It was supposed to be a simple job, steal some meth, and trade it for information on the Mendozas. Kill the Mendozas, take their loot, and walk away. Hector is happy, and we all come away richer for our trouble. Thing is, when Hector gives us a job, it’s never easy. The cooks were dead when we got to the lab, if we wanted meth we’d have to make it ourselves, and the cops were already pulling up. Looks like it’s gonna be a long night.
Such a scenario is delightfully common in the sequel to Overkill’s smash indie hit, ‘Payday: The Heist.’ Payday 2, which launched today on Steam, is a cooperative first-person heist, robbery, and general chicanery simulator. The game puts the player in the role of one of four members of an infamous team of bank robbers, whose sole thrill in life appears to be the accumulation of massive sums of wealth via unscrupulous means.
Game play in the game consists of the player and up to three friends picking from lists of available heists and fending off waves of enemy law enforcement as they attempt to complete a variety of objectives. Comparisons to Left 4 Dead are inevitable, with both games featuring 4-player FPS co-op, hordes of enemies, and a very similar method of reviving downed comrades. (In the first game in the series there was actually a level added later on feating Mercy Hospital before the infection broke out) While the first game had a fairly limited number of missions, each one proceeding in roughly the same fashion, the sequel attempts to alleviate the tedium of repeating the same missions over and over somewhat, by way of making each mission a bit more randomized than in the first game, as well as offering 30 different heists to choose from.
The core mechanics are still present from the first game, players will complete heists to gain experience, granting them skill points that they can apply in the 4 upgrade trees available to players. These skill trees allow for players to have vastly different skill sets to bring to any given mission. A player high in the Mastermind tree can, for example, use their smooth talking abilities to get hostages to perform favors for them, such as reviving downed comrades, or even taking up arms against law enforcement. A player deep in the Enforcer tree is an unstoppable combat juggernaut, barely taking damage from enemy fire, dealing absurd damage with their own weapons, and gaining access to a portable saw which allows quick and easy access to locked doors and safes. The Ghost and Technician trees on the other hand allow for a more hands-off approach, granting the player access to tools, explosives, and jamming devices. Having certain skills available to your group greatly enhances your team’s options, allowing them to proceed through heists in vastly different ways. Players are not locked into their choices, being allowed to respect their skills in-between missions for some of the money they’ve earned.
This leads me to one of the other improvements that Payday 2 has over its predecessor; namely, the enhanced ability for players to choose HOW they want to complete a mission. In the first game stealth options were very limited to the players and often an impossibility for certain missions. Not so in Payday 2, aside from certain missions which are billed as action missions from the very beginning, it is possible to complete every mission in the game without ever attracting the attention of the police, so long as certain precautions are taken and perfectly executed by the players. This can lead to many tense and exhilarating moments where every player in the team is performing their assigned duty, hoping and praying that no one has screwed anything up, missed a vital detail. If all goes to plan, you’re in and out in a hurry, richer for your trouble. More often than not however, that telltale alarm will sound, and now everyone is in for a fight. Not as much of a problem on lower difficulty missions, but on the hardest difficulties, Very Hard and OVERKILL, where the real money lies, you may well be in for a trip to the Game-Over screen.
In addition to being able to customize and respec their skills, players are also able to find, purchase, and customize various weapons, equipment, and this time around, masks. Yes indeed, probably taking notes from their friends over at Valve, Overkill has allowed players to engage in the time-honored tradition of collecting virtual headgear for their characters. There is now a drop-system implemented in the game giving players a random item after each mission, from a list that includes: mask parts, weapon modifications, extra money, and ultra-rare “Joker” cards that give players very powerful weapon parts. Due to the nature of this system, certain items are extremely hard to come by, which may hint at the future possibility of steam trading becoming available for the game.
From what I’ve seen of the beta, Overkill has done a fantastic job of improving on their first title. Everything in this game feels better, more polished. Guns feel more accurate, have the proper weight and sound, little details, like the camera lean when your character is carrying a heavy object add to the atmosphere and immersion. The randomized missions and post-mission drop system add hours of replayability that the last game was lacking. This game is doing everything right, fans of the first game have no reason to deny themselves this sequel, and people new to the series have plenty of reasons to check it out.
Crime does pay.
Payday 2 is available now on Steam for $29.99 or, if you’ve got friends to go in with you, the much more affordable 4-pack for $89.99.