Review: Payday 2

Nothing feels as good as getting paid

Overkill Software has built upon the success of their first game Payday: The Heist, and once again proven that not many things are as fun as grabbing some friends and spending an evening pulling off high-risk, high-reward bank heists and jewelry store robberies.

Payday 2
PC (Reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360
Developer: Overkill Software
Publisher: 505 Games
MSRP: $29.99 (PC), $39.99 (PS3/Xbox360), $59.99 (Special Edition)

The game drops players into the shoes of a professional armed robber, and immediately opens up a map of the city with dozens of options for heists of varying difficulties and payoffs. Targets range from banks, to jewelry stores, to meth labs and more. The heists can be played offline and completed solo or with two AI teammates, or online with three human teammates. Integrated voice and text chat, along with intelligent contextual environmental interactions, makes playing online with others simple and drops the learning curve to an almost flat plane, with players showing one another the ropes.

Players earn both cash and experience points from completing jobs successfully, and can then use the cash for equipment and guns, and the experience points to boost their abilities in any of the four skill trees in the game. The skill trees are standard fare, with a leader (who carries a medic bag), a gunman (who carries spare ammo for the team), a technician (who carries explosives), and a scout/stealth class (who can jam hostages’ and security teams’ electronics to slow police response times). The ability to spend points in any tree at any time means that one player can be a jack-of-all-trades, and many players do just that, finding valuable help in the perks granted from individual branches of each class.

The gunplay is fast-paced and intense, with beautiful sound effects and dozens of gorgeous weapon models.

The gunplay is fast-paced and intense, with beautiful sound effects and dozens of gorgeous weapon models. The police respond to heists, set up outside the building, and assault in waves, once their full team has arrived. Their tactics change rapidly and dynamically, making player communication imperative to surviving each assault. The AI is smart enough to dodge killing fields, and police tend to move in squads, even breaching rooms and clearing their own sectors rather than all immediately aiming at the nearest robber. The ensuing gun battles are heated, and force robbers to take cover and spend their ammo wisely, to avoid running out in the midst of a police assault.

The shooting mechanics themselves deserve special mention. In most FPS titles, “hip-fire,” or firing without aiming down the sights first, results in a wild spray of inaccurate rounds that does almost nothing to stem the tide of incoming enemies. In Payday 2, firing without aiming down the sights feels like it should: slightly less accurate, but still the result of having your rifle firmly against your shoulder and pointed at one particular spot in your field of view. The bullets will go (mostly) where you direct them, with or without your sights, meaning that quick bursts at close-to-medium ranges are actually quite effective. This allows squads of robbers to move quickly through a crowded room or alley without having to move at the infuriatingly slow pace induced by aiming down the sights.

Each heist level allows players as much time as they want in “casing mode,” during which they may explore their targets and learn the layout, guard patrol patterns, and so on. Casing mode allows players to make a plan ahead of the heist itself, and often allows human players to each get into separate positions to make the most of the critical first few seconds of the heist.

Payday 2 (1)

I’ve spent some time with the game out since its release, and my favorite jobs are still bank heists. Complex, fluid and long, these jobs require constant communication and cooperation between teammates. Police response is rapid and heavy, resulting in one massive, prolonged shootout from windows, rooftops and doorways.

In one such heist, my teammates and I took the direct approach, barging in the front door and immediately putting the security guards on the ground. As soon as the vault drill was set up, we deployed our equipment bags (ammo, health, etc.) and took up positions, calling out when police were assaulting our sectors and helping each other out when the odds became too greatly stacked in the cops’ favor. The whole heist took over fifteen minutes, largely because we had to spend eight or so minutes trying to just shoot our way out a side door and make it across the street to the getaway vehicle. The stress induced by shouting over your microphone just to be heard above the sound of high-powered rifles, screaming hostages and flashbangs is incredible, and every successful job will leave the player with a massive adrenaline rush.

It’s worth pointing out that newcomers may have a hard time finding a welcoming game lobby. Many high-level gamers seemed eager to kick me from the game for my low level, before I could reassure them that I’d put whole days into the game when it was only in beta. It would take me around four attempts to find someone willing to let me participate in the harder heists. While I don’t blame folks for wanting a fellow experienced robber on their side, it does somewhat beg the question: if no one wants inexperienced players on their team, how will anyone gain the necessary experience?

The environments, while well-designed, are not too varied. Each type of heist exists in only one location, so a “Four Stores” heist, located on a street with four target stores, will always be laid out the same no matter where it appears on the heist selection map. Small details do change within the levels, such as the location of store/bank safes, resources such as planks (which can be used to barricade windows and impede police gunfire and movement), and the number of guards or civilians. These small changes add some variety to the otherwise repetitive levels, allowing the player to experience a heist differently at least for a few extra playthroughs.

I will take a pause here, however, to give credit to one of my favorite features in the game: the player’s safe house. Accessible through the main menu, this house has one room of particular interest: the vault. Here, the player’s guns and attached modifications are showcased, along with giant stacks of cash representing their bank accounts and criminal achievements thus far. It is incredibly rewarding to return from a high-risk bank heist to view a fresh pile of cash stacked neatly on the table in your personal vault.

Payday 2 (2)

My overall sense of the game is overwhelmingly positive. When grouped with dedicated and talkative cohorts, the heists were dynamic, intense, and extremely rewarding. This is an engaging FPS that is a nice change of pace from the usual fare, and it offers unique challenges with unique mechanics. It may not be perfect, but it’s well worth the price tag, and it only gets more fun as you unlock weapons, modifications and skills.

Score: 8/10 - Review Scale

My parting advice for beginner thieves? Control the crowd, and make every shot count.

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About Will Brunelle

Will is a Senior of English and Journalism at the University at Albany, and has been writing for gaming news sites for two years. He may be contacted at willbrunelle@gmail.com with questions, concerns, comments or tips.