My hands are trembling as I remove the painting from its display. With this last piece of art, I can head to the van and get out of here. As I make my way back through the exhibition halls, I pass the guards I’ve already knocked out…and one I haven’t. This last guard spots me and sounds the alarm, dropping barriers and trapping me inside the hall. The cops are on their way, and I’m about to fight my way out of the art gallery. As the cops come through the side door, SWAT members drop through the ceiling above. My drill hasn’t opened the security room yet, so I’m practically a sitting duck as my assailants approach. This is the intensity of Payday 2.
Payday 2 is the sequel to Starbreeze’s 2011 title Payday: The Heist (duh), and the crime elements have been ratcheted up to a whole new level – if Payday is a capo, Payday 2 is the don. Everything about this game is like an interactive Guy Ritchie movie. Sticking with that metaphor, goals here aren’t always simple smash-and-grab jobs; things get to the craziness of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels pretty quickly. Engaging in multi-day contracts, trading meth for information, burning Cartel weapons – just to name a few objectives – got my pulse pumping like few other titles have, and I savored the rush.
Every heist involves either sneaking your way around to avoid detection, or going in with guns blazing. The beauty is that you can experience different scenarios or earn different rewards depending on the approach. One job, involving the framing of a senator, can be completed by sneaking through his apartment until you can unlock his safe; doing this opens up the possibility of stealing money from within the vault. Failing to stay hidden means you’ll have to upload a few incriminating files and get out quickly. A gun-toting approach will always lead to more chaos, as your priorities will shift from packing duffel bags and lifting jewels to securing hostages and holding off police assaults. Whether you go stealth or commando, Payday 2 adapts, and that is brilliant.
The stealthy approach also means you’ll be dealing with cameras and guards, both of which can be stationary or moving. Avoiding detection is a key mechanic, and this is accomplished by shooting cameras with suppressed pistols, knocking out unsuspecting guards, and intimidating civilians. The sheer amount of actions you can take here is fantastic. A locked door can be opened with a pick, a handheld buzz saw, a keycard, an electronic jammer, or a C4 charge; a safe can be opened with a thermal drill or an explosive charge. Payday 2 is offers a wide range of strategic options, all of which spice up the game’s heists.
Those heists are still spiced with plenty of variety, though. You have your classic bank robberies and your jewelry store hits, but things scale up to gathering ingredients for meth and setting bank vaults on fire. Though very, very few building layouts are reused, there are different settings and tones for every job. Even if you’ve experienced all of them, the randomization of every playthrough keeps things interesting: the exact locations of all objectives change with every heist instance – you can’t get complacent here. You may even end up having to make a violent escape (also randomly occurring) should things go south during a job.
Get through a heist successfully, however, and you’ll net yourself cash (the “pay”) and experience (the “day”…?). Save up, and you’ll be able to purchase new weapons, armor, items, and masks. Call of Duty geeks, rejoice: Payday 2 has an incredible depth of primary and secondary weapons. Each has its own stats, from damage to accuracy to recoil, and comes with optional attachments to accent any of those stats. Nothing is purely cosmetic…except masks. Those are just for looks, but hey, it’s nice to kick back with a custom “I love bombs” (one available design) look. Different types of body armor come with just as many stats, so movement penalty, damage resistance, and visibility are key points. If that’s still not enough customization, you also get class-based items like trip mines and ammo bags.
Those classes are another key feature of Payday 2. The four skill trees – Mastermind, Enforcer, Technician, and Ghost – lean toward four very different play styles. The Mastermind tree is all about crowd control and team support, with skills that increase intimidation toward civilians or revival speed for fallen teammates. The Enforcer is a classic tough guy; his skills increase weapon damage and decrease damage taken. The Technician is entry-minded, with skills that tweak the effectiveness of drills and even allow for turret defense. The Ghost is a mover; his skills affect movement speed and visibility. With the ability to mix and match between trees, plus the deep customization of weapons, armor, and masks, Payday 2 ensures that no two players are alike.
Of course, other players are what Payday 2 is all about. Playing online through Crime.net, the game’s matchmaking system, is an absolute blast. When online, you can extra gain experience in tougher heists and enjoy rock solid co-op that few games match. Picking up downed teammates, providing cover fire while one guy runs bags to the van, popping a camera so the crew can sneak by – these are just a few of the customs of Payday 2‘s online experience. The thrill of completing a tough job is multiplied when it’s a shared success.
Celebrating this success alone can be nice too, but that offline play is Payday 2‘s only fault. Unfortunately, it’s a very significant fault, and one that developer Starbreeze could have easily fixed. First of all, offline games include only you and two AI companions – three, as opposed to online’s four – and there is no reason to have one less character in an offline job. Not only are you stuck with just two teammates, but they are borderline useless. They may offer support in a gunfight or yell at a civilian or two, but that’s literally all they can do. They cannot carry objects, leaving you to carry every bag of goodies yourself, causing multiple trips. They cannot deploy or repair tools, leaving you to open every safe and door. There is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to point at an object and command them to interact with it. Payday 2 is an amazing experience with others online, but it can become frankly unplayable when alone. This is literally the only thing holding it back.
Payday 2 is a pure adrenaline rush. Your heart will pound as you stand your ground against approaching SWAT members, and it will certainly be pounding when you slip past that armed guard. The variety of heists in setting – and even within them, as objective locations randomize – couples with skill trees and loadout options to ensure a different play style between every player. All those players coming together on Crime.net is one of gaming’s greatest online experiences, but playing alone can be one of the worst. Ignore that single player, and you’re in for a perfect game. Shame we can’t ignore that single player here.