Payday 2 Nintendo Switch Review

Developer: OVERKILL SOFTWARE – A Starbreeze Studio

Publisher: Starbreeze AB

Release Date: February 23rd, 2018 (UK)
February 27th, 2018 (US)

Price as of Article: $49.99 USD, £44.99 GBP

Rated M

Introduction

Payday 2 Headline Image

Much like Jordan and I once did with our review of The Longest 5 Minutes, Juan and I are both providing separate opinions of Payday 2.  I am writing Switchwatch’s full review, and Juan will be making a second-opinion piece for Youtube.  We have been both provided a copy of this game by Starbreeze so that we may provide as accurate of a review as possible for this a game best played with friends.  Juan’s video isn’t quite ready yet, but I will include it with this as soon as it is.  Now, let’s get into our Payday 2 review!

Question of the Day
When you play online games with strangers in Xbox, Playstation or PC, do you use voice chat, or do you turn it off?  We are curious just how much the Switch’s lack of such a feature would actually impact your experience with this game compared to how you would play it on other platforms with native voice chat.  Let us know in the comments below!

Story

There is not much to say on this aspect of the game.  You are a thief who has gone underground for some time, but you are now back in the game.  There isn’t much else to the story, though.  The rest of the game is mostly just you going on heists while talking back and forth with your intelligence accomplice.

Audio

Repetitive Tracks
When you start a mission and are still undiscovered, there will be a low key beat playing in the background.  There are several possible songs to be played, but each one is generally repetitive with the same few notes playing over and over again with little variation.   I felt like this music just got old really fast because you will be listening to it for as long as 20 minutes on a single sneak heist if you are skilled enough to play the whole stage without being spotted.  I would have rather have seen fewer songs with more personality to each one.

 

Payday 2 Music Select Screen

You can select specific songs to play on each stage.

A Whole Lot of Dubstep
The heist music which plays after you are discovered and engage with enemies suffers from the same issue.  There are a total of 55 audio tracks to choose from for this.  Most of these songs are in the dubstep style with a fast beat.  These somehow suit the atmosphere of the game but are not really to my tastes.  There are a few songs that have more of a rock and roll beat such as Something Comes This Way, and I enjoyed the song Clowns Are Scary.  Fortunately, you can turn off any songs you don’t like for a custom playlist, but it can take a while to go through all of them.  You can even set specific songs to play during specific heists if you feel like it is particularly suited to it.  There are a lot of customization options here, so if you like that sort of thing, then go to town with it!

In summary of the music, while I didn’t personally like it, I know there is an audience for it.  My only wish is that there had been fewer songs with more variety between each one.

 

Payday 2 Mask Select screen

Each mask is essentially a different character.

Decent Voice Acting with Multiple Languages
The voice acting is decent, and each character has multiple audio tracks for each situation which helps prevent it from getting old when you go through the same failed mission multiple times.  While you don’t get to see their faces much since your teammates will be wearing masks at most times during heists, each mask represents a different character complete with a voice and language change depending on your mask.  All of them also come complete with a profile to give some background on the individual.  The mask I have gravitated towards is one belonging to a 52-year-old Japanese man named Jiro. There are many different kinds of masks and characters both male and female, so just pick the one which suits your tastes the most!

Visuals and Performance
Payday 2 Santa's Workshop

Payday 2 has a wide variety of stages, and some of them are goofy.

Bright Color Pallet Just Feels Right
Payday 2 adheres to a realistic visual style with bright, saturated and animated colors.  The fusion of these two styles works quite well for this game partly thanks to the brightly colored clown masks that most of the characters wear.  The character models, animations and environments don’t look nearly as refined as something you would see today, but the bright color pallet somehow helps make it feel a little a little more timeless than if they had gone full realism.  It feels somewhat light and whimsical despite the serious nature of the goals within the game.

 

A Great Port Job
When I started Payday 2, I was expecting some technical issues such as low resolution and frequent frame drops.  I play my Switch almost exclusively in handheld mode, and that is an issue I frequently have to deal with in 3rd party ports.  I was very pleased to see that this was a really strong port!  The Youtube channel GameXplain did a great comparison video between the PS4, Switch and Xbox 360 versions and holds up well to PS4 version.  This may be a port of an old 2013 game, but it does appear to be based on the PS4 version as opposed to the original.

Switch Features and Lack Thereof
Starbreeze did a great job of incorporating two key features of the the Switch: accessible local LAN co-op and touchscreen menu support in handheld mode.  Payday 2 is the kind of game which is perfectly suited to being played alongside your friends.  The portable nature of the Switch makes it perfect for getting together with friends, and it is greatly appreciated to see that Starbreeze has gone to the effort of incorporating it into the Switch port.

Payday 2 has many menus to navigate with a ton of equipment and skills to choose from.  Being able to simply touch the screen to navigate the menus feels great and lets you bypass a lot of pointless scrolling.  This feature has been implemented well, is responsive and isn’t in any way overbearing to the experience.

A key feature of the Switch which we are seeing more and more in shooters and games with shooting features is gyro aiming.  What can I say?  Splatoon has spoiled us.  Now, we have seeing the feature in several games including Breath of the Wild, Resident Evil Revelations 1&2, L.A. Noire, Skyrim, DOOM and, of course, Splatoon 2.  While it isn’t a necessary feature, I know many gamers on the Switch would have greatly appreciated it, and it just feels like a missing feature.

There is one other key feature missing in this game, and it is one which is not the fault of the developers: online voice chat.  In a game that is so heavily reliant upon communication between all players, it was a feature sorely missed here.  When you are playing online with random people, it just feels like you are playing with smart AI who will more often than not troll you on sneak missions.  On one of the last missions I tried playing with random people online, we had to sneak through the back of a bank to gain access to the vault.  I was carefully picking the lock when my “teammate” decided it would be a good idea to throw a stick of dynamite at the door.  Needless to say, that got everyone’s attention!

The only silver lining about this is Starbreeze is working with Nintendo to get Payday 2 approved for Nintendo’s online voice chat app.  Jennifer wrote an excellent article about this topic which you can find here.  Hopefully it will not be long before players can begin chatting with other players on this title through a Nintendo-provided solution without needing to utilize apps like Skype just while playing with people they personally know.

Gameplay

Somehow, the gameplay ended up feeling like the weakest element of Payday 2.  One would expect that a game all about setting up elaborate heists would be completely golden, but I can’t mince my words here without doing my readers a disservice: it is boring.  The AI is terrible, and there are some very questionable design decisions which make the heists feel unnecessarily drawn out.

 

Payday 2 Hacking

Five Minutes is just too long to have to wait.

Unbearable Waiting Times To Hack, Pick Locks Or Drill Doors
You will frequently encounter situations during a heist where you need to hack computers or get through locked doors.  When you start the process of hacking or using a drill on a door, a timer will come up indicating how long it takes to get through it.  While this is going on, you need to defend the area from seemingly endless hordes of enemies.  Occasionally, the hacking process will encounter an error, or the drill will get jammed, so one person will need to remain behind to babysit it.  The problem here is that it takes on average between 3-5 minutes of waiting, and that is only when people are prompt on stopping the jams!

This is an incredibly boring process even for the people not babysitting it.  All you are doing during this time is running in circles killing off AI that just mindlessly rush in to you.  There are multiple difficulties to make the enemies harder to kill, but that doesn’t make the experience all that much more compelling.  It takes far too long to breach these doors and computers, and it really hurts the experience.  If anything, all of these processes shouldn’t take any longer than two minutes.  Anything more than that, and it just wears out its welcome.

There are some skills you can get through leveling which can slightly reduce the time needed to get through these obstacles.  The best one is an ability which reduces the lock picking time by 100% which is greatly appreciated.  Other than that, the only other ability of this sort which I found on the skill tree is one which reduces the drilling time by a measly 15%.  Needless to say, that is not nearly enough.  You can get one more drill ability that makes it easier to fix it when it jams up, but that just encourages you to be the babysitter.  There is a new character being brought to the Switch named Joy who is touted as being a hacker with hacking skills, but her ability perk only allows her to jam alarms and other electronics for a few seconds.  She can’t actually decrease the amount of time required to perform a hack.

 

Payday 2 art museum heist

You will frequently find enemies just standing around.

CPUs Are Little More Than Meat Bags For Target Practice
If you are playing solo or you don’t have a full team, then you will get some CPU allies.  Literally, all they do is follow you around and shoot.  There is no initiative to be taken here with them.  The real problem here is that means you will have to do all of the hacking, lock picking, door drilling and babysitting all by yourself.  You get to do all of the most boring parts of the job.  Yay!  Seriously, I do not recommend playing the game this way.  The key function of playing with other people is that you can partition those kinds of jobs off and nobody has to just do everything unless they always just happen to be the first one to reach it.

If your CPU allies are useless, the enemies are doubly so.  They are just meat bags who run at you mindlessly waiting to be killed, and if there isn’t anyone near where they spawned, they will just stand around doing nothing.  I can’t tell you how many times I found an enemy just standing around and staring at a wall.  Oh, that beautiful, interesting wall.  There are a ton of enemies at all times, but they aren’t very stimulating, and running in circles for up to five minutes at a time while waiting for the above mentioned processes does not make for a compelling experience.

There are six difficulty levels to the heists, and I only played up to the fourth level.  I was unable to find out how to access the final two difficulty levels, so I can’t speak to the experience in those settings.  At least for the first four difficulties, I wasn’t impressed.

 

Payday 2 Santa's Workshop

When pausing during a heist, you can see all if it’s pertinent information.

Heists
Heists can really be broken down into three types: run-and-gun, stealth and drive.

The run-and-gun stages are simple enough.  You just have to get through, blast through endless waves of baddies and accomplish all of your goals.  Moving on.

Stealth missions usually involve exactly that: stealth.  Your goal is to get through the stages without being spotted. When you kill an enemy, you must be silent and must dispose of the body efficiently.  If you are spotted, one of two things will happen: you will get a set amount of time to finish the stage or fail, or the stage will change to a run-and-gun type where you can just go wild.  The main problem with the former is that when you fail that type of mission just because one person made one mistake, the whole blasted thing is over and you have to restart from the beginning.  I found these stages to be the most interesting conceptually, but they are the most troublesome.  It is far too easy to get caught especially when you have several other people with you, and the sneak missions basically involve only the most boring stuff since you will be waiting around a lot of the time for the infiltration processes I detailed above.

Driving missions usually involve, you guessed it, driving.  When doing these missions, one player takes control of the wheel while the others are on defense.  Your goal in these missions is generally to escape with the goods.

Heists Can Take Multiple “Days”
When you start a heist, you will see that it can have several days over which it will take place.  Essentially, each day takes place at a different location and with different goals to set you up for accomplishing the grand scheme.  If you can make it through all the days, you will be paid off with a very large reward, and if you stop early, then naturally your rewards won’t be nearly as great.

I personally found myself bored of specific heists by the second day.  Each day can take an upwards of 20-30 minutes to complete, and I found myself not wanting to dedicate a few hours just to fully complete one of the longer heists.  There is most certainly a sense of accomplishment if you are willing to dedicate the time to it, and there is an audience for it.  I personally found that I enjoyed the single-day heists the most.  It would have helped if it were possible to stop between days and come back to it later, but I found no way to be able to do so.

Also worth noting is that when you join someone else’s heist online and it is a multiple-day heist, then you can only continue as long as the host is present.  Even if you play through six days of a seven day heist, if the host leaves, then the whole mission is over for everyone.  Provided you at least completed the day you were currently playing, then you will gain experience for the heist but no money.  If the host leave in the middle of a day, then you just gain nothing at all, and it was just completely wasted time.  If you are serious about wanting to complete a long heist online with random players, then it is best that you host the heist yourself.  Just be prepared to have many players come and go because most people don’t seem to even stick it out through a single day much less the heists that last multiple days.

 

Payday 2 Skill Tree

Through the skill trees, you can customize your characters in a variety of ways.

Leveling Up and Skills
After you complete a heist, you will gain experience and money based on the difficulty of said heist.  Leveling up allows you to purchase more weapons, armor perks and skills.  When you level up, you will gain skill points which you can invest in the one of several branches of a skill tree.  Some of the categories to invest your skill points into are Medic, Tank, Shinobi and Gunslinger.  Within each one of these categories, there are a total of six skills to acquire.  How you use those skills is up to you, and if you ever feel like you made a wrong choice or want to try something else, then you can always take the point back and reinvest it elsewhere.  Unfortunately, as mentioned before, few of this skills actually address the game’s biggest problem which is how long it takes to perform tasks during heists.

Many Weapons to Choose From
Something else which I was pleasantly surprised to find was that there are dozens of weapons you can purchase with multiple variations of shotguns, sniper rifles, machine guns and assault rifles among others.  With so many guns to choose from, you won’t have to use the same gun twice among any one of your 15 profiles unless of course there is one you particularly love.

 

Payday 2 Mission Select Screen

A Passable Online Experience
This is a game which you need to play with other people.  The single-player experience is frankly unenjoyable, and I cannot recommend it.  Playing online with strangers in the Switch version is at the very least passable.  You just go into the online hub map to choose a heist.  You will see icons indicating its difficulty level along.  If it has a name above it, then you will know that a host has already lain claim to it.  A small box will appear to the left of the heist name indicating how many players currently occupy it.  Sometimes these will be heists already in progress in which the host has elected to allow players to join while the heist is in progress.  If you are lucky, you might even join when the heist is already almost concluded and can reap the rewards without doing much.  It isn’t very satisfactory doing so, but hey, money is money!

 

When playing online, you get to deal with a lot of different quirks such as spending 20 minutes opening a hundred lock boxes!

Problems When Playing Online
While playing online with strangers is 100% better than playing alone just with the AI, there is still a lot left to be desired.  The first and foremost missing feature is one I have already mentioned, and that would be voice communication.  The lack of this feature creates a void which cannot be understated.  Being able to communicate in this sort of game while planning the heists, letting each other know what you are doing and so on makes for a much better experience.  Without it, everyone just acts on their own accord which can lead to some very annoying situations.

The most annoying thing that can happen is when you are trying to do a stealth heist, and your compatriots just do not have that stealthy mentality.  I have yet to complete a single stealth mission while playing online with random people where someone did not blatantly and obnoxiously blow our cover.  The worst part is that most stealth missions just end shortly after you have been discovered forcing you to restart it entirely.  The ones which turn into run-and-gun stages after being found aren’t so bad because you at least have a chance to complete the mission, but even then you still sacrifice the stealth bonuses to your experience and money.

Another problem that can come with a lack of communication is when you are doing a mission which has extra rewards if you stay even after completing the main objective.  There was one particular bank heist which your main objective is to break into the vault to steal all the cash laying on the tables.  After you get all of it, you can leave.  However, there are exactly 120 lock boxes in the vault which you can open up and steal the contents from for extra rewards.  I had a teammate who appeared to have the intention of opening every single one of them.  The problem is that it takes about 15 seconds to open one of those boxes if you don’t have the ability which reduces the time required to pick a lock.  Just because I was playing it for review, I decided to wait to see how long it would take for the person to get bored and leave.  I ended up waiting for 20 minutes before finally giving up and quitting.

The mission won’t end until every single person has reached the exit.  If one person wants to spend an hour getting every single extra little bonus, then everyone is stuck waiting for that hour if they want to reap the rewards of the heist.  Not even the host has some sort of override ability to simply end the stage without just kicking the player off who is holding everyone up.  Kicking players off is a host option, but it would be preferable to at least be able to politely request that the person finishes up what they are doing before taking that drastic measure so everyone can complete the stage.

 

Payday 2 Planning Phase

By far, my most enjoyable time with this game was when Juan and I played together online.

Best Experienced With Friends
Payday 2 is a game far better experienced with friends.  In fact, the only way I could in good conscience recommend this game to you is if you and a group of friends all intend to buy it and play it together.  It needs to be played with people who won’t troll you, and it is far more enjoyable when you are able to communicate with each other in some way.  If you are playing this in a group of four like-minded individuals who will actually work together, then it will be great fun.  But even if you are just playing with two friends and two AI, then you still get into the same issues I described above where the two human players just have to split all of the boring tasks.  Then, if you are playing with a friend and one or more randoms, then you still risk the same sort of shenanigans I described in the section just prior to this.

*This review was written by Brian Myers for switchwatch.co.uk.

Value

Payday 2 is yet another old game which is being rereleased at full price on current systems without enough of a boost from their last-gen iterations.  On the Switch, it is going to run you $50 whereas you could buy it for $20 less on Steam and half that on the PS4.  The Switch version comes with a new character, but there are only two reasons that I could recommend the Switch version: its portability and local co-op.  If you love playing games on the go, then Payday looks and plays great on the Switch.  Going along that line of thought the Switch’s portability goes hand-in-hand with local co-op, and that alone might be the single biggest reason to get the Switch version over any other.  Otherwise, I did not find myself believing that this experience would be worth the current asking price.

*A review copy of this game was provided by Starbreeze Studios.

Pros

P

Great Use of Local Co-op

P

It's an Excellent Port

P

Stable Online Play

Cons

P

Useless AI Enemies and Allies

P

Boring and Repetitive Gameplay

P

Little Musical Style Variety

P

Takes Too Long To Hack, Use Drills, Etc

P

Full Price for an Old Game