Payday 2 Xbox 360 Review
Publisher – 505 Games – Developer – Overkill Software – Genre – FPS – Players – 1-4 – Age Rating – 18+ – Other console/handheld formats – PS3
It’s time for a history lesson. The heist genre goes back long before the original Payday or even the colourful antics of Kane & Lynch. It also pre-dates the GTA series. We can find its roots in arcade game Bonanza Brothers, Security Alert by First Star (both offering multiple locations to loot) and way back to 1986 and They Stole A Million. This icon-driven strategy game saw the player choose the members of their gang, plot a course through the building and then execute the perfect heist.
Payday 2 kicks off with the Gang of Four (Dallas, Wolf, Hoxton and Chains) arriving in Washington D.C, heading to the safe house provided by criminal mastermind Bain. Here the basic controls can be mastered, with a shooting gallery and a room full of doors to get through. The garage allows customisation of both weapons and masks, once suitable materials and textures have been earned.
The real action starts by logging onto Crimenet, where a map display offers potential jobs. These are rated in terms of risk and reward. Playing offline there are AI characters to help, but online up to four humans can team up through the lobby or by invite. At higher levels assets such as blueprints or a faster getaway car can be purchased to improve the chance of success. These later missions also play out over multiple days with a series of tasks.
Once the job begins, players are in casing mode. Here care must be taken to avoid raising suspicion, staying out of secure areas or triggering cameras and alarms. Donning the mask starts the raid proper, weapons are readied and civilians told to get down. Their hands can be tied with cable ties, turning them into a valuable hostage. Interacting with the scenery includes drilling through safes, picking locks and grabbing the loot. When the alarm is raised, the police will move in and it becomes a gunfight. The escape vehicle will often be delayed or moved, but once it is available valuables can be thrown in the back to secure them. Escape is only possible when set targets have been reached, and the longer the criminals hang around the heavier the police response.
Should a team member be downed, there is a countdown before they are taken into custody. During this time a colleague can help them up to save them. Captured hostages can be traded for team members, the process delayed if civilians have been killed. Like many FPS games, the downed player can watch what is happening with the others until they are released. Suspicious guards will also handcuff you, with time taken to pick the locks or require a friend to release you. The mission ends when all four robbers are captured or the survivors manage to escape. Cash and XP are awarded, along with a bonus card. Three cards are dealt to each player and one is chosen, rewarding the player with a new weapon, modification or material/colour for customisation.
Perhaps the most valuable reward is skill points, spent on new skills. There are four classes – the Enforcer specialises in weapons, the Mastermind negotiates, the Technician employs gadgets and the Ghost is stealthy. Each class has multiple tiers, but points can be put on different classes at any time and the skill tree re-arranged. Each new skill has a basic (1 point) and ace (3 point) bonus. As the player’s reputation grows, so more difficult and challenging tasks are unlocked. Body armour, sentry guns and ECM jammers are among the gadgets that are also available – for spending money – as the game progresses.
The co-operative nature of the gameplay and the “crime vision” that highlights key objectives and characters is strongly reminiscent of Left 4 Dead. Much like that game, it only comes alive with a good group of players working together; the solo player must do all the work with only little help from the AI. New objectives and locations have expanded the scope of the original Payday, but it quickly becomes repetitive tackling the easier missions to level up. The proportion of spending cash earned after each mission feels low, meaning it takes longer to buy new things than perhaps it should. Too often the gameplay descends into a hail of bullets and tactics go out of the window. The way drills often fail and need to be restarted also frustrates in the heat of the action. The 360 version is prone to players dropping in and out, leading to long delays.
Payday 2 goes for the glitz and glamour of movie heists but falls short. Graphics are glitchy, with characters often passing through each other or scenery. That scenery is bland, with little variety between the locations, and often clumsy to interact with – invisible walls block off parts of a street, and doors lead nowhere. Sound is generally good, including the muffled effect when stun grenades go off, but the speech is stilted and repeats too often. What the game really lacks is more strategy – something as simple as choosing start location by dropping masks onto a map would have helped.
High demand saw the game sell out on shop shelves and reach the top of the UK software chart in its first week of release, so there is an audience and a large online community (the 360 version is now also available to download from the Games On Demand store, and fresh stock has gone out to shops). Ignore the shortcomings and there is some illicit fun to be had, in the company of good players.