In recent years, we’ve seen a rise of co-operative based shooters. While this fad is largely credited to the Left 4 Dead series, you’ll be hard pressed to find people who don’t thank Payday: The Heist for a large part of the niche genre’s explosion. Now with Payday 2 bringing its unique twist on the genre to console gamers as well as its home PC demographic, it’s easy to see why the game was heralded by its fans. Though it does have its rough spots, it still manages to stand out as one of the most intense and exciting games of the year.
Payday 2 picks up where the original left off, putting you back in charge of everyone’s favorite criminal gang. Dallas, Hoxton, Wolf, and Chains have reunited and are looking for a sleazy way to make easy money doing everything from robbing banks to breaking bad and cooking some meth. The four player co-operative shooter hinges on the idea that you’ll be able to think as one unit, watch each other’s backs and hold off massive waves of police and FBI units.
You’ll be picking missions via Crime.net, a nifty little app that shows all of the active online missions going on at the moment. Each mission has a bar showing how difficult it is and what the payoff will be at the end, as well as telling you if there are any added problems that you’ll encounter, such as heightened security. It’s a bit cumbersome in practice since there’s not really any ability to filter through the mess, but it does give the map the sense of being a living entity of its own.
The missions themselves are pretty varied, and you’ll be able to play any of them regardless of your level as long as it’s open. The most common missions are quick one day missions where you have a set goal, such as breaking into a jewelry store or breaking into a bank vault and making off with a couple duffle bags of loot, however, there are quite a few that range from two to seven days with an ongoing story tying them together. One in particular has you cooking meth one day and then handling the seedy drop off the next. Missions never play out the same way twice as key elements may be in different areas or an extra alarm may be active. It adds a bit of tension when you don’t know if this drug trade is going to go off without a hitch or if you’re going to have to shoot your way out.
Once you’ve found a mission you’re interested in, you’ll be given a chance to case out the target area and formulate a plan. Most of the missions can either be done stealthily or by simply charging in guns blazing. Going loud may make things easier at first, but when you’re trying to defend a drill from waves of armored police forces while making sure that the civilian hostages don’t escape, you’ll find that it’s not an easy task. The stealthy approach requires a massive amount of teamwork, preparation, and luck, but is unlike almost anything else on the market.
The best and worst part of Payday 2 is ultimately the user base. The difference between a successful mission and a total waste of a half hour will always be the other three players in your gang, and anyone with a decent amount of experience with online gaming can see the issue already. All it takes is for one player not to be on board with the “team” mentality for things to fall apart fairly quickly, and it’s very hard to police from within the game itself.
On the plus side of this, Payday 2 fosters one of the more mature communities I have encountered. I spent several hours with three random players I had come across playing through multiple missions, and I had an absolute blast breaking down our tactics before pulling off our heist with these guys. The extra two minutes spent organizing the crime, assigning members to individual tasks, and generally cementing a plan of action added an entire new dynamic to the game. The metagame of being able to hold up a jewelry store without alerting the police stands out as one of the most intense gaming experiences I’ve had in a long while.
As you complete missions, you’ll earn cash and experience points used to build the criminal of your dreams. There are four different skill trees that cater to completely different demographics, but it’s possible to take bits and pieces from all of them in order to get a criminal that feels complete to you. The Engineer is a bit on the techy side, speeding up the drills and laying down some traps, while the Mastermind is more about controlling the crowd. The Enforcer is your standard tank, dealing out tons of punishment, while the Ghost is your set up guy to infiltrate security and hopefully break things open for you without being noticed.
The weapons are a fairly straight forward, but offer a plethora of customization options. You’ll get all of your standard pistols, shotguns, assault rifles and SMGs, but you’ll need to spend some of your hard earned loot to unlock them. At the end of each successful mission, you’ll choose from three cards which either have a small cash bonus or a new unlock waiting for you. Most of the time, these unlocks will be attachments for weapons such as silencers or new stocks, but you’ll also get a chance to get new masks and materials to customize those as well with patterns materials and colors.
As fantastic as Payday 2 is, there are a few lingering issues that really should have been addressed. The largest issue is undoubtedly the matchmaking system, which is clunky in practice. There’s no way to filter for specific missions, which can leave players waiting around for their favorite to come up. I imagine this was put into place to keep players from farming certain missions (something that has already turned out to be a complete failure), but it’s definitely an inconvenience.
Should a new player join you while this mission is already started, the game pauses while he loads in, and completely destroys any sense of immersion. Additionally, while the CPU character may have been in a safe place, the new player may be teleported to one of your teammates. This doesn’t seem like an issue, until you’re attempting to stealthily get through a building and your new comrade is now spontaneously standing in front of a security camera and doesn’t have the time to react.
One issue that really stands out to me is the complete lack of host migration. Having a successful crew broken up because one player is done for the evening is never a good thing. As it stands right now, should the host ditch mid mission, everyone else will be punted back to the main menu as well. This was a forgivable issue in 2006, maybe, but in 2013, it should be almost considered mandatory for any multiplayer game.
Other issues are around including some bugs in the collision detection and a few missing features including the safe house customization that is touted in the tutorial. They aren’t major issues, but they make the game feel like it’s just a bit incomplete.
Also, this is just a bit of wishful thinking on my end, but I would have loved to see a way to rate players after missions. Knowing that the guys on your crew are competent thieves would make me feel a bit more secure about tackling the harder missions with some random strangers. The game also would have been served with some sort of trading mechanic put in. As it stands now, the only way you can unlock attachments and masks is by completing missions, which leads to some players farming the more simple missions repeatedly to find parts they need. I know one of my friends has not one, but three of the silencers I’ve been looking for, but without any way of offering them to me, they’re simply sitting in his inventory. This isn’t a major issue, but just another point where Overkill missed the mark.
Simply put, while there are other teamwork focused shooters on the market, most of them can’t hold a candle to the objective based gameplay to be found in Payday 2. The shortcomings can all but be over looked when you’re having this good of a time with a title. You’ll need to be willing to work with a team and accept the fact that you’re going to fail from time to time, but the pulse pounding gameplay makes this a must play.
This review is based on a PC version of the game that was given to us for review purposes.