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Payday 2 Review

by William Schwartz

If you’ve always wanted to play a game where you simulated a mundane and ordinary 9 to 5 job, Payday 2 isn’t it. Quite the contrary, Payday 2 gives you a chance to try the most exciting, and criminal, way to make money: Heists.

Yes, exciting. Payday 2 definitely knows how to keep a player on the edge, whether or not they are being stealthy on a heist or going in guns a blazing. The level designs mean that there are many different routes that can be taken when being stealthy, but that also means a lot of ways for the numerous cops to get to you when the proverbial poo hits the ceiling fan, raining SWAT team after SWAT team on top of you and your three compadres.

But lets not get too far ahead of ourselves here. Payday 2 is not an overly sophisticated animal. The plot, of which there is barely any, is the four lovable robbers, Dallas, Chains, Wolf and the guy whose name begins with H (seriously, his name is not memorable) from the first Payday have moved to Washington DC to pull off more jobs for Bain, the all-seeing mastermind with limitless resources. That’s about it. The game also has singleplayer “capabilities,” although you would do well to steer clear, since you will end up doing everything yourself, as friendly AI are completely useless except for shooting and your inability to give them orders more sophisticated than “follow me,” which they do anyway, becomes frustrating.

In all honesty though, if you are looking for a game with a strong plot tying everything together, with interesting characters and a compelling singleplayer experience that can keep you entertained for hours and hours on end, this is not the game for you either. This is a game for the type of person who wants to jump into a co-op tactical first person shooter and Payday 2 knows it.

You will never be idle in a game of Payday 2. If you aren’t holding off hordes of po-po, you are carefully casing the joint, taking out security guards silently, looking for key cards, cutting fences, jamming cameras, tying up hostages, setting up drills, fixing the drill, fixing the drill again, defending the drill from the cops and running around trying to collect ammo from the literal mountains of dead police or at least what would have been mountains if the game engine kept all dead bodies persisting.

Yes, the inconsistent and unreliable drill from Payday is back in Payday 2 with a vengeance. A vengeance so strong, that you just won’t be able to wait till you get your hands on C4 or super safe-lock-picking skills, which can be naturally gained through normal level progression, albeit at a very high level. However, regardless of all the nice trinkets and perks you get from the skill tree, what will actually keep you alive and make your heists successful are, at least a semblance of, teamwork and communication.

It isn’t like you need to be kindred spirits in order to be able to complete heists, but a good amount of discussion needs to be had beforehand and people need to know what they are doing. If not, you will find yourself falling onto Plan B, namely, shoot till there isn’t ammunition anymore. Which isn’t to say that the shooting isn’t fun. Turning a jewelry store into your own personal fortress till the getaway van gets there is pretty fun. That is until the seventeenth time, when you begin to wonder, ‘couldn’t we have done this without depleting the world’s resources of copper and lead?’ Eventually, you will want to do it properly. Do it stealthily.

And… this is where my first complaints of the game start to form. The game mechanics make it extremely hard for you to do things stealthily. The AI is far too eagle-eyed, except their whole head is an all-seeing eye. So really, eagle-headed. I once merely took the fastest of peeks from a rooftop in what was supposed to be a stealthy heist to get a look of what we were dealing with and the second that a single part of my body was even barely visible, every single mafiosi in the game immediately detected me and shooting ensued, even though the one or two that I managed to see before getting detected were clearly looking elsewhere. Besides, who stares at roofs of buildings all the time?

Payday 2 is not an overly sophisticated animal.

As a result of this, creeping up on people is next to impossible as well. Enemy AI just have a sixth sense that you are there, even if they never even look back to check. One second, a security guard is smoking a cigarette and looking the other way, next second he already has his pistol drawn facing you as you tried to creep up on him to melee him or something, he might even manage to cuff you, which I’ve seen happen to others numerous times as the alarms immediately went off with much laughter and cursing ensuing.

Even so, stealth isn’t completely impossible. I’m not even that annoyed or complaining about it. It should be difficult. As long as you play the game with the mechanics of the game in mind, which in hindsight seem pretty realistic, it is definitely doable (at least on the heists that leave room for stealth) and when you do finish a heist without alerting the police, it’s probably one of the greatest feelings you will ever feel whilst playing a video game.

The thing is, mistakes always happen. Especially when perfection is the goal, and this is where my first actual, major complaint comes in: There is no way to restart the mission (or day as Payday 2 calls it) that you are on. You have the option to end game which kicks you back to the lobby, where you can pick a brand new heist to try, and that’s it. Kicking to the lobby is not something you want to do if you were originally doing a multiple day heist which would leave you losing all your previous progress. Eventually, you will realize that everyone committing suicide is the only way to restart the day you are on (at least in the review version of the game). The number of times I have jumped through skylight windows to die from fall damage on purpose is innumerable.

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Even one day heists can be a pain. The way multiplayer is all tied together is through “Crimenet” which randomly generates missions for people to join or missions that are open with people already in them. The random part is the issue. Say you were doing a specific bank heist and you wanted to do it stealthily and immediately mess up. If you kicked back to the lobby, there is no guarantee that there would be the choice of the exact same bank heist with the same difficulty waiting for you on Crimenet.

Then again, Crimenet is a very interesting way to tie multiplayer together, but it seems wholly unnecessary compared to the tried and true game lobbies of most multiplayer games. It is essentially a map with different zones of Washington DC mapped out with heists of different difficulties popping up randomly here and there. The named zones don’t seem to serve a purpose other than decoration and it just gives you the feeling that Overkill was trying to do a lot more with it than they were eventually able to in the finished product. Who knows, it seems like the kind of thing DLCs or even patches might make better, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Speaking of Crimenet, one thing you will quickly realize is that the number of different heists possible isn’t very large. Although, most of them are very different from each other including raids on nightclubs, beating up shopping malls, stealing from small stores as well as cooking up your own meth, the number of different hests available to play is barely large enough to count on three hands. Add the fact that three of them are derivatives of each other (bankheist for cash, gold or deposits) and two are practically the same (jewelry store and Ukrainian job), as well as the fact that most missions basically involve moving a certain amount of objects from one place to another, variety doesn’t seem like an overly large strongpoint for Payday 2.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however, as even the same exact mission can vary each time you do it. Sometimes, some cops buying hot dogs might spawn outside the jewelry store. Sometimes not. The exact placement of rooms in the banks aren’t necessarily the same. Security guards may not necessarily patrol the same paths. There is enough variation that would challenge you even if you played the same mission over and over again.

Add to that very crisp graphics, logical (and editable) controls, a plentiful amount of voice-work, a good fast-paced soundtrack that blends with the action and a plethora of customizable weapons and masks, you will find yourself immersed in a seemingly blockbuster game experience. Up until the point Payday 2 starts unraveling itself. At first, the voice-work seems pretty good, but Bain’s voiceovers are just jarring. He sounds excited when he shouldn’t, which is all the time. Literally the only times he doesn’t sound like a complete maniac is when he berates you for killing civilians, which is sometimes unavoidable.

The core gameplay of Payday 2 does make a fun game.

There are also many other small niggling problems that are easily fixable or shouldn’t have been issues to begin with. They include doors that can’t be closed once opened (thereby only fulfilling half of their purpose), other voice overs sometimes repeat previously said lines that make no sense in context such as a boat driver saying “I’ve just delivered the first batch of drugs!” even though it was his second, when a player tries to join a game already in progress, it pauses the game for all of those playing it until the joiner has finished connecting which can take up to half a minute (which is quite significant when a well done heist can take about 5 minutes), the review version froze and crash about once every hour or two as well as a tutorial that isn’t signposted as a tutorial. Neither is it a very good nor thorough tutorial.

There’s also the difficulty of obtaining weapons modifications. Not only do you rarely get rewarded weapons modifications, which are potential bonus rewards at the end of a completed heist along with masks, mask modifications and straight up cash, many times you will find that you have received a weapons modification for a weapon you don’t even own. And even when you obtain a modification for a weapon you do own, it costs a substantial amount of money to add it on to your weapon. Once you’ve added it to your weapon, however, the modification is gone. You will need to be rewarded it again in order to put it on another weapon (say a holographic sight).

Money is always something you seem to be lacking since you will always be spending it on new weapons, modifying weapons and skill purchases. It sometimes gets to the point where you have a whole bunch of skill points ready to be spent, but not enough money to spend them. Of course, this could just be a clever ploy by Overkill to make you want to play more, make more money and therefore progress.

I would have liked to have seen more Heists available. It would have been nice and extremely useful to be able to actively ping something or mark objects of interest like cameras Portal 2 style. If friendly AI bots were more robust, like they were able to carry bags and fix drills (which they couldn’t do), it would immediately have made singleplayer something worth talking about. The maps of each individual day of a Heist tended to be quite small, it would have been nice to have had bigger buildings and/or areas to play around in as well as more creative options to get at objectives, say thermiting the roof of the vault as opposed to just drilling all the time. Non-lethal weaponry like a taser (which exists in the game, but seemingly only for the police), or at least the ability to knock people out, would have been a great addition.

Payday-2-Review

The Verdict

The core gameplay of Payday 2 does make a fun game. Although it has many small, easily fixable, issues, none of them really ruin the experience to the point of no return and it can still be extremely enjoyable, Bain’s voice be damned. The game isn’t perfect, but there really aren’t many heist games like the Payday series, and of those that exist, none of them can even compare. Singleplayer can basically be ignored because Payday 2 knows what it is: A game designed for co-op multiplayer where players work together to complete objectives. Be it committing genocide on all the cops in Washington DC or being more stealthy than Stealth Stealtherson McStealthington, add the fact that it’s a whole 50% cheaper than most games at release and you will find that Payday 2 is a game built where you will enjoy yourself either way.

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Payday 2

  • Available On: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
  • Published By: 505 Games
  • Developed By: Overkill Software
  • Genre: Shooter
  • US Release Date: August 13th, 2013
  • Reviewed On: PC
  • Quote: "Be it committing genocide on all the cops in Washington DC or being more stealthy than Stealth Stealtherson McStealthington, add the fact that it's a whole 50% cheaper than most games at release and you will find that Payday 2 is a game built where you will enjoy yourself either way."
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