Review: Payday 2; Killing policemen has never been this rewarding
When PAYDAY: The Heist was released two years ago, it was a strange kind of breakthrough for the video game industry. Granted, it certainly didn't offer any technological leaps forward — in fact, quite the opposite — but it did manage to carve out a niche that, confusingly, hadn't previously been tapped.
The thing is, every dude who was born after 1988 has a deep-seated love for elaborate heists, and until PAYDAY hit the market, only the film industry had taken advantage of this classically male obsession. Die Hard may not have been the first heist movie ever made, but when it hit the theaters in 1988, something changed. That movie altered the structure of our DNA forever, and I for one, wouldn't have it any other way.
But, for some reason it took 25 years for the video game industry to realize that men love heists. We should all be sending Overkill Software a thank you card.
However, even though PAYDAY: The Heist scratched an itch that was in one of those annoyingly unreachable areas in the middle of your back, it wasn't without its own set of flaws. The title was wrought with strange little glitches that left a bad taste in many gamers' mouths (including my own), but it definitely had something that most FPSes were missing, even if that thing wasn't readily identifiable.
These days, though, the staff at Overkill Software has expanded thanks to the success of PAYDAY: The Heist, and they're hoping to reset their reputation with PAYDAY 2.
And, I must admit, I think they may have succeeded.
The things that I really loved about The Heist are still around in the sequel, but they've been expanded and refined. The skill tree setup, for instance, has a much deeper impact on the role that your character will play during each mission. In the original title, skills were easily maxed out, and after only a few hours of play, everyone basically had the same setup. But in PAYDAY 2, skills must be carefully selected in order to optimize your team's effectiveness. So, if everyone in your crew chooses to be an Enforcer, you're probably not going to a very successful team.
While crafting the skill system, the folks at Overkill obviously took a lot of inspiration from action RPGs, especially Diablo 2. And, as much as I like to complain about the influence that RPGs have had on the FPS genre, it really works in this situation.
This time around, there are four basic classes. The Mastermind has the ability to heal the crew, and much of his tree is dedicated to hostage control. The Technician, which is a class that PAYDAY fans should recognize from The Heist's "Wolfpack" DLC, is the man behind all of the game's gadgetry. When it's time to crack a safe or deploy a sentry gun, the technician should be the first number on your speed dial. As this character levels, his equipment becomes more powerful, and I would probably say that he quickly becomes the most valuable class in the game. The Enforcer, on the other hand, is probably the least valuable member of the team. He's basically a bullet sponge that carries an ammo bag, which is handy when the team needs a resupply. However, he's basically useless when stealthiness is important. The Ghost class, though, is specifically built for stealth. He has the ability to subdue surveillance systems and security guards without being detected, and is probably the most important person on the team during the first two or three minutes of every heist. And, if the ghost does his job correctly, the team can get in and out without ever being detected.
But that almost never happens. So, don't forget to upgrade your assault rifles.
The unfortunate part about PAYDAY 2's skill system is that, like most RPGs, players will have to spend an annoying amount of time farming cash and levels in order to play the more entertaining missions. I spent the first few hours of the game robbing jewelry stores and low-security banks, but it wasn't long before I had the chops to try my hand at art heists and safecracking.
All of these missions are selected from an interface called Crime.net, which is basically a database full of contract jobs. The interface's iconography should give you some indication about the job's difficulty and how much money you can expect to make upon completion.
There are two versions of Crime.net: the standard version and an offline mode. Before you choose to play in offline mode, though, you should probably take that anger management medication that your doctor prescribed. At its core, PAYDAY 2 is a cooperative title, and it's obvious that Overkill wasn't entirely focused on single-player gameplay. Teammate A.I. is wonky and undercooked, and you'll probably spend a good deal of time reviving your crew, or being revived when a squad of policemen inexplicably comes through the door that both of your team mates were supposed to be covering (yeah. I’m still holding a small grudge).
But when you play online, the game starts to feel like the type of shiny triple-A FPS that most indie studios can't afford to build. That's not to say that it doesn't have a few of those small studio kinks, but very few games are as fulfilling as PAYDAY 2 when you find a good team and polish off a few difficult contracts.
These days, Hollywood isn't as obsessed with heists as they were in the 90s. And even though flicks like Ben Affleck's The Town and Christopher Nolan's Inception are definitely keeping the genre alive, that itch on our backs is starting to get annoying again. Maybe PAYDAY 2 can tide us over for a couple more years, but we're going to need some DLC.
Are you listening, Overkill Software?
If you're like me, you probably wish that Nintendo was still making Virtual Boy games. We should talk about it on Twitter: @joshengen