Payday 2 (PS3) Review

Payday 2 (PS3) Review

Payday 2 offers a compelling co-operative multiplayer experience.


There’s something about the idea of a heist that inflames the imagination, isn’t there? A group of skilled criminals assemble, craft an elaborate plan, and try their very best to pull it off without too many hitches. If all goes well the thieves retire on a sunny beach somewhere, sipping cocktails adorned with tiny umbrellas. If things go wrong they end up either dead or in jail. These are the kind of stakes that all of us understand: the conmen emerge from the heist with their lives changed drastically for the better or the worse. Payday 2 is a game all about this dichotomy. Its developer, Overkill Software, has obviously studied the subgenre of heist movies and books and tried to replicate all of the tension that exists between plan and execution, success and failure.


Act I: THE PLAN

payday2-2.jpgPayday 2 is a co-operative game that tasks a team of four players with carrying out a series of missions that all have the same end goal: get as much money as possible. This kind of framework lends itself well to variety and, luckily, Overkill exploits it to its utmost. The team of thieves are assigned heists that span an entire city by handlers like the secretive Bain and ruthless Hector. These are accessed through Crime.net, essentially a graphic server list obscured as a map, and run the gamut from short, simple jobs to lengthier, more elaborate ones. In one case the players are asked to cause property damage in a mall. This requires only one “day” of work, which essentially equals a single level. Another asks the criminals to raid a meth lab. When things go wrong — a rival gang has killed the drug cooks and armoured FBI agents are on their way — it becomes necessary for the players to finish making the meth (without blowing themselves up in the process), shoot through the opposition, escape, and then regroup for another day’s mission of offloading the product. While some heists can be finished in less than twenty minutes, others, like this, may take three or more days, requiring upwards of an hour of dedicated play to complete.

The level of variety in mission length, difficulty, objective, and setting makes Payday 2‘s wide array of heists difficult to get tired of playing. Rather than take the obvious route and develop a game consisting entirely of different banks to rob, Overkill has exercised a considerable amount of imagination in the conception and execution of its levels.

Act II: THE HEIST

Payday 2 ‘s missions are also wrapped in layers of unlockables that encourage continued play. While skills can be upgraded across a variety of paths, allowing for a jack-of-all-trades approach, the game also features a loose kind of class system that can guide players who wish to become particularly adept at a certain role. These include the aggressive, thick-skinned Enforcer, the stealth-focused Ghost, machine-savvy Technician, and manipulative Mastermind. Since a good heist requires a mix of the four classes the difficulty of a mission can spike unnaturally if the wrong players group together — a balance issue that contributes to the sloppiness that often results from anonymous co-op and serves as Payday 2‘s largest problem. Nonetheless, an occasionally tough heist seems like a small price to pay for the level of customization the skill trees provide. Playing as a brutish Enforcer, blasting through enemies with a shotgun and shrugging off bullets with heavy armour, makes for a drastically different experience than assuming the role of The Mastermind, who is more concerned with dispatching health kits and overseeing civilian hostages. It’s extremely satisfying to finish a heist, use a newly earned level to upgrade a skill, put some recently stolen cash into beefing up a favourite weapon, and then see these investments immediately make a specific play-style more effective during the next mission.

Of course none of this would amount to much if Payday 2 wasn’t so much fun to play. Fortunately it is. The plethora of guns that can be unlocked as the player earns money and levels all pack an appropriate amount of heft. Tight controls and excellent sound design result in a gratifying level of feedback that makes toppling a single enemy or firing the opening salvo in a stand-off against the police feel as momentous as any single moment in a high-stakes robbery should. Overkill has packed Payday 2 with an enormous amount of detail, and this pays off in a game that always feel responsive, whether the thieves are sneakily casing the perimeter of a building or fighting through a police blockade.

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Act III: THE OUTCOME

The end result of Payday 2‘s commitment to level variety, satisfying character progression, and detailed gunplay is a truly great multiplayer experience — even if it has a few minor problems. Aside from an offline component with completely useless AI companions, the game is an entirely multiplayer affair. When grouping up with random strangers the co-operative nature of the heists can lead to mixed results. Sometimes the player will find her or himself matched with competent and supportive teammates who are eager to discuss and employ a specific plan during a heist. In these cases — and when making a squad composed of friends — Payday 2 is sublime. It’s far more difficult to appreciate the game’s strengths when playing as part of a less cohesive team, though. As with all multiplayer titles that encourage tactical thinking, enjoying Payday 2 is largely contingent on playing alongside others who are willing to work as a group. It’s easy to become frustrated when a teammate refuses to revive others or help lay down covering fire while a bag of cash is being slowly carried toward an escape vehicle. A better crafted offline mode would have gone a long way in solving this issue, but, as mentioned above, poor AI makes playing alone almost impossible. Bot teammates are good enough at firing their guns at enemies and reviving downed thieves, yet they never contribute to important aspects of the heist like carrying bags, setting up drills, or offering ammunition and health pick-ups.

Still, it’s difficult to put too much emphasis on these problems when playing the game as intended is so enjoyable. Overkill has done a tremendous job of taking the tension of a great heist film and making it interactive. The sense of despair when police swarm a building, the suspense of protecting a computer while it collects data, and the satisfaction that come from pulling off a risky plan just right — these kind of moments are unique to Payday 2. When combined with top-notch action and an engrossing character progression system the end result is one of the most rewarding multiplayer experiences currently available.

Payday: The Heist (PS3) Review

Payday: The Heist (PS3) Review

Some of us played Red-A when we were kids, some of us played Cops & Robbers. Admittedly, some of us probably played both. But many of us, today, have played Counter Strike, Left 4 Dead and other atmosphere changing games where we shoot people endlessly somewhere on the other end of a screen. Many of us saw the film The Dark Knight, it’s made a billion dollars after all, and while that isn’t a game, small game studio Overkill seemed to take a liking to a particular, opening scene. To like things, and to take those elements are well intentioned, and to have good ideas all the better. But how to use those tropes, the ability to do and not just plot, that would be the real score.

Payday: The Heist is a bank robbing, online multiplayer game. You and three others are given around a half dozen crime spree scenarios, starting with a simple bank buster and ending with a van job that goes wrong when the vehicle ends up half-way through the roof of a slaughterhouse. Other than the consistency of the clown-masked, code named criminals there doesn’t seem to be much of an ongoing plot. Just four boys who like to see crime pay. There is variety in these missions in the sense variety is there. A tower-top diamond heist lets players flex their stealth skills against dim, flashlight carrying, hired security and an escort mission where you push and torture a turncoat could break up the gunning and turf control, but they only appear in their assigned levels. It’s more like the diamonds are in one vault with the rubies in another.

But within the basic structure, there are interesting complications to keep things from just being more dead cops than an NWA album. In most of the levels you can take bystanders hostage, holding a gun to their back will make them duck and stand out of your way, but using plastic ties to cuff their hands lets you turn them into bargaining chips if one of your own is arrested (though this didn’t seem to happen often.) Police forces will try to rescue the hostages, though as long as one team member keeps an eye on them they’re hard to lose, enemy AI is rarely too original about entry points. Almost all levels have segments where tools and gadgets must be maintained in different spots on the maps, saws and hacking gizmos will strategically hiccup forcing someone to touch base with them. This all sounds like a decent way to kill time and score fake dollars, assuming you play online. And that’s where I encountered some surprise frustrations.

In the week I’ve had to try out Payday: The Heist, I have managed to join a total of two online matches. It is not for lack of trying. Sitting in the lobby screen is an ultimate test of patience. While many smaller, online game endeavours will automatically plug you into a new group, The Heist wants to give you the option of selecting one for yourself, which would be great if there were ever more than three options at a time (usually it’s just one) and terrible because of an even more illogical grievance. When it does find me a game to join, it won’t let me. An error about the room filling up will be screen fixture. At first I took the error to heart, that three others just beat me to it at that moment, but whenever I refresh, even after three or four rotations of other rooms, I’ll encounter that same “filled” team still waiting to go.

Playing alone is no fun at all. The enemy AI is a bit dense but functional, but the team AI is stubborn and pointless. They either follow, kill, or stand still. If there are hostages to be maintained, gear to be checked or, worst of all, that one stealth portion, they are not savvy enough to help out, and suddenly a game where four folks are supposed to whip through it is just you struggling. My PS3 has a strong connection, full bars, the lot. A quick Google search lets me confide that I’m not at all alone in suffering the online error.

Even if the online worked, The Heist still wouldn’t be that amazing. It’s mean to hold it up to peers like Left 4 Dead, given how much smaller this project is, and I’ll lay off the stodgy voice acting, but that’s not an excuse to hold back some more core criticisms. The levels are all short and most don’t have much depth to them. The more clever ideas implemented in the game’s system rarely occur. I think my largest question is why is this an exclusively co-op affair? Even a gamer’s parents can tell you that versus bouts have become a bit of a thing in video games this, uh, last decade or two, and until actually starting the game I was even under the implication that this was cops AND robbers, with both roles filled. I get that “being bad is good” with gaming culture from recent history till whenever, but if it’s all going to be thieves and crooks in a world of incompetent guardians then that isn’t really much of a conflict. Payday meant well, well, bad, but when you cash out you’ll be let down how half-full the loot bag is.