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The sequel to Overkill Software’s crime-based shooter, Payday 2 is a game about a bunch of like-minded crooks who perform elaborate heists in return for some quick money. While the original offered a bit of a fresh take on Left 4 Dead’s classic coop gameplay, the sequel aims to take it to the next level with several additional layers of variety.
On the surface, Payday 2 is as simple as it gets. You pick one out of the four-man gang of Hoxton, Chains, Dallas, and Wolf. From there, a shady contractor named Bain assigns you a job. He hooks you up with the necessary connections and provides you all the information you need in order to perform the heist. There are a total of 10 individual jobs to choose from, with each having varying difficulty depending on how big your potential earnings are. The job scenarios are quite distinct, ranging from small gigs like bank heists or mall robberies to large-scale jobs that can take several days. Such scenarios are usually the more interesting ones. There’s one that involves cooking meth, and is littered with obvious references to the popular TV show, Breaking Bad.
Your mission is generally straight-forward, although there are a few random elements in play that make things more challenging. For example, the placement of some objectives, doors, security cameras, as well as guard patrol patterns are altered on a random basis, so as to prevent you from mastering the layout. On the other hand, there are also some objectives that remain fixed, making them easier to complete over the course of multiple playthroughs. What’s more, the overwhelming amount of loot scattered around can easily become a point of contention between you and your teammates. Should greed get the better of you, you may end up lagging behind and becoming a liability for your team in your attempt to hoard up as much loot as possible. It’s the union of these familiar and unpredictable elements that pulls you into the experience and keeps you hooked. There really is no tried-and-tested approach for taking on any given job, which is probably the game’s greatest strength.
Things can escalate rather quickly, should you trigger the alarm or get spotted by a security camera or patrolling guard. Initially, it’s the nearby security personnel that attempt to apprehend you. Eventually, wave after wave of cops pour in, with the level of difficulty ramping up as they bring in heavier artillery. One way to temporarily turn odds back in your favor is to take civilian hostages. Situational elements can also be used to your advantage in certain cases, such as metal shutters at the entry points to a store building that can be pulled down in order to buy you enough time to drill your way through a safe and find an escape route.
The shooting feels a bit on the arcade-ish side, perhaps fittingly so, given the fast-paced nature of gameplay. That’s not to say, however, that there’s no depth to the gunplay. You’ve got a host of skills and weapons to purchase via your earnings, several of which pave way for new strategies for you to utilize. Skills are divided among classes, and you’re free to pick any one class before beginning a mission. As you ramp up more money, you’ll gradually become more skillful and missions will become less challenging. Enemy AI can get pretty aggressive, however, and usually keeps things unpredictable for you and your teammates. On the other hand, friendly AI is nothing to write home about. Suffice to say, the game is best played with human teammates. You simply can’t plan out your strategy effectively, otherwise.
The element of unpredictability in Payday 2 doesn’t just come by design, unfortunately. There are a couple of technical hindrances that rear their ugly head at random during gameplay. Non-playable character models and interactive objects can often be seen clipping through walls, for instance. More importantly, the frame rate doesn’t always hold steady, and can drop at random during the general run of gameplay. While these things don’t detract you from the experience, they do occasionally become a nuisance. As far as the audio/visual department is concerned, the game is serviceable at best. It’s pretty obvious that this isn’t one of those big-budget games with high production values. There are no glorious set-pieces and no cutting-edge special effects. Having said that, the sound effects and graphics both play their part in conveying the setting and atmosphere of an elaborate mob heist.
As a single-player experience, the limitations and flaws in Payday 2’s gameplay are hard to overlook. However, provided that you can find a bunch of friends to play with, Payday 2 is an addictive game riddled with plenty of upredictable elements. As a cooperative game, its gameplay mechanics come together to lay the foundation for thrilling and challenging heists that should keep you hooked for a while.