Payday 2: Switch review

First released for PC and last-gen consoles back in 2013 (then again for PS4 and Xbone in 2015), Payday 2 is not a new game. Impressive, then, that people are still playing and talking about it in the space year 2018. Now available on the Switch too, it’s time to take another look at what all the fuss is about.

We all like playing the bad guy, and that’s what this game is all about. As one of a team of four, you’ll commit crimes that range from smash and grab robberies to complex, multi-day heists that involve careful planning and breaking through watertight security. Members of law enforcement are always your enemy, to be either avoided or killed without a second thought. You’ll intimidate civilians, take hostages, and break into vaults.

A large part of the reason Payday 2 has thrived for approaching five years is the support it’s enjoyed from the developers. In this respect, however, things are a little complicated. The last-gen versions have (predictably) remained bereft of updates since the more modern versions were released, and the more powerful console versions are a little behind the PC one in terms of updates. This newest, Switch version is… even more complicated. It includes some new content, and a lot of the DLC released over the last few years, but not quite all of it. In general update terms, at time of writing it lags roughly a year behind PS4 and Xbone. Nonetheless, it’s absolutely crammed full of content.

If you weren’t scared of clowns before, you probably are now.

What’s most important when comparing versions – and even when the Switch edition is your only option – is how it runs on Nintendo’s latest console. While the graphics aren’t going to blow you away, the game runs excellently both on and off the TV. Just as well, as an exclusive Switch feature is the ability to play locally with three friends who also have a Switch and a copy of the game; although, sadly, this isn’t something we’ve been able to test.

No matter which machine you’re playing Payday 2 on, it’s important to stress that this is a game that should absolutely be played with other people. Playing exclusively offline is an option, but one we’d strongly advise against. If you’re unwilling or unable to play online, give this a miss. Friendly AI is terrible, the main issue being that it absolutely refuses to interact with objects and, therefore, help with mission objectives. For this reason, the hardest heists are nigh-on impossible solo.

Enemy AI is also atrocious, its ability to detect your presence from mere feet away often non-existent (though frustratingly, snipers have superhuman senses). Amazingly, this doesn’t detract from the experience in the slightest when playing with others. The game compensates for trash AI with overwhelming numbers, often infinitely spawning SWAT teams, once/if triggered, until the mission is over. This is just one of the ways in which the game makes it crystal clear that teamwork is essential to success.

Tie up civilians to make sure they don’t run off to raise the alarm. Killing them incurs severe penalities.

You need to watch each other’s backs throughout each mission. Your final cash bonus will increase slightly for each member that escapes but also, needless to say, the heist instantly becomes more difficult if you lose a member temporarily (held in custody for minutes until release is automatically negotiated). Painfully slow drills will need to be defended and restarted, equipment will need to be constructed (each member can only carry one piece at a time), and you can only carry one bag of loot at once. If a heister falls, another member of the team will need to revive them before they’re taken into custody. Deciding what equipment to take, all of only limited use, is also important. Expecting a big fight? Maybe take ammo bags, or a sentry turret. Expecting cameras? Maybe worth taking a jammer.

You’ll find yourself playing the same few handfuls of heists over and over until you’ve levelled up enough to take on the more challenging – and rewarding – ones. Things never get repetitive though, especially if you tend to play with different people each time, which throws an extra element of unpredictability into the mix. Stealth is sometimes an option, and on rare occasions it’s even possible to get in and out completely undetected. If that’s what you’re going for, though, it’s only going to take one suspicious civilian to call the cops before you catch them to completely change the situation. Maybe one of your team decides to ‘go loud’ on their own and, rolling your eyes, you don your mask and try to make the best of a bad situation. The location of your objective can change and, when escape is finally an option, you sometimes then need to decide whether to get out while the getting’s good… or if you’re confident enough as a team to keep going backwards and forwards for extra loot without failing the mission in the final moments.

It’s very much a game where you make your own stories every day. We fondly remember defending a pallet of money from all angles, rushing down to the sewers for escape, taking out shielded SWAT with a grenade only to be taken down by a hidden gunner, being helped up by a teammate, burning through gates on the way to the escape vehicle, taking out yet more SWAT, and then finally taking our team through the sewers and out into the open on a boat before running to the escape point under fire.

Although it can be frustrating waiting to earn and unlock the weapons, attachments, equipment, and perks that will make you a more valuable member of the team, it’s worth persevering. So long as you stick with human players (of which there are plenty on Switch), at its best moments, this is a thrilling life of crime where everybody plays an important part.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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