Four of us raided the drug den. It was easy enough to get inside but Mendoza’s hired thugs killed the cooks. There’s a deal that needs to go down though so there’s only one thing for it; we’ll have to make the meth ourselves. We search the house for the necessary ingredients; muriatic acid, caustic soda and hydrogen chloride. The gunfire earlier has drawn the attention of the cops though. Soon we’re under siege, two of us holding off the lower floor and the stairs while the other two rush around upstairs, cooking up the highly desired blue meth while picking off snipers in the bushes from the top windows. Putting the wrong ingredient in will cause the lab to explode into a fireball, but one of us misses the instruction. Someone shouts “Doesn’t anyone know how to cook meth around here?!” They’re only semi-joking.
Thankfully we get it right, and soon enough we’ve got the three bags that are needed. The van is parked just around the corner, so we’re going to have to make a desperate run for it. There’s a full SWAT team bearing down on us and, straggling at the back while weighed down by a bag of the illicit narcotics, I’m downed by a hail of bullets. You don’t leave a team member behind though, so Duggy and Phil provide covering fire while Kyle brings me back to my feet. We reach the van; bloodied, but alive. A celebratory cheer breaks out while we count the payout.
And in this moment I fall deeply in love with Payday 2.
For the uninitiated, Payday 2 is the sequel to the cult title Payday: The Heist that hit the PlayStation 3 and PC back in 2011. While it’s predecessor was a download only title, Payday 2 has been given the full boxed released treatment on consoles thanks to a vast increase in size due to the improvements throughout the title, which we’ll come on to later.
Payday 2 places the 4 protagonists – Dallas, Hoxton, Chains, and Wolf – in the streets of Washington DC and presents the player with a choice of missions from the first new addition, the Crime.net interface, which is essentially a top down map with the missions as selectable way-points. Each mission is ranked by a number of stars, with the higher number of stars being the more difficult missions. While playing through the game picking easier scenarios may be tempting, picking a high difficulty increases the payout and, in Payday 2, cash is king.
Money is a huge driving factor in Payday 2 as every upgrade is dependent on both your rank and your bank balance. Extra guns, mods, perks and masks all cost an extortionate amount of money, with the masks in particular having jaw-dropping prices attached to them. Perks in Payday 2 are of large importance, as each of the 4 skill trees give you valuable tools at your disposal.
Apart from those that are spread out over several days, Payday 2 usually starts your missions by giving you and your team mates chance to scope out the area and plot your method for carrying out the heist. It’s a magnificently devious feeling when you’re walking through a store, calling out to your teammates what obstacles the four of you have to face, for example letting everyone know the locations of security cameras or what path a guard takes when he patrols a store.
It’s worth noting here that Payday 2 employs aspects of randomisation in order to keep the game fresh. There’s a good chance you may replay missions a good few times, and Overkill have done a great job of fending off any sense of repetition. It may be that a guard spawns next to a crucial window you previously used for escape, it could be the safe you need to crack is in a completely different room, or maybe there’s now a security camera pointing straight at the front door. It’s little changes like this that keep the player on their toes each time you play.
Payday 2 also takes into account how suspicious you look while in the store. Progressing through the game unlocks better armour and more deadly guns but at the expense on an increased chance someone being alerted to your presence. It’s difficult to spot the intention of a chap walking into the store in a suit with a pistol stashed inside, but plodding in the door with a bulletproof vest, shotgun strapped to your back and an assault rifle in your hand will raise more than a few eyebrows.
When taking part in these missions the obvious desire is to pull off the perfect heist, but this is considerably easier said than done, in fact it’s nigh on impossible unless all 4 of your teammates have sufficiently leveled up skills. From my experience a perfect heist attempt normally starts off pretty well, but then one little oversight throws it all into disarray. It may be that someone passing by outside sees what’s going on, or maybe the person at the end of the security guards walkie talkie didn’t believe you when you attempting to impersonate the guy that you’ve just knocked out. Whatever the reason, when it goes bad, it goes bad fast.
The police presence in Payday 2 is brutal and uncompromising. Their first response to your attempted robbery will be a mere handful of cops but will soon ramp up to wave after wave of SWAT troops and, if you hang around for long enough, heavily armoured Heavies. While the police AI isn’t MENSA level, it’s easy to be caught out as they will use multiple points of entry to attempt to flank you. The SWAT and heavy enemies can also absorb a sizable amount of damage.
Thankfully for us, the gunplay is excellent. While at the lower levels your accuracy is somewhat suspect, levelling up and adding perks can soon have your criminal popping off head shots with ease. There’s also a sizable array of 26 weapons to suit your personal style, including pistols, shotguns, sub-machine guns and assault rifles, with a portable electric saw also available too.
Each heist is a tense, nervy experience that can have you right on the edge of your seat. Pulses quicker and teammates whisper to each other as you attempt your initial stealth runs, only to descend into fraught chaos as you attempt to escape from the DC Police Force onslaught, frantically screaming out updates to each other, for example, on how long the drill has left as it attempts to breach the bank’s vault. It’s a fantastic experience to be part of.
A game at this price point doesn’t come without downsides though. Graphically, there’s not much here to get excited about. Textures are average, as are the animations. Thankfully you’re often under so much pressure you won’t notice this, but it’s a downside none the less.
The more sizable negative aspect comes from the single player mode. This is not a game to play on your own. Dreadful teammate AI can make many levels pretty much impossible, and bugs can hinder you further still. In 4 different attempts at playing one specific level I have had between one to all of my alleged teammates refuse to do anything at all, instead having them stood around, leaning against walls, while I attempted to fend off an entire police force single handedly.
Similarly, playing with random folk or without voice communication is a frustrating experience. Communication is key in Payday 2, from the moment the mission starts right until your escape to a waiting van, and any team that attempts otherwise is certainly doomed to failure.
Payday 2 is the essence of what makes a multi-player cooperative shooter fun. It doesn’t mess around with a deep plot and break up the action with unnecessary cutscenes because, fundamentally, Overkill Software knew that’s not what you’re here for. You’ve jumped online with three friends with the explicit aim of coordinated carnage, and Payday 2 delivers this in spades. Highly recommended.
MLG Rating: 8/10 Format: Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 / PC Release Date: 16/08/2013
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Payday 2: The Heist for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of 10 days on a Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.