best when showing off the RPG like skill trees where you can invest points into your character that can let them have a stronger sentry gun, to allowing yourself and partners a damage reduction when reviving a downed partner. Payday 2 also lets you choose from a pretty large roster of different characters to suit up as, including John Wick, which was a fun touch. The game allows you to unlock different masks too, a staple in robberies throughout pop culture and goes too far as to let you customize the mask’s colors and patterns. I personally enjoyed Joy’s LED mask, who is a Switch timed exclusive character. If Payday 2 was a boots off the ground heist sim where it stopped after letting you build your characters, load outs, and planning the crime sprees, it would be a wildly impressive video game. Instead, it is the boots on the ground, repetitive, sloppy gameplay that quickly pulls the quality of the game down.
The game forgoes a proper single player campaign for an ever-changing series of missions presented to you on a fake website, Crime.net, where you’re able to choose any number of different missions from your basic bank robbery, to even a shootout at a mall just to intimidate the owners into paying for protection from a mob boss. Payday 2 is a game that is made for cooperative play and while the single player isn’t a total disaster, it does feel like more of a chore to get through a lot of the time rather than an adrenaline filled day of crime.
While not Payday 2’s fault, the game does not support online voice chat, due to Nintendo’s support for that feature being relegated to a phone app that currently only supports party chat for Splatoon 2, that is crucial to planning and maintaining a solid heist with a team of three other people playing from their Switches. Payday 2’s developer, Starbreeze Studios, added a new feature, Crime.net Local, to allow players to join a game while under the same network and get around having to talk through a chat app. I was not able to test this feature since I was reviewing this game before its release, but I would imagine that playing locally with a couple of friends in the same room would have been a lot of fun, even when playing a game that at times can be frustratingly slow. The Crime.net multiplayer that I did play through was met with a slightly better experience considering I had real people playing my partners in crime but ended up being a confusing mess when certain objectives would be a mishmash of players all trying to do the same thing because we couldn’t properly communicate. The Nintendo Switch version of Payday 2 also touts HD rumble for when you do specific things like fire a weapon and throwing grenades. While I did play the game about 50/50 between portable and docked mode, I never really felt that feature come through in an impressive way that some other Switch games have beautifully taken advantage of. The graphics felt like a tightrope walk of the game originally coming out five years ago and the Switch not being a graphical powerhouse, to begin with, but also a push by Starbreeze to do the best they could with the game. The game’s graphics will never wow you, but they get the job done and I rarely noticed pop-ins and clipping.
Even though a lot of moments that bored or frustrated me while playing Payday 2, I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent with it. It’s messy but is deep enough in the systems and customization options that are put in place that I liked going back to redo my load out when I failed a mission. Some missions, like having to kill a rat who’s in a safe room somewhere at an estate full of armed guards, was well thought out and had me feeling like I could stealthily take the target down but still get my hands dirty if I needed to. It would be a shame to not compliment the music selection that you can change up yourself, but also seemed to know when to play what at the perfect time. Even a full-on mall shootout that could have been marked down as a boring time instantly became more fun as some EDM started blaring through my TV’s speakers and I felt like the gunfight had some excitement behind it. Payday 2 is a game that just seems to miss its mark on what would make the game work great, especially on a console people use portably so much, but somehow when I’m not wanting to play a side scroller or Mario game, I’ll keep going back to play, much like sometimes a bad action movie sounds like the perfect way to spend some time.