What is Payday 2?
Just like its predecessor, Payday 2 is a heist simulator that seeks to to scratch an itch that games like Grand Theft Auto never really tried to deal with by allowing players to take part in robberies. If you're wondering just what kind of genre Payday 2 fits into, it's a first person shooter with RPG elements. Players take on the role of one of four heisters as they go on a crime spree through Washington DC. Each has their own look and personality and steals from the guilty and innocent alike, but mostly from the guilty.
So is there a story?
Yes and no.
The game itself doesn't really have a lot of story in it, but each of the characters has their own, brief, background story and each mission also tells you a little more, explaining who you're working for at the time. Every mission is for personal profit, but sometimes players work under contract for any of Washington DC's criminal organizations. The most vocal and amusing of these is Vlad, a crazy Russian mobster who seems to enjoy causing chaos more so than he does making money.
While Payday 2 may not have a lot of in game story, there is a web series on CrimeNet which basically takes the place of the normal means video games use to tell stories, i.e. actually playing the game. Not that I mind, with the number of heists I've pulled I found myself skipping briefings in favor of starting and finishing the mission as quickly and quietly as possible. The web-series is really good, and it explains quite a bit, so I really recommend checking it out.
Who knew pulling off heists would be so fun!
In Payday 2 the main goal of the game is for the players to break in somewhere and steal all sorts of things for their own profit. As one would imagine, as with real robberies, there are a variety of ways to go about doing this. Want to be sneaky? You can do that. Want to walk in the front of the building, guns blazing? Go right ahead! The game never tells the player how to do their job, it only offers suggestions and provides information. Some of this information comes at a cost however, along with other useful services that CrimeNet provides in the form of assets which the host can purchase.
To select missions, players have to check CrimeNet which generates missions at random. When I say generate, I mean randomly selects from a list of missions that the player can access and then sets them up with any difficulty from normal all the way up to overkill. Up until recently, this was the only way to get missions. Recently however, they added the option for players to purchase missions. Basically this allows the player to pick from any of the available missions and play them on whatever difficulty they like. This does cost players a fairly respectable chunk of money from their off shore bank account though. This is the only thing that money is used for currently, so it's not an issue for the moment.
Once in game, players go about executing their plan for the mission and hoping that everything goes according to plan. As much as I love to simply go in guns blazing, I would rather try to stealth my way through missions in Payday 2, as there's just this extra added thrill to the game when you avoid setting off any alarms and being spotted by cops or random bystanders before drilling through a safe to get to the precious loot inside. But things can, and probably will go horribly wrong, whether it's turning the corner and walking straight into a guard or having one of your team members decide they were going to follow a different plan and not tell anyone. Luckily, players can make life difficult for the police force by taking hostages. Heavily armed as the police may be, if the players have a large number of hostages, they're going to think twice about rushing in. Taking hostages also affects how long they stay during each wave.
When the robbery goes wrong, players will have to deal with wave after wave of cops and SWAT, and combat is kind of hit or miss. First of all, the game doesn't give you any cross-hairs, and thus players have to use iron sights to accurately hit. This wouldn't be a problem if iron sights were actually accurate. At any given moments, iron sights can go from being as accurate as the player is, all the way to having a screen full of nothing but your target and finding that your bullets will still manage to curve around the enemy. I'm not sure if this is because some of the more heavily armored cops have plating that deflects rounds, but I would imagine they would still recoil from being hit. This means fights are extra tense and the heisters already limited ammo supplies are spent faster than they should be because the bullets are missing or having ne effect. It can be frustrating, and for those that play on Overkill like I do, it'll cost players precious time, ammo and health. Luckily, brutal as the combat can be, players armor does regenerate, giving them the chance to deal with the ridiculous odds thrown at them if they should fail to stealth through a mission. But just because armor regenerates doesn't mean the game is a cake walk.
Along with normal cops, which vary from rent-a-cops all the way up to super heavy SWAT guys that look like they should be out in the front lines of a battlefield, there are also special cops. Currently there are only three types, but I am told by veterans from of previous game that there are supposed to be more. So just what are these special cops?
Well first off there's the Taser, who will have no problem tasing the player without warning, leaving them flailing about and spraying their gun everywhere. Then there is the Bulldozer, a big, angry dude wearing what I can only describe as a bomb disposal suit and wielding a deadly shotgun. Normally, I would say this is the worst of the worst. But this is not the case, not in my opinion. The worst of all is the Shield. I have found that the game loves to throw these guys out in bulk. If you're lucky there will only be one or two of them, but I usually find myself having to deal with groups of up to five, supporting their squads and other special troops. This wouldn't be an issue if they handled reasonably. The huge problem with these guys is that they swing around this heavily armored door like it was made of paper. It makes getting around them and killing them ridiculously difficult, so it takes at least two players to take these out - one to distract and one to kill, but again, these guys snap around to face players. One second they will be blocking your friend, the next they'll snap around to block all of your shots. It's ridiculous and I absolutely hate dealing with them since the only way to easily dispose of them is to have them trip a mine or have a very high level enforcer knock them over. Otherwise, have fun dealing with their ridiculous ability to turn as well as their support squad!
Once players have grabbed their loot, they either stuff it in their pockets or bag it up. It really depends on the size of the items they're stealing. And then there is the escape! Do you push through the police assault with all of that heavy loot to try and get out quickly, or do you hold your position, hoping the assault will end soon to give you an easier escape? The game can be merciless however, making it look like the assault has ended only to have a wall of cops camping every single exit. On top of that, sometimes players can't quite get away and have to fight their way out to another escape vehicle. Still, the randomness of every heist is part of the fun.
Tools of the trade
So the cops have special units and increasingly more powerful standard cops. What do the players have to even stand a chance against superior numbers and heavily armed opponents? Specialties!
Players can specialize, or spread their points around four different rolls. These are:
- The Mastermind, who specializes in squad support, healing, and keeping the crowds down and under control, as well as intimidating cops into surrendering and maybe even joining your cause.
- The Enforcer, who specializes in being big, angry, durable, and generally destroying anything he comes into contact with.
- The Tech, who is all about perimeter defense and operating the drill. The tech can also support the squads with armor durability and restoration rate and the has ability to used shaped charges to blow a safe open.
- The Ghost, stealth specialist of the group, sneaking, moving quickly, jamming all sorts of communications and picking locks the others can't. The Ghost is the only one who can bag up bodies and move them out of the way. Nothing ruins a heist like someone stumbling upon a guard you had no choice but to put down. There's no need to worry if you like multiple skill trees as well. The level cap goes up to a hundred, and that's enough for players to ace the top tiers of two skill trees. Then again you could just go all over the place with one specialty. Payday 2 gives players plenty of flexibility on how to build their character to suit their needs.
Beyond that, players can build up a fairly large arsenal of weapons along with a rack of masks to add an extra bit of personality when taking on a heist. There's just one fairly massive problem with this. Rather than simply buying modifications for weapons and masks, players have to take on a delightful (awful) roulette system in order to acquire these modifications. After this, players have to actually pay to have them installed. This isn't an issue later on, but for players starting out, installing something like a silencer can cost ten thousand fun-bucks or more. Yeah, screwing that thing on is expensive!
The real problem comes for late game players. I've been playing Payday 2 for a good long while now, most of my favorite weapons are lacking modifications so they're nowhere near as good as they could be, especially for someone constantly playing on overkill. So rather than spend any of my 16-20 million dollars that are just gathering dust in my safe house, I have to hope that the roulette system decides to award me the modifications I need! To add insult to injury, this system also has money as something that it can drop - tiny amounts from 3-16 thousand dollars. When you are sitting on millions of dollars, it's pretty lousy to be handed three thousand rather than a weapon or mask mod you've been trying to get for a long time. Honestly, I wouldn't mind this system if it was just a nice bonus players could use to get free mods rather than the only way to get them. Hopefully this gets changed in the future, until then, the pile of cash in my safe house is just going to grow.
This kind of feels half baked
This didn't seem to be the case until later on in the game, but the first thing that tipped me off to this is basically given away by Bain early on in the safe house tutorial. Bain very clearly says that players will be able to modify their safe house. Hundreds of stolen millions, I still can't do anything to the safe house. On the bright side, this means my pile of money in the vault continues to grow larger, and it's always fun to watch it grow. In about ten to twenty levels of progression I was able to unlock every mission available in the game. By level 36-39 I had unlocked every single weapon.
This bothered me, considering the fact that the level cap is 100 and even though the game says it supports missions that last a whole week, none of the missions available go past three days. Worse still there are no big banks to rob. All of the banks are little tiny ones that you would find in a street corner, rather than the huge ones you would expect to see in a heist movie.
Then there are other minor things that are probably more of a design choice, for example players can't gather up all of their hostages in one area so that they're easier to defend from rescue teams or at the very least hold them away from entry points that the teams tech would like to cover with trip wire mines. I'm no expert on robbing banks, but common sense dictates that a group of people pulling off a heist would gather up all of their hostages in one area rather than leaving them scattered around the building.
Payday 2's stealth system is also rather wonky. Rather than having a field of view or being sensitive to sound, they will just spot players with no real way to do so. Trying to hold up guards by sticking a gun right up to the back of their head, rather than effectively getting them to get them to surrender, has a fifty fifty chance of having the guard handcuff the player before he has turned around or even finished drawing his weapon.
I've also heard rumors of people saying that Payday 2 was actually released early since it received so much praise in the beta, but this doesn't make much sense to me. Why would anyone release their game before it's done because people are enjoying it in the beta? But rumors are all they are to me, I haven't been able to find anything to officially confirm this. Still, it's fairly obvious that the game needs quite a bit of work and missing some content.
Is it still worth the buy?
Putting its flaws aside, I haven't had as much fun in a Co-op PvE game like this since the Left 4 Dead series. It was a great deal of fun planning out each heist and so incredibly satisfying to have a heist go off perfectly, although there were times where heists went wrong and we turned our general area into a war zone. Payday 2 proved to be a great deal of fun. Even playing with randoms was mostly amusing, and every now and then you will find a super special crew where every possible thing that can go wrong will go wrong. Payday 2 is best played with friends and people that you can talk with over voice comms. It just makes life that much easier when coordinating heists and that much more hilarious when hearing their reactions to what's going on in the game.