Payday 2 Review – Better bring a friend

If I could sum up my time with Payday 2 into one word, it would be “bedlam,” since 90% of my heists have turned out this way. I attribute 100% of this to going into heists with complete, mute, strangers. There is no discussion of tactics or plan in the lobby, and you can safely bet that someone is going to put their mask on and start either yelling at people to get on the ground or straight up capping people, specifically security guards.

After an extremely brief tutorial in which I received a phone call from some guy named “Bain,” I was instructed to pick up money, pick up a duffel bag, told to toss said duffel bag, pick up money and that was it. The game said I was ready to go.

I most certainly was not.

The Bedlam in the Bank

Logging into “Crime.Net,” I was shown a view of a map. Points on the map serve as sessions I was able to join. Selecting a jewelry store heist, I was then brought to the mission detail screen. Here, I was shown the full payout in terms of cash and experience points, how difficult the mission would be, and how high the chance was of leveling up in this particular session. It all seemed reasonable, so I clicked “Accept” and off I went.

I immediately spawned into chaos. Multiple cop cars were strewn about the street in front of me with police taking cover behind them, only popping up to fire shots at me and my crew. There was a felled crew member out on the street and the other two were either shooting back at the cops or taking things from display cases.

I decided to return fire on the cops, taking enough of them out that I decided I had enough time to run out to my fallen comrade and help him up. Once I reached him, I was prompted to hold the right bumper to revive. The ring slowly filled as even more cops arrived and every single one immediately proceeded to ferociously shoot at me. Once my teammate was up on his feet, I immediately sprinted back into the jewelry store, turned, and returned fire. My teammate deployed a health kit on the ground towards to back of the store so I ran over, again holding the right bumper down again as prompted, and filled my health up.

By this time, cops in armor started entering the store from all possible sides. As things started to get hairy, my HUD informed me that “Escape Is Available” and our make-shift crew, now carrying bags of jewelry, hightailed it towards the icon on the screen showing us where our getaway car was. We fought our way through straggling cops and jumped into the back of the van, making our getaway.

I don’t quite know how I did it, but I survived and made some cash.

That’s actually not true. I do know how I did it. I managed to escape with my life and the score because Payday 2 is easy to pick up and play since it is, fundamentally, a shooter. Left Trigger aims down the sights, Right Trigger fires, X reloads, clicking in the Left Stick sprints… you know the drill. Playing any FPS in the last 5 years is your tutorial for the shooting, reloading, and general movement.

OK, so I survived my first job. Surely there is more to this game than stealing things and shooting cops, right? The answer is a resounding “yes.”

Cops really don’t like when you take things while holding guns.

Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?

For me, Payday 2 has been a difficult game to review. Much of the “fun” is derived from the heists and how they go down. Almost none of my heists so far have gone down as intended thanks to some uncommunicative lone wolf who is weirdly playing an online co-op game. These people either have no understanding of what the word “cooperative” means or just plain don’t care. Either way, while these moments can be kind of fun at first, eventually it sours the experience. To get the most out of Payday 2 really means that the player needs a team that is communicating.

To illustrate my point: each job (mission) on the map has a star rating. The more stars, the tougher the job, the greater the reward should you succeed. Success is determined by at least one person getting away with some of the goods. Obviously, if everyone survives and all of the goods get made off with, then the job is 100% successful and the player’s payday will be greater… not just in money, but also in “Reputation” (experience) points. Once the player has accumulated enough Reputation Points, they level up.

With each successive level, the player also unlocks a “Skill Point.” Skill Points are spent in one of 4 different Profession paths: Mastermind, Enforcer, Technician, and Ghost. Mastermind allows the player to unlock health kits which can be deployed during missions, gives the ability to charm civilians to help you when fallen, keep civilians intimidated for longer, and much more. The Enforcer class unlocks an ammo bag that can be deployed during missions, gives the ability to move faster when carrying bags, gives the ability to wear heavy armor, and so on. Following the Technician path allows the player to unlock trip mines, and explosives for safes and doors, sentry guns, and gives the ability to take more damage.

So far everything I’ve talked about is great for once the heist is on and the cops have been alerted. However, the Ghost class unlocks the ECM Jammer, which jams electronics like alarms and security cameras. Strategic placement of an ECM can drastically reduce the reaction time and amount of resistance the player will receive from the cops which, in turn, makes the job go smoother.

Here is where communication is key and, without it, whole features of the game go to waste: Once the player selects the job they wish to participate in, they join the lobby. Once the host selects “Start The Heist,” they will then be taken to the job overview. From here, even without communicating as to who is playing what role, you can see the “Crew Setup” for each player. Here, you will see each teammate’s primary and secondary weapon, their armor, and, lastly, their equipment. This will either be an ammo bag, a medic bag, explosives, or an ECM Jammer. The wise thing to do is for each player to bring one of each. However, without a team of friends or communicating partners, most of the time, bringing the ECM Jammer is a wasted slot. You can almost guarantee that things will go sideways immediately without having a chance to properly place the ECM Jammer, thus wasting that precious equipment slot. That may not sound like much, but if the player is anything like me, the idea of planning as close to a perfect heist as possible is a major draw. Not being able to do so because every session has its own Leeroy Jenkins is a major drawback, especially when the shooting is as rote as it is in Payday. It’s never bad, it’s just not very inspired.

On the few games I was able to play with a communicative team, two of us played crowd control while the other two went after the safes or vaults. Using cable ties to bind the hands of hostages, I was able to trade the hostage for one of our guys when they were taken into custody. It’s fun, thrilling stuff when I’m able to get into one of those kinds of lobbies. However, they were so few and far between.

After the job has ended and the player has received their payday, they will be transported to a screen with 3 facedown cards next to their name . Once they have selected a card, it is turned over and reveals their reward for the job. Each card corresponds a specific reward/unlock: weapon upgrades, customization items for masks, and extra money. The caveat to these weapon upgrades is that because it’s based on the cards selected, and those cards are random, you may not get a weapon upgrade you can use. In fact, in my first 12 Reputation levels, I hadn’t unlocked a single weapon upgrade I could use for my weapons. Also, upgrades are extremely expensive. So not only may the player not get an upgrade they can use, they will most likely not have enough money to buy it. This system isn’t actually really broken in any way, but it means it can take a long time before the player will get something they not only like, but also can afford.

Higher paying jobs can last several “days” with each day being another mission. From the actual robbery, to the transport, to the drop off, these missions take a while to complete, so be advised not to start one unless you have the time to commit to it. These are also best when playing with friends since most randoms will either not participate or drop out. You can also have a go at the game with Crime.Net offline, but the team AI is really, really poor and they won’t do much of anything other than shoot at the cop AI.

The HUD gives pertinent information. The objective, the police level of aggression, how much time is taking, as well as player health and equipment.

Some friendly advice

The few times I was able to get into a match with a team that’s actually interested in more than a body count were fairly exceptional. We each contributed to the heist in a meaningful way, communicated enemy types and positions, and worked together in the event that one of us went down. Experiencing these types of sessions in Payday 2 expresses the very essence of what Overkill had intended in their design. Unfortunately, these experiences have been extremely rare for me. And ultimately, that makes a really good game merely a “good game with a bunch of caveats.” If you can convince friends to fork over the money, Payday 2 is deeply challenging, fun, and rewarding game. If you’re looking for a good cooperative multiplayer game and can’t get friends together, Payday 2 might frustrate or disappoint you.

Sean played Payday 2 on Xbox 360 with a copy provided by 505 Games. He completed 23 levels of reputation before completing this review.

7/10+ Interesting mission structures and parameters
+ Moment to moment gameplay is easy to understand
+ Tons of upgrades to unlock
+ Professions skill trees
+ Deeply challenging, rewarding and fun with friends…
-…All of it means nothing without a good team
-Most sessions devolve into uninspired shoot outs
-Unlocks are random and expensive

Available on: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Version Reviewed: Xbox 360

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