Haven’t they ever heard of PAYE?
Payday 2 is the fully-featured elder brother of the original game. Rather than reinventing the wheel, Overkill have refined and expanded on what was a novel and compelling idea. You and three friends (there are bots but I wouldn’t bother with them except to practice stealth runs) decide on a heist, load up with weaponry and gadgets and then take to the streets. Usually starting off outside your target building, you can spend a while scoping out the area, then once you’ve decided on a plan of action you throw on your masks and get to work, cracking safes, taking hostages and defending against waves of the police until you get what you came in to do and run to the safety of your van. When it works, it’s glorious; cracking open a bank vault without the tellers knowing you are there or taking out a whole jewellry shop without the police being called and leaving within a minute is exhilarating. When it doesn’t work it’s possibly even better. Those jobs where your entire team gets shot down on their way to the escape, or guard steps around the corner just as you’re drilling into the vault. That’s what Payday is about.
In essence it’s a first person shooter in the same vein as Left 4 Dead or Killing Floor. There’s a semblance of realism as you duck under holes cut in wire fences and answer the pagers to bluff your way out of dispatching a guard, but that all goers out the window once the waves of police arrive. In each heist (which tend to last from twenty minutes up to an hour for the longer ones) you might end up dispatching 70 or 80 police officers each. They start off as simple police in blue informs, but quickly the FBI get involved and there’s enemies in full body armour, with impenetrable riot shields, or even ‘Bulldozers’ dressed head to foot in ridiculously heavy bomb-squad style outfits that take a hefty amount of ammo to put down. It’s sheer fantasy and morally dubious as you are most definitely the bad guys, but it works as a flipside to the stealth side of the game.
When you are stealthing it’s all about planning. You can tie up civilians, intimidate guards, hide bodies, set up cell-phone jammers and once you are a high enough level you can learn how to pick safes by hand or use more advanced tools. You don’t get much more of a prize for doing heists in this way except for the fact it’s much much quicker and therefore you can do more heists in less time to earn more money.
There is a grinding element to the game after the first few runs. After each job completes you’re given a Payday (from a few thousand for the simpler runs on normal difficulty up to a couple of million for the complex multi-day jobs on Overkill – the hardest difficulty) and a bunch of experience. With the money you can buy weapons and modifications, new masks, or combine with skill points that you get for levelling up to buy new skills. The skills are organised into four trees, Mastermind, Enforcer, Ghost and Technician, each with their own specialisms. You’re free to mix and match between them and some of the skills are really useful and innovative. One on the Mastermind branch lets you intimidate police to the point where you can get one to fight on your side, one of the Enforcer branch lets you throw your loot bags much further, enabling for a speedy getaway. Once you start playing with people who are high level than you (there’s no real matchmaking to speak of) you’ll find yourself being kicked from lobbies because you don’t have the gear required to get through heists fast enough. You’ll end up doing the same few jobs that are quick and easy but pay out well in order to make enough money and experience to get up into the 30s where your options really open up. That’s not to say it’s not fun, including the beta we’ve put in 28 hours so far and not a single heist has been boring, but there’s is an element that feels a bit more like work rather than playing it for the sake of playing.
The heists are varied but they’re a long way from the huge number lots of fans expected. There’s perhaps ten or so different heists and then a few variations on each, but these variations are quite minor. For example one heist has you taking on a bank, and there’s different versions depending on what you’re after – cash, deposit boxes or gold. Cash is easy and quick, the deposit boxes take forever to open unless you have someone with a saw and the gold weighs a ton so leads to a difficult escape, but a much greater payday. Everything else about those missions is exactly the same, which is a shame. Thankfully just like in Left 4 Dead there’s a random element to the game with the AI deciding on not only the layout of the buildings (meaning one plan won’t work every time) but how long drills will take, how many doors will be shut, what time of guards will be there and even the position of some civilians. In a jewelry heist there’s sometimes a hotdog stand outside, if there is it’s almost impossible to stealth because they’ll see and ring the police before you can shut them down, unless you murder them of course in the middle of the street in broad daylight. There’s touches like that needed to keep the game interesting and it works brilliantly. In no other gamer has there been so much unenforced roleplay. People (even in public groups) tend to speak almost in character, as if everything is real. It’s hard not to get swept up in the moment, from sliding on your mask in first person to shouting at civilians to keep down as you shoot over their heads. People shout out the time that’s left on drills, they go back for each other even if there’s very little benefit for it, they are immersed and that’s a very difficult thing to achieve.
Graphically the game looks pretty great considering how well it runs. There are a few annoyingly low-res textures and a few weird animations, but on our test rig (i5, 8Gb Ram, 7870) it runs at 150fps with everything turned up to full which is blisteringly fast. There’s very few fancy effects but as the number of police steps up or as there’s more going on during the busier missions there’s very little slowdown. There are still numerous bugs and glitches but the developers are releasing patches at an almost alarming rate to get them fixed.
Despite the few flaws and rough edges, the game is an incredible amount of fun for the money, in terms of co-op games, there’s very little in the same league as Payday. It’s one of the best titles of the year so far and the fact you can pick it up at £25 makes it a steal (pun intended). Get on the four pack from Steam and you’ll find yourself staring at the monitor in the early hours of the morning, cursing at the drill that just broke for the third time as your friends are running out of ammo trying to hold back wave after wave of reckless police officer, and you’ll be grinning all the time.