Murphy's Law eloquently teaches, "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." And with the don of a mask, the flick of a safety, and the sound of a shot, no game demonstrates that sad truth better than Payday: The Heist’s sequel. Too often a pedestrian compromised my team’s jewelry store stickup by phoning in the disturbance, or an unnoticed security camera captured our bank break-in for the entire evening news. An unconscious bodyguard’s pager also ended several home invasions early, just like mixing the wrong meth ingredients led to an incapacitating explosion. Payday 2 is a periodic comedy of errors, but in a game so reliant on execution, it pays to have a backup plan. Literally.
Returning Payday protagonists Chains, Dallas, Wolf, and Hoxton find themselves at the center of Murphy’s old adage once again, but not even the most gullible viewers would believe in their seasoned expertise when watching Payday 2’s computer-controlled AI. Twice I tackled heists alone, and only twice, since the missions demanded I handcuff civilians, carry suitcases, and repair drills while babysitting two idiotic partners-in-crime. They never cooperate, ignoring bags, intel, and hostages when rushing blindly out of cover to resuscitate each other. Otherwise, the computer hounds your every step, just like a trusted canine, though it's far from man's best friend.
At least the game costs $30, because given the defunct AI, fans only get half a product. To make any progress, four semi-intelligent players is now mandatory, but nothing else scratches the cooperative heist itch like Payday 2. First-person shooters pride themselves on showing off the next set piece, or chaperoning gamers through endless firefights with little time to reflect on their actions. Instead, Overkill Software not only encourages patience, the team actually rewards it.
With Payday 2, we are several steps closer to a perfect reenactment of Heat.
Before you can start planning your exotic retirement, you must start small. Felonies begin with Crime.net, a citywide list of contracts for all burgeoning burglars. Immediately, Payday veterans will notice the staggering increase in dirty work. Malls need vandalizing, cocaine needs escorting, guns need stealing, and bureaucrats need blackmailing. Of course, what would the game be without a traditional bank robbery, too? The variety is the icing on the five-finger discount cake, and what filling, addictive icing it is, even after 15 hours.
Players start most thefts undercover, locating buildings' video cameras, memorizing guards' positions, taking a head count of civilians, and identifying entrances and exits. But random level layouts ensure no planning stage ends without hiccups. Now the back door's locked, the manager's missing, the brick walls are windows, and the bank vault's sitting in the lobby within plain view of the tellers and customers. Even so, improvising is the mark of any great thief, as is stealth. During my first silent heist, Dallas hacked the bank’s security feed, pinpointing patrolling police. Meanwhile, Wolf picked the lock to the accountant’s booth, ordering the employees to stand down before they tripped the alarm. Then, before anybody escaped, Hoxton blocked off the front door as I (Chains) set up the drill that would break into the vault. In and out in five minutes. The cops were never called, no innocents were harmed.
Harming civilians deducts a cleaning fee, but keeping the crowd under control is needlessly complicated by a Payday: The Heist frustration: the goddamn drills. Occasionally, the drill tips break when boring into a safe and need replacing. That eternity lasts nearly 15 seconds, during which time players remain vulnerable and prisoners can escape. Why would the characters not buy better tools using their ill-gotten currency? Because that would sour the "game" part of the experience? No, it ruins the fun. At least Overkill Software added quicker, albeit more deafening, safe-cracking means. Power saws slice through locks, and C4 blows doors off their hinges, letting criminals amass more loot quickly.
Players trade mobility for protection with bulletproof vests.
Certain tools remain specific to the four classes. The Enforcer is a tank, able to carry bags faster, throw them farther, and dismantle locks with the saw. The Mastermind is manipulative, convincing cops to handcuff themselves or even fight alongside you when not acting as the team medic. The Technician is a master of explosives and the only one that can equip C4 – indispensable when getaway drivers leave stragglers behind. Lastly, Ghosts are the stealth artists, capable of deploying jammers that disable nearby electronics.
The skill trees prove paramount to a group’s success, though Payday 2 allows players to be as dangerous as they want, like recruiting multiple Enforcers for jobs best done quietly. Testing what strategies works among your posse is a rare cerebral delight, bolstered by a community willing to help newcomers learn. Contracts vary in length and difficulty, so communication is a must at all stages. Simple smash and grabs divide the cash at the end of missions, while multi-day operations only roll out the big bucks once the ordeal is over. Rats, for example, is a three-day affair, requiring players to bake batches of meth and trade it for information on the traitors who sold them out.
Payday 2 is a frequent source of virtual greed I did not expect. Cause enough chaos before a getaway and the cops may randomly attack the vehicle between days, forcing teams into a brief standoff before the next driver arrives. Not surprisingly, stolen goods can be lost during these short shootouts, further reducing payouts. Do you endanger your group’s safety for an extra ten grand, or watch helplessly while officers carry bags away? Almost nine times out of ten, my crew chose the former.
Players could stay and pick every lockbox, or escape before more boys in blue arrive.
I did not expect such a terrible upgrade system, either. After every job, players choose one of three cards containing bonus cash, weapon mods, or mask materials. Payday 2 then hands out unlocks for guns you don't even own, meaning you may, theoretically, never obtain a specific scope, barrel, grip – you name it.
The in-game economy is similarly stingy. The game puts away millions of dollars in an untouchable offshore savings account, yet the player's pocket cash is just tens of thousands? The most costly firearms set buyers back half a million, which cuts into funds used to purchase class perks. Even custom masks demand a cool $100,000. For what? Chrome paint?
So with all the faults levied against you, Payday 2, why can I not quit you? Because Payday 2 is an exercise in both inner and outer conflict, and few experiences compare with casing a bank, syncing the siege with three other bandits, and making off with stacks of freshly minted bills. Sure, vaults swinging open to reveal another locked gate is gut-wrenching, especially when sounds of dubstep signal fresh waves of law enforcement. But disregarding its amateur AI, discount drills, and bogus award system, Payday 2's only punishable offense is stealing players' time.
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Overkill Software
Number of Players: 1-4 (Cooperative)
Release Date: August 13, 2013
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PlayStation 3