Ready Your Mask
I love a good heist flick — The Town, Heat, and Inception are some of my favorite movies, and each of them go through the meticulous planning, team dynamics, and execution of the heist to masterful results. PAYDAY 2 is Starbreeze Studios’ take on the heist genre in the video game medium, and it has become one of the most-played Steam games since its initial release in 2013. With the developers slow to support console versions of PAYDAY 2 in the past, is the Nintendo Switch version a cynical cash grab in a booming install-base or a worthwhile port?
In PAYDAY 2, players take control of a “heister” starting from the pre-planning phase, the infiltration, the score, and the escape. Each mission in PAYDAY 2 follows that general flow, and there’s a lot more than just robbing banks available; players can rob jewelry stores, rob large banks, rough up a mall that a competitor owns, rig elections, and more. These different types of missions, of which there are over 50 total, are given by handlers that have their own persona, including one played by Giancarlo Esposito (Gustavo Fring from Breaking Bad).
Missions have linear objectives that appear one after the other; for a bank robbery, players might have to get into the bank, drill into the vault, bag the cash, and then make their escape. The objective is clear, and PAYDAY 2 usually doesn’t place a waypoint on the screen unless it’s for an escape route. While I generally dislike waypoints, this can get annoying for missions that randomize the location of important rooms or NPCs. One mission required a stealthy infiltration of a car dealership and a break-in of the storage room, which was randomized, and then a hack of a computer, which was also randomized. The game classifies that as one of the harder missions in the game, but there is a fine line between challenge and annoyance.
I like to use stealth if a mission allows it, but not all of them do. Many are filled with frantic shoot-outs as police and SWAT teams flood in toward the player. Luckily, up to three AI companions will join the heisting and offer the enemies something else to shoot at. The enemy waves grow more powerful as the mission progresses, and if all players are killed or captured at the same time then the mission is failed. Unfortunately, none of the mission objectives — activating the drill, bagging cash, using keycards, hacking computers, and so on — can be activated by the AI heisters.
One area in PAYDAY 2 I wish was more fleshed out is the interactivity of the game world. Stealth missions are often open-ended with multiple approaches, like lock-picking windows to get into a building, hacking gates to get around, taking hostages to avoid police being called in, and so on. These are the best missions because they force players to strategize each step of the way, and if spotted or if a guard’s walkie-talkie isn’t answered then the police are called and the mission turns into a shoot-out. When that happens, PAYDAY 2 becomes a decent first-person horde-fighting game. Players will be holed up in a room gunning down enemies as they wait for the drill or a hack to finish. Taking hostages doesn’t really have much of an impact at this point, either. There’s no way to threaten hostages to keep a wave of police officers at bay, for instance.
Thankfully, the first-person gunplay in PAYDAY 2 is smooth and aiming is nice and responsive regardless of the controller used (note: there is no gyro aiming option available). PAYDAY 2 on Nintendo Switch runs at a flawless 30 frames per second both docked and in handheld mode, regardless of the number of enemies on-screen — and there will often be tons of enemies. Granted, the visuals overall definitely show their age from time to time; this is a five-year-old game, after all. Overall, though, this is a damn good port performance-wise and the developer’s efforts should be commended, especially when smaller games like RiME and Fe have issues with their framerates. I also didn’t encounter any bugs in over ten hours of gameplay, although that may vary from player to player. HD rumble works incredibly well — there are subtle differences between the rumble in your hands for reloading a weapon, coming down from a jump, and so on. It’s one of the best uses of HD rumble on the console.
PAYDAY 2 offers a pretty good skill progression system and a whole bunch of playable characters, guns, and masks. Skill points are awarded as players level up after successful missions, and they can be spent in a variety of ways to bolster different play styles. I tended to go for skills that increased my stealth ability, even unlocking a skill that gave me extra body bags to hide deceased enemies in and a skill that made my hostage taking more effective.
There are over 150 weapons in PAYDAY 2, and the game offers players loads of customization options. I don’t know much about guns, nor do I care, so I just equipped the stuff that made the weapon more accurate, powerful, and stable. Playable characters include collaborations with John Wick and Hotline Miami. One of these characters includes Joy, who wears an LED mask and is a timed-exclusive to the Nintendo Switch version. I didn’t see much point in the characters or masks since the game is in first person — I can’t remember the character I play as, but I do wear a pretty creepy chicken mask.
It should be noted that the Nintendo Switch version doesn’t contain all the content that the PC version does, as the Switch is at version 147 (“Most Wanted”) and the PC is at version 172 at the time of writing. This means that a couple DLC packs are missing from this version of PAYDAY 2, notably the John Wick heists and H3H3 DLC; however, much of the DLC is still in the game, including the Hotline Miami heists, characters, and masks (and John Wick is still a playable character). This might be a turnoff for some, but there’s still a tremendous amount of content and Switch-exclusive features for $50 USD.
Bring a Friend
PAYDAY 2 is meant to be played co-operatively online; there’s no going back to offline missions after playing a couple games online. Up to four players can take on all of the game’s missions online together, with AI heisters taking any unfilled spots. Players can join missions that are already in-progress, too, so it’s easy to hope into an online game. There’s also an option to filter game lobbies to show friends only.
Alternatively, players can set up their own lobby and either wait for players to join or start the mission with AI heisters until other players join. While in the lobby, players are able to send a game invite to anyone on their friends list that’s also playing PAYDAY 2, and everyone in the lobby — friend or not — will stay in the game after each mission unless they choose to leave. It’s far more intuitive and faster than Splatoon 2, ARMS, or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe; however, Rocket League still holds the crown for the best online experience on Nintendo Switch.
That’s partly because there’s no way to communicate with teammates in this version of PAYDAY 2, regardless of whether or not they’re a friend (Rocket League has text-chat and auto-chat options, at least). That’s mostly Nintendo’s fault for shipping a console that lacks a voice chat option, but I suppose the developers could have at least mapped simple auto-chat commands to the d-pad, which isn’t used for a whole lot anyway. It’s not a game-breaker for the most part; in my experience, all my teammates knew what to do because the objectives were pretty clear. There were a couple instances where everyone got lost in a huge bank for a bit before finding out where to go next. Stealth missions are hit or miss online, though. I’ve had many teammates that go stealth when the option is available, but in one game my teammate just ran forward and shot down a glass window instead of sneaking around with me.
The Nintendo Switch version of PAYDAY 2 also includes a local-multiplayer mode where players with their own Switch and a copy of the game can heist together. This feature brings back memories of Metroid Prime: Hunters Demo LAN parties on DS back in the day. I’d like to see more games on Switch with this type of feature.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for PAYDAY 2 was provided by Starbreeze Studios for this PAYDAY 2 Switch review.