Payday 2 has been around since 2013, when it was first released on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Its concept and appeal has always been very straightforward: a four player co-op game of cops ‘n’ robbers. The game has always enjoyed a small but loyal audience, and has been quietly accumulating new content over the course of the last five years. This Switch version is currently nine months behind the PC and yet still includes 50 different heist missions and 150 weapons. What it can’t boast though is any reason to spend £40 on such a poorly optimised and frustrating port.
Payday 2 is one of those games that always sounds better in theory than in practice, but while the central part of each mission is a disappointingly generic first person shooter some effort has gone into making the beginning and end seem more distinct. Each heist can take part across multiple days, with the build-up and planning being just as important as executing the final theft. As such, you can case the location of each job beforehand, cutting through wire fences, unlocking doors, and making sure you can get in an out as easily and quickly as possible. Some of the longer jobs involve not only robbery but fencing the stolen goods afterwards. This in turn allows for even more scenarios to be borrowed from Heat, as you’re double-crossed and then have to organise a payback to get your money. There are multiple character classes to play as, each with their own skill trees, and as you’d imagine each can be levelled up and customised as you earn money and experience. After a successful mission you then have the opportunity to spend your ill-gotten gains on everything from building blueprints to computer-controlled sniper support. The problem is that although the details of what you’re doing change – from robbing a nightclub to a good old-fashioned bank job – the mechanics don’t. An awful lot of the game simply boils down to defending your position from an infinite wave of police as a timer slowly counts down. When it’s done you make your way to your escape route and the chance to do it all again in different surroundings.
The repetition is a real problem given the unremarkable, and frustratingly imprecise, gunplay, and the fact that the moment-to-moment gameplay is nowhere near as unique as the game likes to think. Although gunfights with unfeasibly large numbers of policemen are commonplace the game encourages you to be as professional as possible, and you’re docked money for killing civilians. But given how few of them there are this rarely makes much of a difference. And all this is before you even consider the quality of the visuals, which look barely Xbox 360 in quality. The ugly, jagged graphics are made even worse by an inconsistent frame rate and a distinct lack of feedback. Bethesda’s port of Doom amazed everyone by how well it worked on the Switch, but this is the opposite: a lazy, half-broken hack job that makes no effort to take advantage of the Switch’s features or tailor the controls and display for handheld mode.
In the game’s defence, the artificial intelligence was always rubbish and you still find police just standing around doing nothing, as if they’re even less interested in proceedings than you are. And you can forget about trying to play the game on your own, as your computer-controlled allies are complete incompetents who constantly give themselves away or simply refuse to complete objectives. If you’re playing with three other human players there’s theoretically some fun to have, although the Switch’s attitude to voice chat makes things all but impossible to coordinate properly. Better still just save your money, as there are vastly better co-op experiences on the Switch and at least one other first person shooter that knows how to make proper use of the console.