There’s that perfect moment during every heist when you crack through the final door separating you from your target, a moment of blessed silence, when the world comes to a halt as you stare at your hard-fought prize. It’s beautiful… until a dozen alarm bells shatter your peaceful thoughts and the muffled boom of a police battering ram shakes the room above you.
The average gamer might not be able to speak to the joy of a perfectly executed heist – and the thrill of a daring escape – firsthand, but Overkill Software hopes to nail it all, the highs and the lows, in its upcoming Payday 2. The first-person, four-player co-op game looks to improve on its 2011 predecessor in every possible way, with more involved assignments, deeper gameplay, and a stronger focus on progression-based investment. And the game looks very promising indeed, in these final weeks leading up to its August 2013 release on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Windows.
Better team, bigger jobs. The nerve center of this new Payday is Crime Net, realized in the game as a sprawling map on which different jobs appear and disappear randomly. There’s no central story thread carrying you through the events of the game; instead, players select from a series of randomly appearing temporary jobs of varying difficulties. Instead of an overarching narrative, players get a sense of their own stories as master thieves handling jobs of varying lengths, sometimes taking place over a period of days.
In one example, an employer hires your team of four to help frame a Congressman. The job begins with the goal of ransacking an art museum, making off with as many works as possible before the police arrive. The next day’s task is a hand-off, with your team exchanging the stolen art with the corrupt, art-loving Congressman’s cronies in exchange for hefty bags of cash. The final day’s assignment completes the frame-up, as you plant incriminating evidence in the politician’s vault.
Expect the unexpected. In addition to Crime Net’s dynamically populating mission map, the circumstances of each job in Payday 2 change from moment to moment. The simplest example is enemy and civilian placement, which is always randomized. Even if you’re familiar with a particular map, there’s always going to be an unknown factor as you work out where the threats are and aren’t.
There are other random elements as well, dynamic events that lend additional flavor to your play. It’s possible in Payday 2 to pull off a perfect job, with no alarms raised and minimal collateral damage. Raise too much of a ruckus, however, and you may suddenly find yourself caught in a police shootout on a busy roadway, at which point you’ll have to carry your loot – sometimes over multiple trips, if your haul was big enough – from your trashed getaway van to an alternate escape vehicle.
Or you may find yourself double-crossed or ambushed, during a hand-off. Take the above-mentioned art exchange. The hand-off was set up in an old, abandoned trainyard during our demo, with our team passing priceless works of art up through a hatch in the roof of a decommissioned rail car in exchange for bags of cash. Everything could have gone smoothly, or the recipients could have screwed us over. In other circumstances we could even have tried to double-cross them. In this particular case, however, waiting cops watched as the exchange took place and then staged an ambush, forcing our foursome of crooks to shoot their way out of the trainyard.
What kind of thief are you? Payday 2 rewards long-term play with progressively unlocked abilities of your own choosing that fall into one of several basic “classes,” all of which help to define the type of criminal activity you specialize in. Some are tech wizards, able to rewire circuits and cut through even the most elaborate security systems. Others bring brute force and tactical gear like suitcase-loaded sentry guns along, an especially handy ally to bring along when bullets fly freely. There are even silver-tongued masterminds, capable of sweet-talking cops into switching sides as they aid in your escape.
Customization extends to loadouts as well. Your mask, your thieving tools, your weapons… it’s all for you to decide. Will you be more effective with a lock-cutting buzzsaw or a suitcase sentry gun? A silenced SMG or a chunky assault rifle? Would you rather cover your face with the likeness of Guy Fawkes or a gorilla? All of this gear unlocks over time, as you purchase it with your ill-gotten funds or earn it from end-of-job rewards.
Changing conditions. Payday 2 is a game that rewards agile thinking. The conditions of a given assignment can change quickly, and earning high marks for a successful score depends on how easily you adapt. You might, for example, break into a bank with the goal of cleaning out the vault. The problem is, you don’t know what’s inside it. When the drill finally cuts through and you get to the vault, it may be a total bust… or it may be filled with gold bars. Gold is a very heavy substance, and carrying a bag of it slows your movement to a crawl. Escaping a horde of tactical armored SWAT officers is that much harder when the average toddler can outrun you.
Advance planning can often make a huge difference. Money isn’t just useful for building out a bigger inventory of gear and weapons/weapon attachments; you can also spend cash before a job on various assets that provide you with information about your target. These can take the form of anything from secret documents to blueprints to hand-drawn maps. Certain jobs also afford you time to “case the joint,” giving you an opportunity to wander around and work out details like guard locations before ever putting on your mask.
Clean getaway. Payday 2 may not be the sharpest-looking game out there when you compare it to big-budget blockbusters, but the graphics are clean and straightforward, with an emphasis on presenting a realistic picture of the world around you. It compares best with Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, only with much more going on in the realm of visual effects. Overkill leverages its Diesel 2.0 engine well. It’s thrilling to watch a nighttime hand-off suddenly go wrong when the stroboscopic red and blue police lights bathe the world in color as SWAT forces ambush from all sides.
Payday 2 appears to be the real deal. The four-player co-op is terrifically entertaining, offering considerably more involved play than you’d typically expect from a first-person shooter. That’s largely because the emphasis is only sometimes on gunplay. The real goal here is cooperation: the best team of criminals is the one that makes a clean getaway without ever firing a shot. Payday delivers all of the flexibility that you’d hope for in a combat-optional co-op game. We can’t wait to see how it all falls together in the finished release.