PAYDAY 2 Review
It’s kind of a given that a video game, ostensibly a product that wants to be well-received both critically and commercially alike, will do as much in its power to explain – before point of sale – what it is that actually makes it worth buying at all. You know, a typical game will go well out of its way to make sure you understand what it actually is that sets it apart from the plethora of other games vying for your money and time. It’s how the market works. If you want a consumer base, you gotta, you know, you gotta make sure consumers know why your thing is any better than all the other things. PAYDAY 2 doesn’t afford itself that luxury. Beyond the basic premise, PAYDAY 2 sells itself short for the sake of letting you discover, for yourself, what makes it so damn special.
This was not a smart move.
The result is that, unless you push yourself to go digging, you’ll find PAYDAY 2 a game with some arguably basic mechanics obscured under ambiguity and confusion. The tutorial basically amounts to dropping you into a hub filled with some gameplay elements and saying, “good luck with that!” It’s a shame, too, because that leaves it on my shoulders to justify the score at the bottom of this page (don’t scroll down to check it, okay? That’s–awww, you cheater!). Far and away, PAYDAY 2 is my favourite game of the year. But with the game very purposefully being coy about anything not immediately discernible as surface-level mechanics . . . that’s gonna be a tough nut to crack.
The game is, in simplest terms, a four-player first-person co-op heist-’em-up. Inspired by films like Heat, Point Break, Ocean’s Eleven, Ronin, and so on, you and three would-be friends don the masks of a tight-knit group of career criminals. You work together when hitting up banks, jewelry stores, gang headquarters, police stations, and rich people’s houses to clean them out of all their valuables. The first PAYDAY, subtitled The Heist, was pretty simple to grasp – seven maps, seven heists. Sometimes you were breaking into banks, sometimes high-rise buildings; at other times, you were running through the streets, from (or towards) cops, rats, vans with money in ‘em. Simple stuff.
But not that simple. PAYDAY: The Heist was deceptively easy, and often, push come to shove, the heists had a very thin line between success and failure. It was made popular, perhaps, by the people who were looking for an extension of the Left 4 Dead formula, with zombies replaced by SWAT, and safehouses replaced by safes with gold in them; but it was given longevity by the dedicated group who went looking for depth in what appeared to be its shallow FPS mechanics. There were a handful (albeit not enough) maps that could, in essence, be “stealthed” – completed without attracting heat from the authorities at all – that put a completely different spin on the way one approached the game. What was simply a co-op shooter became something much more methodical, with spoils going towards crews who had mastered tactics, co-ordination, and communication.
Enter PAYDAY 2. Much like PAYDAY: The Heist, every mission can be completed by running and gunning – getting into a building, smashing up all the windows, shooting all the guards, and waiting for the police to arrive as your thermal lance chews through all the safes in the place. The line between success and failure has been erased, though, in favour of a much thinner line – that between finishing, and finishing well. There’s more rewards for those willing to take the risks than ever before, with whole heists locking out entire hauls for those who dare go in unprepared. I think it’s worth judging the game both on its capabilities as a co-op shooter, and as a co-op sneaker – and the seamless melding of the two.
As a shooter: PAYDAY 2 has a lot of stuff in it, I tell you that much. The first game had unlockables, but nowhere near the breadth of stuff the sequel does. There are so many guns and gadgets to buy, and so much stuff to then bolt onto those guns to make them more lethal, more stable, less loud, so on, so forth. It’s a kind of gun porn, in a way, something very nearly on the level of Army of Two in terms of its complexity, just slightly less pretentious about it.
The original PAYDAY crew is back – Hoxton, Dallas, Wolf and Chains – and with it, their specialties. Well, sort of. The game sort of implies that each aspect of the upgrade trees – Mastermind, Enforcer, Technician, and Ghost – are tied inherently to the characters themselves, but they’re really just shared across the board. You level up by completing heists, getting an upgrade point with each level, and the upgrade trees are pretty huge. You can also aim for all four at the same time, resulting in a mix-and-match situation where you can prep your character to your choosing. Each tree comes with its own high-end perks, though, so aiming for only one or two is probably more advisable than trying to be a jack-of-all-trades.