Monday, 19 August 2013

Review: Payday 2 (PC)

We all love a good payday, whether it be from a month's hard work or shooting up the local high street wearing monster masks and killing 82 coppers, it's always a good feeling to get some spending money.

Well for a vast majority of us the idea of tooling up and shooting up your local ASDA to drill the safe and steal all the money from the tills is a mere fantasy that even fewer actually act upon, but developer Overkill have returned with a second helping of their four player cooperative shooter/bank heist simulator.  Things have changed significantly from the original Payday, with the original crew now something of a legend in the criminal underworld becoming contract heisters extraordinaire.  Working for the mysterious Bain they take jobs from corrupt Republican politicians, crazy Russian mobsters and Mexican drug cartels all in the pursuit of money, masks, guns, gun modifications and body armour.

This Bank will become familiar to you very quickly
The framework around Payday 2 isn't all that important really other than to setup why the crew are now in Washington DC and how Hoxton switched from being a Englishman to Dallas' younger brother.  Personally I miss the original Hoxton's Sheffield charm, nothing quite emphasised a mans hatred for a drill than an angry northerner.  Anyway the mission selection has become more diverse and dare I say more interesting than Payday.  Missions are now found on a sort of underworld contract server where players pick and choose jobs based on difficulty, reward and experience.  Some missions are better for gaining experience while others grant more money on completion so it depends on how you want to run it.

Heists come in many flavours from Bank robberies, (although not quite as large as the first world bank from the original payday) raiding shopping malls, robbing convenience stores, and jewellery stores amongst more complex missions such as transporting millions of dollars worth of cocaine while under FBI assault, attacking a biker gang to learn the whereabouts of a scientists fusion reactor lab (seriously) and hitting an art gallery as part of an elaborate scheme to shame a Democratic candidate.  Some heists take multiple days to complete with each day being a small level in and of itself, with the payout being much larger than a regular day run.  Some heists can suddenly become mad dashes through gunfire as you now have to carry money bags, drugs or illegal weapons to escape vehicles to earn money and the real trick comes into trying to coordinate under fire as you ferry these bags from the location the escape vehicle without being overwhelmed.  It's a nice new element to Payday 2 and creates some real "oh shit" moments as you play.

There are a few minor issues I have with the levels though as some of the heists are merely the same map with a slightly different objective.  The bank for instance has three versions, one for cash, one for deposit boxes and one for gold bars.  The jewellery store has two variants as does the mall and it all becomes a little repetitive sometimes.  This isn't to say the maps aren't fun and have their own minor differences but they can become a little monotonous if you happen to run the bank five times in a row.  The longer heists however do have more unique maps and are more entertaining.  Overkill have already announced that the first DLC pack will add a new armoured truck heist so we can expect more new heists to be added over time to alleviate these issues anyway.

Stealth missions are plentiful for those who want a challenge
payday 2 still maintains it's level system based on classes each with their own perks, but now it's a much more in depth system.  Ranking up now awards skill points which can be spent in any of the four skill sets.  Each skill set brings a valuable set of skills.  The mastermind can drop medic bags and at higher levels more easily intimidate security and police and even convert them to your side.  The enforcer brings ammo bags and plenty of pure damage bonuses.  The technician is the best at drilling safes, dropping turrets and at higher levels being able to quickly blow safes open.  Finally the ghost skill can deploy the new ECM device to disrupt camera and radio equipment, hide bodies and generally sneak about a lot easier than the others.  It's a nice system that rewards with every skill spent with some noticeable in game benefits.  It also allows you to build your own perfect criminal so to speak with elements from all four classes to best suit your playstyle.

One important element to keep in mind now is that after every successful heist you will earn a proportionate amount of spending cash.  This cash is used to unlock new skills, weapons, weapon mods and masks along with customising said masks.  At lower levels this amount is generally small restricting the kind of things you can buy especially when skills at lower levels are costing you around $12,000 a piece.  At higher levels your paydays become more lucrative but the cost of skills rises exponentially so it would be worth your time to plan what skills you are aiming for and how much they will cost you in the long run.  Any amount after is simply for weapons or masks.

So what is Payday 2 like when the bullets start flying?  Compared to it's predecessor it is a major improvement.  Weapons feel and sound more powerful and you get more feedback from your foes as they react to your shots in a more realistic manner.  Suppression is a new feature where in simply firing at the police will decrease their accuracy and force them to find cover.  If ammo isn't a problem a good enforcer can keep an entire squad held down while the rest of the crew handle other tasks.  This isn't to say it's all perfect.  Police still have what feels like superhuman reflexes and accuracy at all ranges, sometimes it feels pretty cheap to be downed because the AI is so good at hitting you regardless of your speed, movement and environment.   There are still a few issues where AI units will pass through walls or other objects inside buildings, whether this is to do with lag or some other client side issue has yet to be determined, but it happens regularly.  Sometimes the AI will actually be able to hit you through a wall because as far as the game is concerned you aren't behind cover.

Meth lab assaults are common in Payday 2, cooking it however...
The weapon selection is more varied now with numerous pistols, sub machine guns, shotguns and assault rifles being available.  Sadly the Brenner is missing, but I suspect DLC will reintroduce this powerful weapon further down the line.  It's more fun now to be able to pick and choose your weapons rather than be forced into a particular classes set of weapons like Payday did.

Stealth is still a major part of Payday 2 though and any heist that starts without the cops already onto you can be completed stealthily.  You will need a good team using all skills to complete some, but obviously the risk is lower and the payout larger if you can escape without the police becoming aware of your presence.  There are new wrinkles to stealth now that players of the original may not be aware of.  Killing security guards is fine but you will need to quickly answer the guards radio to prevent the alarm from being raised.  Security camera's now detect your crew and need to either be disabled via ECM or you need to gain access to the security room to kill the guard operating the camera's. 

Your visibility is also key to maintaining stealth in missions that include civilians.  Walking into a bank wearing obvious Kevlar armour will definitely make people suspicious and the alarm will raise soon after, so keeping a distance is key.  Also guards may not immediately spot you, but become aware of you marked by a blue ? mark.  If a bar fills they will notice you and then it's time to start shooting.  It's a whole new set of rules that work better for stealth crews compared to the original Payday.  Obviously many players will simply prefer to shoot the place up but that's the life of a criminal who regularly shoots hundreds of cops in a single afternoon of heisting.  It isn't realistic by any means but that really isn't the point of Payday 2, it's meant to be more like a Hollywood movie.

Graphically Payday 2 is nice, it isn't going to impress those who prefer visual Fidelity over gameplay but it does a pretty good job.  Low res textures will be obvious all over the maps if you take time to look at the levels in detail but a majority of the work is pretty solid here.  Because of this Payday 2 should work on a broad range of systems without too much trouble.  Some of the animations are a little shonky such as the casing mode walk animations of your crew but since this is such a minor part of the gameplay I would hardly hold this against them.

The soundtrack to Payday 2 is in a word, awesome.  Simon Viklund's music not only sets the tone and atmosphere of the game but also dictates the pace of gameplay as the music dynamically changes as the police assault your position or you successfully manage to infiltrate an art gallery unseen.  The weapon sounds as I mentioned earlier are far more meaty and impressive now, with assault rifles really feeling like they have some weight to them.  I especially like how the weapon sounds change based on firing them indoors and outdoors, something to be mindful of when going stealth as the AI will hear weapons at different ranges based on their level of noise.

The voice acting is pretty solid for the crew themselves with most of the original actors returning for their roles.  Hoxton has changed since which for me is a shame because I really enjoyed the original Hoxton personally.  The NPC dialogue is something you will only really hear every now and then but it's ok considering it's police chatter or the odd civilian screaming for help.

Overall Payday 2 as a standalone product is very good.  It does something different with the tired first person genre, building on it's work with the original Payday and really excelling in terms of mission design and replayability.  It has it's flaws like any game but they aren't so big that it completely derails the game but are noticeable at times.  I am confident that Overkill will patch these issues and further improve Payday 2 as time goes on.

SCORE: 8.4/10


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