I'm walking through a club, doing my best to look nonchalant. Three of my crew mill around the dance floor, trying to get eyes on the owner's private office – and the location of his safe. None of this stops the nervous chills when members of his crew eye me up suspiciously. Do they know why I'm here? Then I spot the office: upstairs, behind a wall of windows and what's sure to be a locked door. I know from experience that places like this use keycards that only senior gang members carry. That's too bad. I was hoping to do this clean. I turn into a bathroom and pull on my clown mask. I knew to expect the alarm when I came out. I knew to expect the gunfire, first from the bouncers and then from the SWAT team. I knew all of this because I was playing PayDay 2.
If you played the original PayDay, accurately subtitled The Heist, you have a good idea of what to expect from this sequel. Story doesn't matter. This is a game about robbing banks with friends. A game about guarding drug stashes and money bags doomed to attract unwanted attention. It is about embracing your inner bad guy and then outfitting him with dozens of upgradeable weapons to mow down police officers and rival criminals.
Do you need a reason to be a bad guy? Overkill Software doesn't think so and I tend to agree. Narrative in PayDay is contextual and just enough to set your way. You enter the world a bank robber, a heist leader, and a man driven by profits. Everyone understands the villain, as blank canvas as Overkill's are. There is no need to story away his motivations when the player's own is to simply be him. This makes for a context that is easy to slip into to immerse yourself in the experience.
PayDay 2 feels familiar in more ways than one. It is, ultimately, like its predecessor, but as someone who played the original only briefly, I still found my footing easily. PayDay 2 follows the Left 4 Dead first-person shooter mold of four player co-op. You have a primary and secondary weapon, melee attack, special deployable, and must work together with your team mates to complete level objectives. PayDay hinges much more on group-play, however, which can prove a little frustrating when team members lone wolf it and refuse to coordinate. This is not that kind of game.
Best With a Team
Though each player begins the same, they are quickly rewarded a skill point to use in one of the game's four trees. Skill trees define your character, and though it seems impossible to fill out each one, they do form a sort of class system. The Mastermind, for example, can throw down health kits whereas the Enforcer deploys ammo. The Technician and Ghost specialize in trip mines and electronics jammers respectively. As you earn experience from completing missions and move up each of the tree's seven tiers, the abilities become more powerful and create a real sense of specialization.
When played effectively, a well-composed group becomes a powerhouse able to complete missions with surgical precision. At times like these, PayDay earns its title as one of the best cooperative games of the year. To say that it's satisfying would be an understatement. There is a cohesiveness to a good PayDay group that is hard to find elsewhere, let alone in the shooter genre. For that to occur, however, communication is more important than in many other games of its ilk. Overkill has wisely included a built in voice-chat system. Those who choose not to speak often listen and follow directions. Like any game, there are players who prefer to ignore their teammates and go it alone. These players are likely to die, but their group will be handicapped long before that. This is not a game to be played solo.
The Right Men for the Job
Taking on missions and coordinating with other players is easy thanks to an intuitive lobby system. After choosing a heist from Crime.NET, a grid system which shows missions on a map overlay, you are transported to a lobby of your teammates. Here you can choose your loadout and discuss strategy. For players without headsets, there is also traditional text-based chat. Once everyone clicks “ready,” the mission begins and you are dropped onto the street, hopefully looking inconspicuous. You choice in armor – say, a suit over a bullet-proof vest – affects how quickly civilians and gang members become suspicious of you. Until you pull on your clown mask, having your cover blown involves walking into an enemy or standing directly in front of them like a rube.
Improved graphics, more depth, lots of fun with a team
Some bugs, hit-or-miss AI