Payday 2 Review
Hands Up, Wallets Out
You’re casing out a new bank in town, looking for a way in that won’t rouse suspicion. You spot a backdoor with no security camera, pop on your mask and start picking the lock. Once inside you knock out the security guard, take his key and tell the patrons to get on the ground. As soon as you do you realize a lone patron in the back has noticed you and is about to call the police. Before he can, your partner politely tells him to pull up a comfortable slab of concrete unless he wants his head blown off. Quickly you tie up a few hostages while your partner starts boarding up windows. Then your third partner starts to drill the safe while your fourth finishes clearing out the remaining guards. This is just one of many ways to start the stellar online experience of Payday 2, and with a variety of heist types, play styles and level designs, it’ll be a while before you have that same experience again.
Payday 2’s story is probably where the game is weakest, but to be honest it’s not the game’s focus. You’re a professional criminal, fresh from vacation, and here to make even more money and widows. The characters are all completely interchangeable and one-dimensional, the one dimension being “let’s kill about 500 cops today”. The justification for the cop-killing will range from “we’d like the money that’s in that safe” to “we’d like the jewels that are in that safe”. Each individual heist varies in its synopsis but there isn’t going to be any dramatic betrayals or plot twists. Get in, get what you came for, get out. What’s interesting is that this actually works. You don’t need or want a lot of fluff around the solid heist gameplay, sullying the image of our cartoonish criminals mowing down cops for bags of cash with the $ symbol on them.
The concept, on the other hand is one of the game’s strongest elements by far. You and 3 partners, either AI or online, are breaking into various banks, stores and nightclubs. You can plan your heist to a certain degree and choose when to engage the police and civilians. These heists are almost never the same thanks to deep class trees and random police placement. It’s simple, but it allows for a great deal of player choice, improvisation and bloody shootouts.
The gameplay overall is solid, with a rewarding experience making up for some of the hiccups and inconsistencies along the way. The very first gameplay element you engage in is the stealth aspect. This is both the worst and best aspect of the gameplay because it’s just so inconsistent. It seems there is little way to determine what will trigger suspicion in the civilians and cops. For my very first mission I was told to rob four stores. I walked into the jewelry story before even putting on mask believing I could pass as a customer and look around before beginning the heist. I was almost immediately discovered as a bank robber. Granted the front door probably isn’t a robber’s first choice but I wasn’t able to learn anything from the experience. Is the front door always a bad idea? Is my visibility too high? Was it something I did once inside? Are police officers psychic? I certainly don’t know and the game is not telling. When the stealth works though it’s exhilarating, and suppressing hostages as a team is some of the most fun I’ve had in a while.
The game centers around first-person shooting because no matter what you will be shooting in every mission. The controls feel standard, but your shots can seem inconsistent, especially at first when you haven’t done many character upgrades yet. Speaking of the upgrades, they are numerous, meaning you can become whatever type of shooter you want to be, including a machine gun maniac or a pistol expert. Overall no complaints, but the controls are not as tight as industry giants like Halo or Call of Duty.
The single-player experience is passable at best, which in my mind drags down the overall success of the game. There are a lot of games that don’t have single-player, so why have it if it’s not good? The AI is competent enough to shoot cops and revive you if you’ve fallen but they can’t tie hostages, pick up money bags, drill into vaults, pick locks, steal loot or anything helpful. This means if you have a simple mission where you need to steal three money bags get ready to make three deadly trips instead of one trip with an extra guy to lay down fire.
Multi-player is where the game shines, co-operating with other players to shake down jewelry stores, banks and clubs. Keeping hostages in check, eliminating the entire East coast police force and stealing more money than you’ll know what to do with.
Graphics and Sound
Somewhere along the line the graphics for Payday 2 leave something to be desired. The game by no means looks bad, but standards in video games today are at an impressive level, and anything less is disappointing. Of course the game must be able to handle a lot going on at once so I don’t hold it against them.
The music can be exciting when a police assault is in progress and is toned down for the casing segment creating a great balance. If you weren’t pumped enough already, the music will get you there. Voice work is entirely forgettable.
When I say that there is a lot of customization on this game and you go out and buy it, you will immediately call me a liar for underselling it. The customization covers weaponry, special equipment, masks, outfits, attire, your safe house and the stellar upgrade tree itself. What makes the upgrade system exemplary is that it lets you Frankenstein your own class by choosing different boosts, perks and equipment from all classes.
Aside from the customization, though, there isn’t much. That may sound picky in light of all the options, but if you don’t want to steal something then there aren’t any other options. No player vs. player, no practice mode, no theatre. Still, there is a lot of fun to be had in the heist department, so don’t let this turn you off.
The game can be laggy, despite the best efforts of your connection speed and your hardware, but it certainly isn’t a deal breaker. The dialogue is cheesy, like the kind of things an R-rated Team Rocket would say. The game relies on multiplayer to be successful, so you live and die by the quality or your online companions.
Picking up a steam copy will set you back thirty bucks and a console copy forty. While the multiplayer experience is amazing the single player experience isn’t nearly as impressive. I’d recommend a buy for PC players and console players who feel confident with their online community. Or if you happen to have lots of friends, you popular bastards.