Organized crime is glamorous. While the exploits of a petty thief might not be admirable, there is a certain appeal to the life of a seasoned criminal.
An ordinary person will likely go their whole life without robbing a bank or transporting cocaine. But that doesn’t mean that person can’t feel some of the rush that comes with pulling off a successful heist. That’s the escapist nature of a video game: it lets people act out wild fantasies.
Payday 2 lets players live out their organized crime fantasies with a variety of underworld undertakings, ranging from art theft to gun running. It’s all of the fun of robbing a bank with none of the lengthy federal prison sentence.
Equal parts Left 4 Dead and the opening scene from The Dark Knight, Payday 2 is a strategic, co-operative shooter from Overkill Software. It follows the crime spree of the original Payday: The Heist crew as they run rampant through Washington D.C.
Most missions can be played without the cops ever showing up, but it takes an incredible amount of cooperation and teamwork to pull off. Each player must play his part perfectly, whether it’s taking out security cameras, eliminating guards or cable-tying civilians. The heists all vary in length, difficulty and payout.
If your cover does happen to get blown (and believe me, it will—but that’s half the fun) the game also features great combat mechanics. The guns are satisfying and effective, and best of all, most are balanced in terms of power level. There isn’t one “best” gun that’s used exclusively in high-level play, which gives players freedom to meld their character to fit their own play style.
Balance is an important part to any game, and Payday 2 does a good job at keeping everything on the same playing field. The skill trees are another example of this: no single tree is particularly overpowered. Each has its own perks, but a mix of classes is usually the best route for completing a level.
Speaking of play styles, customization in this game is another feature worth applauding. Aside from each skill tree holding diverse and meaningful choices, the sheer number of weapon mods and mask skins in Payday 2 is bordering on the ridiculous. A single weapon can have close to 10 different modifications on it at once, and Overkill is apparently to masks what Valve is to hats.
Such extensive customization just makes it that much easier to live vicariously through your Payday 2 character. The more unique your character feels, the more likely you are to be immersed in the experience.
Adding further to that experience is a clever mission system that allows jobs to span multiple days and locales without using huge maps. Each job is split into “days,” which take place on separate, smaller maps. It makes each heist feel “bigger” without using huge amounts of processing power.
However, a few elements of the game hinder immersion. The police are often called to a heist without the player knowing exactly how it happened. A message appears on the screen saying something like “a civilian saw a criminal and called the cops,” but it doesn’t give any more feedback on how to improve your stealth.
Some civilians can even call the cops from beyond the invisible barriers of the level, meaning your only choice is to shoot them (which deducts from your personal account).
The AI detracts from immersion about 50 percent of the time. Sometimes cops will file one by one into oncoming fire, and other times 10 of them will storm the bank lobby all at once. Compared to most games, this is actually pretty good.
The mission spawning system can be frustrating, but it’s an interesting choice by Overkill. Instead of the host specifying exactly what mission and difficulty to play, around 10 random jobs will spawn at a time, each with a different difficulty. While it makes farming specific missions for quick cash, it’s more organic and makes it feel more like you’re a criminal looking for jobs as they pop up across the city.
The game also doesn’t hold the hands of new players, but it’s not that hard to get the hang of each mission. The online community is actually very helpful and friendly in this regard, although that could change as the game ages.
Payday 2 is a hard game—frustratingly so on the highest difficulty. That’s really a point in its favor, though, because it adds replay value. If the game were too easy, it wouldn’t stay popular for very long. There’s only so many times you can roll through a mission without getting bored.
Another good sign for Payday 2’s future is its potential for growth. Updates could easily add new difficulty levels, extra guns and longer missions. While such content might cost a few bucks, it wouldn’t be surprising if Overkill released a large free update for the game at some point. Either way, the developer deserves some props for refusing to include micro transactions in a game that practically begs for them.
At $30, Payday 2 won’t make much of a dent in your own payday. Few other games offer such deep, entertaining co-operative gameplay. It’s well-balanced, features a heavy degree of customization and allows gamers to fulfill their organized crime fantasies without worrying about dropping the soap. Besides, in what other game is it relevant to shout, “Hurry up and cook that meth!” or, “Grab the coke and run!” over voice chat?