Heat taught us a couple of things, Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino need to be in more films together, Val Kilmer can hold his own in a strong cast and that bank robberies are cool. Sure we get both the light and dark side with bank robberies, people tend to die and big corporations lose out on a lot of money, but then they also show us that when dressed correctly, i.e. in a suit with a weird mask, bank robbers are cooler than Shaft in an igloo.
‘We’re getting the band back together’
..a phrase used in films to show how people have drifted apart and lives have changed for better or worse since last time around. Well in the case of Payday 2, the band is actually a band of thieves, with morals looser than a formerly fat man’s underwear. They made a lot of money in the first game, presuming you played it and you didn’t suck, but now a fixer has been in touch and wants to cut short their retirement and get them back on the job.
You are first introduced to your new digs in Payday 2, your safe-house. Located in the back of a rather drab laundrette you are shown around the basics of your location and given your first weapon and mask. Both of these items are key elements in the Payday series. Guns are needed for, relatively obviously, killing and threatening as you would hope and expect, and the masks are not only to hide the identities of the illusive four thieves but also to express yourself. It sounds odd to say that but there is justification; the game is primarily built and best played in a co-op environment, taking on the first person shooter alone is a key for failure and hatred towards your AI partners, instead your hatred should be pointed towards your real life friends. The default masks, shown above, are down the route of Slipknot’s, Shawn Crahan’s, creepy clown motif, but to mix it up a bit throughout the game you are given both designs of mask but also paint jobs leading to the player being able to produce their own face of death/thieving/loving.
The actual point of the game is to work with 3 other players, AI or your buddies/enemies, and pull different levels of daring heists. Starting with the perspectively simple jewellery stores all the way up to epic drug runs and hits on the FBI. It’s not just stealing money that you are tasked with, you also have the opportunity to spread your criminal wings and try out some other past times like cyber-crime or arson.
The game features a handful of different objectives, at first you may think this doesn’t sound like much but given the game’s procedural nature it shakes up the layout and locations of objectives every time you play. As such, sure you may recognise the paint job on the walls of the office but you’ll be coming in through a different door or heading somewhere new against different security guards or police. The game offers different play-styles, you could do the usual all guns blazing thing, the stealth driven ghost play-style, the technical genius or the leader who provides support and much-needed health. As well as the above mentioned paint job and designs for masks you can also unlock mods for weapons; new sights, silencers and larger mags, are all available for the MacGuyvers out there who want to experiment with weapons and play-styles.
Whenever you pull off a heist you can go back to your safe-house and unwind by upgrading or training yourself, also within the basement is a vault containing all your money that you have earned, or stolen as the case may be. This can be spent on numerous things including weapons and masks, the problem is that some of the gear is way over priced, there’s an issue with balancing on that front, trying to acquire the best gear to play the stealthy ghost is nigh on impossible unless you have grinded the game to dust. Whenever a team has successfully completed a heist they are given three face down cards, once one has been picked it shows either a money bonus, mask, pain job, weapon mod or other little bits and bobs. It’s a nice bonus for a job well done and the randomness with certain mask drops means you rarely see the same mask twice, or at least not once your past the lower levels of the pseudo-RPG elements.
Playing single player feels like a pointless endeavor in Payday 2, the A.I. although good at killing and reviving a downed player, they are somewhat lacking in the ‘help with the objective’ side of things, they won’t reset drills that have broken or open up safes or cash registers. The thrust of the game is real player co-op, and that is not a bad thing, just like how Left 4 Dead was always more fun with real people, Payday 2’s action is most satisfying when you can’t count on, or predict what your partners are going to do. Seeing a team-mate go slightly mental and unload their weapons into a crowd of civilians leads to an experience like no other. Stealth is a confusing tactic to me, working out if you have been spotted or not is confusing and to be honest leaves you not bothering the tactic anymore.
As soon as you are inevitably spotted you are given mere seconds before the fuzz rock up hoping to lighten your weight by shooting out your kidney. When the rozzers show up the game changes to an almost tower defense / horde mode. You must simply survive until your ride turns up to get you the hell out of dodge. One of my favourite moments of any of the game’s heists is that moment when the van shows up to get you and your haul out of there. Only then do you see true chaos as all of the players try to get all the loot to the back of the waiting truck/boat/van and keep their blood in their body.
With the unknowns of the lay of the land and the unknowns relating to your team mates potentially being disturbed it means no heist is the same. That being said once you have played the levels a few times you work out tactics for getting through easier and easier. A well oiled team of experienced players is satisfying to a hard to explain level, the synchronisation of players grabbing loot and getting out of a job in under 2 minutes without getting busted is exhilarating. The pounding electro-music, the loud gun fire, the unknown variables of a job; all of this leads to a sense of immersion, fear, tension and excitement that is rarely reached in video games.