Payday 2 Preview

Crime never pays if you don’t get to the van

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Payday 2 is a game all about heists. A 4-player co-operative first person shooter, each level or mission is set up as a way to steal money or drugs off someone else. You get to do a little bit of planning, then once you start the level you’re wearing plain clothes and can wander around like any other civilian. In this mode you can’t do anything crazy like jumping or ducking though. When the time is right you press ‘G’ to pull on your mask and get to work, shouting at civilians, tying them up, setting drills to crack safes; if the alarms been triggered you also need to fend off wave after wave of the police.

To say Payday 2 was realistic would be a disservice and a lie. In some ways the things you need to think about have been handled much more realistically than in other games, crowd control for instance is difficult as there’s often lots of civilians, and they’ll often try to call the police or make a break for it, but shooting them is expensive (you have to pay for cleaner costs) and noisy. Instead you can tie them up, but you only have so many cable ties, so you should keep shouting at them and intimidating to keep them down. But then once the police are alerted, they come in ridiculous waves where you’ll often find yourself killing over thirty officers of the law in one wave. It starts getting a little bit like Left for Dead with you and your teammates cutting your way through a crowd of police, guns blazing.

At the moment we’ve just been playing the beta which you can get into if you buy the Career Criminal edition (£29.99 on Steam). For that money you get the game, two beta access keys (one for a friend) and a bunch of little extras like a mask, a soundtrack (which is amazing) and a few other goodies.The beta is already packed with more features than the original game, but comes with the irritating proviso that they can (and will) reset your progress every few weeks. Thankfully when they do reset everything they also seem to be releasing new heists, at the moments there’s loads of different ones that each play in completely different ways. This isn’t like most FPS or horde-mode games where a map is just scenery and geometry, here the nature of the heist really changes what you have to do.

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In the simplest of heists, you have to go rob somewhere like a set of small stores, a jewelry store or a bank. These usually involve trying to take out security as cleanly as possible (don’t forget the cameras and people on the street!) and then setting up equipment to break into the safes and/or vault. The drills take a long time to work their way through so you’ll be in it for the long haul, so it’s best to find somewhere to hide or keep the civilians under control. If someone finds out what’s going on they’ll wring the police and you’ll go into a kind of siege where every two minutes or so a wave of police and SWAT teams will flood in, and you and you companions will need to fend them off. Ammo is at a premium so you’ll want someone around you can drop ammo bags, but then you’ll also want someone who can drop a doctor’s bag to heal yourself up. As you play through the heists you earn money and skill points, the skill points can be used to progress down skill trees for different classes. The Mastermind can trick other civilians and guards into doing what he wants and can intimidate people into giving up. The Enforcer can take a lot of damage and dish it back out, he can also unlock a saw that can speed up breaking through things or can even be used as a weapon. The Technician can use explosives and mini turrets, setting traps which are ideal in a siege. Finally the Ghost can blend in and is the class of choice for anyone hoping to stealth the mission.

Once you’ve unlocked the safes or vaults you can load up all the money into bags and then try to get to the exit point. The bags are often heavy and significantly slow you down, so in many heists we’ve ended up with daisy chains of people throwing the bags from one person the next, dramatically speeding up the process. If you make it to the van with the goods, then you’re safe, but what if not everyone makes it? Well if someone is just taking their time, you’ll wait for them, but if they get downed you’ve got a decision to make. Do you risk your own life to go help them or do you leave them to get caught. If they get caught the remaining crooks get more money at the end, but the one who got captured gets significantly less. It’s an interesting mechanic that brings out people’s true colours right at the closing curtain.

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Not all of the mission are about heists, there’s one that involved breaking into a meth lab (there’s a lot of links to Breaking Bad that I won’t spoil here) and cooking up batches of Meth while under siege. There’s one where you’re transporting cocaine across a city. These more complicated heists take places over three or four days, so after you finish each heist you move onto the next one, with your performance being added up as you go. The newest heist takes place in a nightclub, where stealth really is key as avoiding shooting civilians on your way out is going to be tough.

Everything is presented with a clean and simple menu, you log into ‘crime.net’ and pick a mission, it shows you a different choice each time with jobs coming and going. It’s basically a server browser but presented in a more interesting way. You can see how many players are in the lobby, what difficulty it is set on (more difficulty means more money, it’s not a bad idea to start off on ‘hard’ as you can usually cope with that even with the starting gear) and which heist it is. From the menus you can also customise your masks (which all look awesome) and loadouts, attaching weapon mods and buying new ones with the cash you’ve stolen. Now you’re spending the cash on things it really pushes you to steal just a little bit more each time and you quickly find yourself getting greedy, trading safety for bigger numbers.

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Graphically the game is quite impressive, running at solid 60fps at 1080 on our i5, 7870, 8gb Ram. The locations are detailed and the animations are good. The audio is really where it’s at though, with the tense quiet being decimated with a cacophony of shouts, gunfire, drills and an amazing soundtrack as soon as the police arrive. It gets the heart racing and keeps you on your toes, definitely worth playing with a pair of decent headphones on.

We’ll be bringing you a full review once the game is released properly, but for now I can wholeheartedly recommend putting down £30 on the beta if you’ve got some people to play it with. It’s a fantastic co-op game and there’s nothing else quite like it. This could be a contender for my Game of the Year.

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