If there’s one thing the last year has taught us, it’s that anything and everything is fair game for getting a fresh release on Nintendo Switch. Developers have flooded the system with their wares, both new, old and ancient. Payday 2 is probably somewhere between old and ancient, having first released in the summer of 2013 for PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, getting the Crimewave Edition release for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in 2015, and then being announced for Switch a couple months after the hybrid console’s release.
With its roots in the last generation in mind, it’s no surprise that the Switch is able to take the game in its stride. The game’s graphics can scale down to where Overkill feel it runs best on the system, and it was never really a technical showcase to begin with, but this has led to a strong port that runs well in both handheld and docked mode. Targeting 1080p on TV and 720p when handheld with a solid 30fps, the graphics have been dropped far enough that it feels like you’re playing the last generation version at times. Resolution aside, it’s actually a touch behind the PS3 version in some ways, but then you have a much more up to date game in terms of content.
There’s a compulsive side to Payday’s grind, with most contracts letting you try and tackle it in a few different ways. You can generally crash through right from the off, going in guns blazing, but there’s usually the option to tackle a heist stealthily and avoid guards in a night time heist, or spring a surprise and subdue a location to avoid having the police be alerted while you pull our a saw and get to cutting open a bank’s deposit boxes. Ramp up the difficulty and enemies will be tougher, more dangerous variants will appear, and you’ll be pushed even harder to stave off each attack. Not only that, but there’s reams and reams of secret tucked away in some of the heists, with especially large payouts for performing certain very specific tasks. To be honest, you’re best off just looking up a guide for these kinds of things.
Sadly, not all heists are created equal. There’s a great feel to some of the 50-odd heists in the game, whether it’s a straight up bank job or something more inventive like raiding a derailed train while the cops swarm your location, but then there are others that feel like Overkill weren’t even trying. A prime example of this had us defending a mechanic from both a biker gang and cops so that he can repair a bike and we make a short getaway. You run back and forth collecting parts while he stands out in the open next to the bike, and then the act of riding the bike features some downright awful vehicle handling that’s so clumsy it’s funny.
You can also constantly see the seams to the game design. Swarms of cops spawn out of thin air sometimes, even appearing in a corner of the room you weren’t currently looking at, and they’re almost dumber than the zombies in Payday’s loose contemporary Left 4 Dead, all too happy to stand in a corner and stare at a wall for a bit. Playing solo or with less than four players is hampered by the dumb friendly AI, who will do nothing but follow you around and shoot. When you’ve got a dozen bags of loot to shift over to your getaway van, it’s a shame you couldn’t order them to help out even a little bit. On the other hand, they’re much more diligent at coming to revive you than some of the people you’ll find online.
Levelling up and advancing your character is very fast. The first few heists you pull push your level up at a ridiculous rate and unlocking reams and reams of weapons and gear for you. Each level awards you points to spend in one of the five ability trees, and this is where you can really customise your character for one particular style of play or another. Want to be a team player? Specialise so that your health or ammo bags are more effective and more numerous. Want to be a sneaky git? Emphasise your hacking skills and reduce how fast guards will be alerted to your presence. Want to lock down a location? It’ll be turrets, body bags and zip-ties for hostages you want more of. You unlock extra profiles that you can fill up with skill points, and you can easily reset and spend your points all over again
There’s also perk decks that buff your character and boost particular styles of play even further. They’re more generic, having been added to the game years after launch, but funnelling points earned from each job into filling up Engineer, for example, can only improve your ability to keep drills running as you try to break through the many locked doors that you’ll find.
Since you earn shedloads of cash from successful missions, you can quite easily afford to buy whatever guns and gear you want, with an eye to customising your loadout to complement other players and the mission ahead. What will hold you back is the need to get a part to drop from the cards at the end of a heist, which can include masks, paints, weapon attachments and just bundles of cash and experience. It’s entirely random whether you’ll get the holo scope you want or the particular silencer that tweaks the perks of your pistol just so.
If there’s one potential criticism for the future, it’s that this version of the game is significantly behind where the game is on PC and other consoles. While there’s a wealth of heists, guns and masks, some of the more recent ones are currently missing – the exact PC version number is in dispute, but it’s at least one major update behind – and the Overkill’s track record isn’t exactly great when it comes to supporting the console versions of their game. However, there are signs that this is changing. While the PC version’s fast iteration is naturally at the forefront, the PS4 and Xbox One versions were updated this past week and the studio have said that updates for Switch will be coming too. Out of necessity they focussed on an older fixed point to start with.
What I will gladly praise Overkill for is how they’ve tweaked the game to suit the Switch. In addition to timed exclusive Japanese hacker-heister Joy – presumably named after the Joy-Con? – there’s HD Rumble, which has the cute little quirk of having distinct left and right footfall when jumping, and there’s even touchscreen support in menus! When so many developers including Nintendo themselves overlook this, it’s nice to be able to tap your way through the beefy player customisation screens. More developers should take advantage of this.
They’ve also worked to adapt the co-op multiplayer to suit the system. You have online play with the same old map that populates based on open lobbies and heists of varying difficulties, as well as the ability to buy specific contracts and set their difficulty. Exclusive to the Switch is an ad hoc local network mode, though we didn’t get to test this. That majority of our online games online were problem free, but one game in particular was plagued with lag and bizarre bugs that frustrated, though we’d excuse these as being an odd connectivity issue between peers.
Payday 2 is definitely getting long in the tooth, but the game’s appearance on Nintendo Switch is a good, solid port of the game. All of the same quirks and quibbles remain the same, there’s the lingering question from how the game has been supported in the past, and there’s the simple fact that we’ve seen all of this in higher fidelity elsewhere, but if you’ve got a burning desire for some co-op heisting fun on Switch, then this will scratch your itch to live outside the law.