Ow. I take a mouthful of lead even as I wheel backwards, my associates already armed and dangerous. As I turn a corner, civilians and policemen entangling in a tsunami of bodies and panic, it finally dawns upon me that Kevlar isn't exactly the most inconspicuous piece of attire you can wear into a bank.
Payday 2 is Left 4 Dead's deliciously immoral cousin, a four-player, co-operative shooter that all but celebrates the presumed glamour of the criminal world. The protagonists aren't scruffy vagabonds, pockmarked by a life on the streets. They're dressed in dapper suits and black leather gloves with cool-as-Hollywood masks rather than stockings over their heads. Every mission, be it a simple bank heist or a more complicated excursion into the world of designer drugs, is a heady, snarling mix of high tensions, gunpowder and long periods of 'Can't this -bleeping- thing go any -bleeping- faster?!'
If you're fresh to the crime scene, the basic idea is this: Payday 2 will have you taking a variety of 'jobs', spread over 30 different locations, in an endless quest for cash. Were you a regular Joe, this probably something menial like banking or pizza delivery but our starring quartet is anything but normal. Hardcore felons with non-existent morals, they'll do anything for the bling. No operation is too scandalous, no body count too high to consider. It's money time, folks. Time to bring the house down.
What this actually entails is rummaging through Crime.net, a Craigslist for people your mother wouldn't approve of, and picking out a mission. These come in a variety of shapes and with varying levels of difficulty. Some are straightforward: a clear-cut bank robbery that you can conclude in an afternoon. Others may require you to break into museums, filch paintings and toil over the course of a few nights so as to be able to frame a dirty politician. Naturally, compensation scales with difficulty.
Once you've figured out which operation you want and the kind of gear you'll be bringing into the fray, you'll be dropped innocuously onto a street corner somewhere. At this time, you're usually in what the game calls 'Casing Mode'. It's where you stroll perilously close to security cameras and men with guns in a bid to figure out the quietest way in. The fact you're wearing a dress shirt won't be enough to disguise ill intentions or the shotgun strapped to your back, though. If you make the error of looking too suspicious (with Payday 2's proliferation of onlookers, trip wires and security cameras, this is all too easy to accomplish), alarms will trigger, all hell will break loose and you'll enter mask mode.
(It's worth noting that the game, while happy to punish you for looking at a security guard too long, disallows you from doing anything 'suspicious' while in casing mode - this includes jumping. Why? I don't know why. Because, I suppose. Because.)
Regardless of whether you were coerced into putting your mask on or had chosen to do so voluntarily, things will inevitably heat up. How you elect to deal with the subsequent events is entirely up to you. Buckling down behind cover and just shooting everything that comes your way while waiting for your thermal drill to cut into the safe is as viable a strategy as is disabling security cameras, clubbing security guards over the upside of their heads and locking down bank attendants so they can't scream for help. (Obviously, some methods will get you kicked less from public games than others) Escape will inevitably become necessary, a process that involves getting to a vehicle that is, by and large, usually on the far side of a map behind a cluster of heavily-armored dudes. Should you survive the whole ordeal, your acquisitions will then be tabulated and you'll be allocated some spending cash and experience.
Getting new stuff in Payday 2 is both fun and frustrating. Guns are unlocked as you progress through the level, modifications procured by selecting the right card when playing the Three Card Monte that takes place after every heist. Unfortunately, you're not going to get them for free. To pick up that new shotgun, you're going to have put down almost a hundred grand. Want to install a scope? Get ready to put out even more cash.
There are four skill trees - Mastermind, Enforcer, Technician and Ghost - which you can invest in. Putting a single point into any of these will unlock usage of a special piece of equipment. The Mastermind and the Enforcer trees will let you deploy a doctor bag and an ammo bag respectively. The Technician will grant you access to trip mines while the stealth-heavy Ghost will let you take out electronic devices with an ECM jammer. As you progress further and further, you'll be able to gain everything from bonus experience to the OVE9000 portable saw - that is, if you have enough money. Unlike most games, Payday 2 wants more than your hard-earned skill points, it wants your hundred dollar bills as well. The fees required to unlock some of the upper-tier abilities can be irritatingly astronomical.
Fortunately, Payday 2 is entertaining enough to warrant those constant revisitations. At least, if you're with a good group. The A.I, though well-loaded with ammo and are decent shots, seem to be allergic to idea of doing anything that doesn't involve a gun (or helping an associate to their feet). Is there a door that needs opening? A thermal drill that needs rebooting? A bag filled with thousands and thousands of dollars on the ground? You're going to have to fix all that by your lonesome. Argh. Much of my playtime with Payday 2 has consisted of going at the varied missions with either one or two other people and my enjoyment has fluctuated accordingly. To put it another way, the act of taking on a three-day job with only one other human player is a test of patience worthy of the Dalai Lama. (Trust me, you really don't want to do that.)
Everything else about Payday 2 is competent but mostly unremarkable window dressing. The guns contain sufficient heft and lack the floatiness of titles like Team Fortress 2. You'll feel the recoil here. Graphics are attractive but nothing to inspire awards, the animations adequate enough to convey what it might be like to take a shotgun to the face. What little voice acting that is present is good if occasionally cheesy; Bain sounds precisely like how Warner Brothers would have envisioned him. At the end of the day, Payday 2 isn't one of those games that will revolutionize the industry. However, that doesn't stop it from being appealing in its own right. Personal mileage is going to vary depending on the number of friends you can wrangle into joining you but if you can get a full group together? No amount of money will be able to buy the good times that can possibly be had. The perfect heist in Payday 2 will leave you breathless.
(If you can't get a good group together, be prepared to duct-tape your keyboard to the desk so you don't fling it at the wall in teeth-gnashing frustration.)
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals:Payday 2 is no Mona Lisa, but the visuals won't have you wondering if Overkill is stuck in the 90s.
- Music:The soundtrack isn't the most inspired but it's more than sufficient to get your blood pumping between waves of enemies.
- Interface: Intuitive, stream-lined and happily minimal: Payday 2 won't have you mapping out Hadoukens mid-gunfight
- Lasting Appeal:Payday 2 is built for the perfectionist, for the closely-knit group who needs an excuse to come together, guns a-blazing. The slightly randomized nature of every mission makes it easy to want to keep coming back to help fatten up that fictional retirement fund.
Best with four people and disastrous alone, Payday 2 is a co-op shooter that isn't without its faults. How much you relish the experience is going to be dependent on whether or not you can get the right mix of people involved and if such things are as much your Kryptonite as they are mine.