Movies tell us the life of a successful criminal needs to be free from attachment. Unless you want to end up doing a dime in last season’s orange jumpsuit, don’t cozy up to anything you can’t drop in thirty seconds when you smell those handcuffs coming around the corner. Being a crook in Payday 2, however, requires some social ties: three friends, or a couple of acquaintances with solid internet connections, at the very least. If you can muster up a motley crew with a few mics, you’ll have a thoroughly enjoyable avenue for pulling off intricate, replayable heists and amass all the riches and weapons that bank-robbing, art-thieving, drug-running, and meth-making can net you.
Just like the original Payday, this sequel pits four career criminals against a vault or a stash, and most certainly an absurd number of well armed but dim-witted boys in blue. You and your fellow co-conspirators begin most levels casing the joint, walking around sans masks, trying to pick out scores and potential liabilities.
Missions are far from straightforward, though, and can play out in several different ways. Say you’re knocking over a jewelry store, full of case after case of glittering prizes. Use silenced weapons on the guards, keep a man on each exit for crowd control to make sure civilians don’t go tattling, and you can make a clean break, riding high on the nail-biting tension as you escape in the van you rode in on.
Payday 2 offers a significant amount of variety, though. Most robberies get loud and nasty real quick. Maybe because you stepped in front of a security camera in the “employees only” part of the club. Maybe because some rent-a-cop noticed the Kevlar undergarment beneath your Brooks Brothers shirt--after all, bigger armor and guns come with a higher visibility rating.
Regardless, missions that get rough quickly become sessions of dig-in horde mode tactics while you hold out for a drill to crack a vault or some other wait-out-the-clock scenario to unfold. In these instances, those looking for more advanced shooter tactics won’t find the need for more than good mic communication and a balanced team.
There are enough variables to keep trips to the same bank from growing stale too quickly. Stash locations shuffle like three-card monte, and increasing difficulty levels bring extra steps and trip-ups. Better knock out the power before your buddy goes to work on that electrified safe, or he’ll be doing the 10,000 watt shuffle, spastic trigger finger spraying rounds into you and the civies.
You may not have guessed it from all the twisted clown smiles, but mowing down bystanders in Payday 2 is a no-no. Spilling innocent blood comes with a hefty fine, deducted from the team’s pay out, and everybody you kill is one less bartering chip you could have hogtied. Having a hostage is basically Link’s fairy in a jar, letting you make a trade to bring a downed teammate back into the action.
It's a crafty concept, but the execution lacks flare. You walk up to a zip-tied hostage and press the use key, like they were a safecracking drill or any other objective. There’s also an abundance of holding the use key waiting for a meter to fill, when rescuing a downed cronie, picking a lock, or loading up on loot. It's not particularly fun just holding down a button while everyone else is engaging in all the action.
There are moments where concept and core gameplay mesh nicely. A Breaking Bad-inspired meth heist, where your team has to cook the product by directions barked over walkie talkie, stands out. Get the order right or it’s more than your paycheck that burns. It’s also a troubling amount of fun ordering hostages to the ground before opening up on a phalanx of SWAT officers.
Those cops seem happy enough to walk right into your bullets though, provided they get to try and fire back. Enemies are none too smart, and neither are your AI allies. They won’t even touch mission objectives, and because the most effective way to move bags of loot is like turn-of-the-century firefighters passing buckets, most missions are unplayable without at least two humans wearing masks.
Even with DOA single-player, Payday 2 offers a lot of bang for a below-average asking price. Debuting at $30 on Steam, its co-op action is gangbusters with the right crew of like-minded individuals. Better AI and a few more clever gameplay flourishes could have pushed it into must-play territory, but as it stands it’s still worth putting a team together and hopping in. Just make sure to say, “please crack the safe,” and “would you kindly hand me that loot.” You’re gonna need your buddies around when the heat comes looking for you.
This game was reviewed on PC.