Payday 2 – PC
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Overkill Software
Release Date: Aug 13, 2013
Genre: Action, FPS, RPG
Reviewed by Mitch Cullen

Review Score: 4 of 5

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I agreed to do the review for Payday 2. As the resident military and squad-based tactics reviewer here at Game Chronicles I couldn’t imagine how those skills were going to spill over into the world of a game designed around knocking off banks and jewelry stores. It took quite a bit of convincing to get my regular group of buddies to play with me – I actually had to buy their copies – but now, after three weeks of nearly non-stop gameplay we have all come to the conclusion that Special Forces soldiers make the best heist men. I honestly haven’t had this much four-player co-op fun since Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six.

Payday 2 is a class-based team experience that has you emulating the lifestyle of professional robbers – think Hitman meets Ocean’s Eleven. While the game can be played alone don’t even bother. I tried a few missions solo and it’s just not feasible, especially in the first mission I tried that would have you making multiple trips back and forth inside a nightclub surrounded by police to carry out loot. The game clearly intended for four people to each be carrying some loot and since I was alone I was responsible to get it all. It’s absurd to think that after shooting your way out of a building and dropping off the loot at your getaway vehicle, you would shoot your way BACK IN and do it all over again three more times.

I then went online and started playing with strangers, and sure enough, the game got better, but ultimately Payday 2 is only as good as the people you are playing with. That means you need to be playing with friends, hopefully friends with some skills, and friends who can chat while you play so you can work out strategies, because no matter how well you plan your heist something unexpected is always going to happen.

Fans of heist movies will know that it takes a village to pull off a heist. You need multiple guys with multiple talents and Payday 2 offers four variations; the Mastermind, the Enforcer, the Ghost and the Technician. Each class has their own skill tree and unique set of weapons and gear, much like any squad-based military game. You can even cross-train acquiring skills from other trees creating a unique hybrid – the ultimate heister. Using these classes in strategic harmony will certainly make the heist go smoother, but something inevitably goes wrong – there are just so many variables it’s near impossible to account for them all.

You’ll spend as much time planning the mission as pulling it off. There are more than 40 dynamic scenarios that will slowly unlock and be available on, and they never unfold the same way twice. Some are fairly elaborate, especially when you move away from simple bank jobs and jewelry store heists. Something like a museum heist might takes days of extensive research, recon, and both primary and fallback plans for worst case scenarios. There are so many variables for each mission, but the key factor is always the cops. The longer you can delay their arrival the better, because once they show up it only escalates. If your tech can disable alarms or use a cell phone jammer that will help. You will also want to take and secure hostages since the police will never breach a building until civilians have been cleared.

Payday 2 offers the thrill of a stealth game with the realization that sooner or later something is going to go wrong. Of all the scenarios me and my team have played over the past few weeks, we only pulled off one jewelry store heist where the cops were not even summoned, and when it was all over it was almost a letdown that we hadn’t had to shoot our way to freedom. The realization that cops are almost always going to factor into the scenario can take the guesswork out of decisions of body armor vs. more casual stealth attire.

For a non-military game I was impressed that the gunplay was as solid as it turned out to be, but then again, since almost every mission ends in a shootout it had better be. There is a decent cover mechanic, realistic weapons fire and damage that would stack up with any contemporary shooter. The level designs are equally as realistic offering multiple points of access, which is great for planning your heist, but also a challenge to defend when cops try to use them during a siege.

The graphics are pretty good; clearly not meant to compete with other AAA shooters, but they get the job done, and the interface is clean and intuitive, both before the missions and during gameplay. Lighting, shadows, special effects, smoke; it’s all there and it looks great. The sound effects for the guns are spot-on and the rest of the ambient sounds and voice chatter all create a sense of realism. Even the energetic and suspenseful music adds a bit of a heist movie vibe to the experience.

My only real issues with the game were the relatively small payouts for even the larger heists, which wouldn’t be a big issue if it weren’t for the high cost of new weapons and upgrades, and even then you can only purchase what you have unlocked in some odd post-game luck-of-the-draw card flip game. The game seems determined to empty your wallet as fast as you fill it. Even moving a weapon attachment from one weapon to another requires you to pay to uninstall it from one and reinstall on the other. I ended up spending more time customizing my character’s skill tree using the XP earned from my heists, and then you have the “monumental” decision of customizing and choosing which mask to wear. You can even design your own.

It was also a shame there was no proper tutorial. Having never played the first game I was kind of thrown into this new variation of team-gaming. Thankfully, Payday 2 is not that conceptually different from a Ghost Recon or Rainbow Six game, both in the level of pre-mission planning and the intricate teamwork required to successfully complete the mission, but unless you have someone to guide you through the first few missions it can be a bit frustrating. There are some interactive tutorials accessible from your Safe House, but you can probably learn just as well, if not better, by just playing the game.

Payday 2 offers four difficulty options, and while I normally jump right to the most challenging, the cops in this game are as clever as they are aggressive, and since the missions dynamically change each time you play you can’t memorize their patterns or predict their actions. Even with my skilled team of military-trained heisters it was more than a week before we were comfortable moving to the Very Hard mode. As for Overkill…the name speaks for itself.

I was really impressed with Payday 2. Before now I had never considered how similar the tactics of professional heisters were to those of a trained military squad. The game has a few issues but most of those are clearly outshined with dozens of dynamic heists that offer various levels of challenge and unexpected results each step of the way. The classes and skill trees offers an extra level of immersion, and the sheer level of cooperation required to play this game makes Payday 2 one of the best 4-player tactical games I’ve played this year.