Payday 2: The Kotaku Review

Payday 2: The Kotaku Review

The plan was to play it by the books: mask up, get in, get out. Grab six bags of cash, more if we're feeling confident. We'd go in through the back, it's easy to lockpick that door. I'd take point, 'cause I can talk patrolling guards down; no shooting required... but we'll put silencers on our pistols anyway, just in case. Ideally, though, nobody will see us go in.

That was we hoped would happen, anyway. Who could have guessed we'd end up here, holed up in a bank, low on ammo, SWAT team breaking in through the windows -- all while we do our best to get the drill working on the safe again? And all because we ran into an 'effin bystander on the way to the money. You know how it is nowadays, people are glued to their mobile phones. The jerk called the cops almost instantly after he saw us. Thankfully, the getaway van is supposed to be on its way, we just have to hang tight and survive the onslaught of coppers. That payday better be worth it...

Things hardly ever go to plan in Payday 2, the co-op first person shooter that's (mostly) about robberies. In the 10 hours that I've played it, and despite criminal planning, I've yet to pull a perfect heist or mission. I suspect that most players will have a similar experience; the game is definitely not easy.

Payday 2: The Kotaku Review

Before we get into why that is, let's talk about how the game works. Players use a system called "Crimenet", where they can select a number of different missions -- some normal, some more difficult versions of existing missions, and some missions that span multiple days. The harder a mission is, the more money you'll get from it (and the more likely it is you'll want to play with friends you can coordinate with). These missions can also range from straightforward bank robberies to transporting drugs, although, regardless of what the set-up is, most seem to require you to break into something, and to move high-value items to your getaway car.

Once a mission is selected, players are taken to a lobby. It might be someone else's in-progress heist, which you can drop in and out of as you please. It might be your own lobby, where you can decide if you want to let other players join you or not. From there, players can also select a loadout -- there are a variety of different guns, attachments, and masks to equip, along with skills and abilities depending on what you choose to spec for.

You can mix and match what type specialisations you have, provided you've gained enough skill points from completing missions, although you'll need to invest heavily in specific trees if you'd like to enjoy some of the high-powered abilities. Right now, at level 20, I've unlocked the ability to equip med packs, ammo packs, extra XP gain, amongst other things. I don't really have a preferred loadout, it entirely depends on what type of mission it is and what the rest of the squad's make-up is.

Payday 2: The Kotaku Review

Maybe the mission has a lot of security cameras; in that case, I'll take something to jam them. Maybe it's a particularly difficult mission, where we're likely to run out of ammo quickly -- better take ammo packs! Maybe we need a person that's good at crowd control and tying civvies up. It's your call, although you can't know what a mission will require of you until you've played it a few times and see what's what.

Usually, if you've got a good group going, the idea is to pull off a perfect heist...which means spending time before a game starts denoting who does what and when, along with discussing loadouts. This planning stage is when Payday 2 shines: while shoot-outs are a part of the heist fantasy, a good criminal doesn't have to resort to it, right?

Thing is, there are a ton of factors that can throw a mission out the window. Bystanders will become suspicious if you run around with a mask on and a gun pulled out, naturally. A camera might catch you. Shooting is noisy. A metal detector might go off, since you're armed to the teeth. Even if you know a mission has certain obstacles, you can never fully prepare for what it holds, as things are slightly randomised. Maybe the safe of interest is in a certain room on this run, and maybe it's in a different room in the next one, for example.

Payday 2: The Kotaku Review

I laud that design choice, in that players can't just leave sneaking through up to muscle memory...but, sometimes, the way things work isn't clear and, when it comes to bystanders, situations can sometimes feel unfair. Sometimes, a civilian far away from the situation will suddenly become alerted for seemingly no reason. Sometimes, there are way more bystanders than four people can handle. And though (apparently) the sneaking mechanics are more fleshed out than in the first game, it's still a far cry from being an actual stealth game.

So, more often than not, your plan goes down the drain, the police will be alerted and then will shortly appear on the scene. At that point, the game becomes a much less interesting take on horde mode, with waves of enemies raining down on you until you get a chance to escape. Most enemies are different types of law enforcement, and all seem like just bodies to shoot down. They don't seem very smart, although they do have good aim. Given that some abilities and mechanics allow you to negotiate out of a sticky situation at least to some degree -- and especially coming up from games like The Last of Us. where enemies react dynamically -- having dumb AI seems like a particularly noticeable shortcoming.

Setting the game to a harder difficulty will give you bodies with more health to shoot down, sometimes in exasperating, ridiculous numbers (for small-time heists?), and often while you wait for a drill to get through a door. Drilling can take minutes, which is fine, but the device will often fail mid-drill, making the entire thing feel like a chore. And there are few things like going on a rather difficult mission with lots of drilling, and then either randomly disconnecting/freezing or having explorer freeze up after I shut the game off -- technical hiccups which I experienced a number of times while playing.

The drilling (or general waiting for something to happen) is not so bad initially (I didn't even notice it) but as you move through more difficult missions, the number of doors you have to drill through/wait for can also feel exasperating. Granted, high-level skills give you access to other options when it comes to breaking into these doors... but it'll take a while before you get there.

Payday 2: The Kotaku Review

It's not that there's something wrong with the shooting in Payday, but there's not much that's exciting about it, either. It feels like a generic shooter, mostly because there's nothing evocative about the basic action of pulling the trigger or having bullets connect with other bodies. Personally, the shooting felt like punishment that comes from messing up a heist. Not so great, for an element that is often inevitable!

Despite that, the game is good at tapping into a latent obsession for perfection; I'm still pulled in by the promise of a perfect heist. It helps that there are a ton of great ideas in the game. If you spec a certain way, you can convince enemies to put down their guns, for example. If you don't kill civilians, the police is more likely to negotiate with you -- in practice, what this means is that if any player is downed and then "taken into custody," law enforcement gives you the chance to trade a hostage for that teammate. That's got to be the most creative solution for reviving teammates I've seen. You can also equip an ability where your hostages will help you out, a la Stockholm Syndrome.

Beyond that collecting masks -- which are collected via random drops, along with money and weapon attachments -- feels more logical than collecting hats. You'll want to cover your face while doing crime, I imagine! Wearing a ridiculous hat or attire while shooting other people? Not so much. These are just some of the many awesome ideas inside the game, not all of which are fully-realised, but still, exciting to toy with.

While the heist set-up is novel, and while there are few highs in multiplayer compared to the feeling of having coordinated teammates -- something which Payday 2 demands -- in a way, some of my enjoyment of Payday 2 hinges on what the franchise might become one day. Yes, it's worth playing now to see the neat ideas you can't find in other shooters; it's a great title to pick up to play around with your friends...but I can't help but look forward. What will Overkill make with a bigger budget? Will a sequel look nicer? Will it have wider variety of missions? Will some ideas which looked curious become more fleshed out, nuanced? I look forward to finding out, although I can tell you right now, given the ideas in Payday 2, the franchise's future looks more interesting than that of shooters like Call of Duty or Battlefield.


    We pulled off the Jewellery Store on overkill last night without alerting anyone, such a satisfying feeling when you do it.

    I really enjoyed Payday and the quick hour I've put into Payday 2 so far has been satisfying. I do agree with your observation however that the endless waves of shooting is frustrating. And I had one play through (single player) where the drill kept failing every 20 seconds or so. So much so it felt like it was buggy rather than just bad RNG luck.

    I'm curious to know however how much patience players will come to exhibit in PUGs. It's a punishing game most of the time; will people wait it out with those newer to the game?

    Love this game, shame about the amount of crashes everyone is experiencing though. I myself crashed on calculating exp after a 4 day heist, save got corrupted and i got dropped back to previous save backup and lost all progress. Apart from painful experiences like that i love this game a whole lot, the moments in it when you coordinate a successful heist over the mic is a great feeling. Really we forget about the day one bugs for games and remember the special moments it gives us in the long run. i give it 7.8\10

      I had the same thing happen after a, 3 or 4 day heist?

      Luckily it saved my progress. Lots of fun so far, although that's only 2 or 3 hours worth.

    This game looks great and really has my interest, but I wonder what it's like to play single player? I'm not hugely into multiplayer.

      Single player is tough and I would be surprised if it didn't limit your heist options with respect to difficulty level. I'm probably a player of average ability and I know not to pick the harder heists.

      Probably the most annoying of all though, playing solo leaves ALL key tasks in your hands alone. You set the drills, you restart the drills, you carry the bags of money to the escape vehicle, etc. Heists will take more time as a result.

      I know all this up front, so playing solo doesn't bother me all that much. I see solo play as an opportunity to explore maps, skills, equipment, etc., and earn a little cash/xp along the way.

      If you're only ever going to play single-player, just don't bother. The team mate AI is basic at best. A lot of the missions require moving multiple bags over a decent distance and that's enough of a chore when you have four people doing the carrying, something that the AI won't be helping with. Higher difficulty levels add even more bags. And even more people shooting at you while you try to move them.

        Yeah, I'm pretty confident that even with bag-handling/sprinting buffs and other skills, some of the missions are flat-out impossible to solo with the AI being so pants-on-head damaged.

        @musikresponse if you don't have at least one (and preferably two or more) friends to play this with, you are more likely to spend your time frustrated/bored/wistful for an experience you can see but can't touch.

        If you only have one friend to play it with, the AI are semi-competent enough that you won't be TOO disadvantaged, but you probably won't two or three friends. Then it's pretty damn great.

        (Note, you can still play with randoms online, but sometimes they can be worse than the bots by almost actively sabotaging you with their stupidity, and I think if the host disconnects - a real hazard in PUGs - then it's game over, no progress for anyone, boot to menu.)

        Last edited 14/08/13 7:48 pm

          Randoms don't just sabotage your efforts with stupidity, some are just straight up trolls.

      Will support what Bangers has said.....

      Just treat single-player as a shooting range to test guns really [though.... there is an *actual* shooting range at your safehouse to test stuff.... anyway].
      Even the easiest missions in the game are an absolute headache to try and get through. AI team mates are basically just guns with legs. They don't carry items, they don't repair drills, and they don't use any of their class items [ie: medkits, ammo bag, jammer].
      It effectively becomes a solo job, with some goons to shoot stuff. And you make next to no money.
      I'd recommend jumping on a public match rather than doing SP.

      All that being said, I cannot recommend this game highly enough. It feels like what the original left4dead did for co-op FPS gaming, only fleshing out so many new, fantastic game mechanics.
      There's no better feeling than when everyone on TS errupts in cheers when you pull off one of the bigger heists and watch the money roll in.

      Last edited 14/08/13 12:59 pm

        @edenist @bangers - Cool, thanks for the advice. That's a shame really, maybe I'll give this one a miss then.

        I was hoping it might have been a bit like Borderlands - it's better to play with multiple people, but it still works well as a single player game.

          It is a shame because it's a really great game when you're playing with friends.

            It really does look good. I may have to give it go with some mates after all.

              Yes, give it a go. It's not a reason not to get the game. Just see the game as MP only. It's a heck of a lot of fun.

        Some of the biggest clusterfucks I've had (like, dead civilians, alarms tripped early, people getting downed all over the damn place, running back and forth to retrieve cop-stolen bags, massive ammo/health shortages, actual incarcerations being traded for hostages), also yielded some of the biggest payoffs.

        I have to wonder if there's not some sort of internal algorithm for calculating and rewarding just how spectacularly you can fuck up a job, but still pull it off. In a recent bank job that dragged out into utter insanity (we picked pretty much every box though) I was personally accountable for some 200+ kills. I shudder to think how many attained by the guys covering our backs while we picked locks. That's like... an entire state's worth of SWAT.

    This game sounds like living out that awesome bank heist scene from that movie "Heat".

      The first payday game actually had that exact scene as one of the level's, it was its big selling point, hence why it was called "payday: the heist".

      This game is crazy fun, the main problem i have is playing on crimnet, im yet to find a single group of people who aren't just interested in just running in guns blazing, none of my mates yet have the game so there has been no planning involved, which is a major disappointment.

        I played with a crew last night where we tried sneaking. It's a lot more fun. Although, i'm a fan of stealth games so i'm biased.

          The only one that my mates & i have successfully pulled off as a stealth run is the jewelery store. Its really satisfying getting a stealth run completely correct.

        Yeh, that would be annoying. I was initially thinking it might be a cool element if you could backstab your team mates and take all money for yourself, like the Joker does at the start of The Dark Knight, those clown masks are almost the same as his crew), but then everyone would be backstabbing each other and that wouldn't be fun at all.

        Last edited 14/08/13 1:34 pm

          I must admit, I tried shooting a guy as he threw that last bag into the van.

        Add me on Steam!

        I've been pretty lucky in that respect. All the people I've being playing with are all Paydayers, very few CoD players. Though, you can usually spot the CoDers straight away and I've been seeing them getting kicked quite often for lone wolfing, constantly getting downed where other players can reach them or not working with the rest of the team. It's pretty good to see crews not putting up with this kind of shit. Though you'll always get better quality of play with mates or people who know what needs doing.

        try some of the higher difficulties. I find that pros usually communicate and plan in those levels.

    is this a "you can play single player but your kind of missing out" type game?

      Yeah, but it's like playing Battlefield 2/3 0r L4D by yourself. More geared towards multi, though playable in SP. You can earn cash and XP in single and multi though. It's not like, say, Black Ops 1 where multi and botmatch xp are separate

      As I commented above, it's really not a fun game in single player.

    It's a great coop game, absolutely great. Unless you're doing solo stealth runs, don't bother.

    Damn... One of the things that really disappointed me about the first one was the arduous wave after wave of police you had to arbitrarily shoot down to progress. Each map started off great (like a movie heist) and then degenerated into a boring, repetitive shooting gallery of police who have have pinpoint accuracy and no fear of death. It felt really stupid and was extremely immersion breaking.

    This sort of sounds like it's exactly the same but with a veneer of choice about how to approach the heist... which then just turns into shooting wave after wave of dumb AI police.

    Is there anyone that's played both that can confirm whether I'm right? I would like to be wrong.

      The police AI hasn't really changed that much. The pre-police stuff is better but once the police are involved it's a lot of the same. Police can hit you with a 1 pixel window of sight and will run in one after the other.

      Yes and no. The law enforcers are more varied this time around, but the game does require you to have a certain suspension of belief. Any heist that results in the deaths of hundreds of cops would result in a huge anti-terrorism styled response. The cops have never had no fear of death, they'd use cover and they do it more so now, though there were glitchy elements of the AI last time around where cops would stand away from the fire fight resolving their waypoint paths. And the cops before never really had pinpoint accuracy, but they did do more damage depending on the difficulty. Suppressive fire is much more of a factor now, so the AI don't necessarily shoot at you as much as in your direction from mid-long range, excluding snipers. CQB will play out like it used to.

      As for choice in how you approach heists, stealth is much more refined, but it's more relative to your capacity to do so (silenced weapons, stealth and detection perks) and if you have team mates who don't fuck it up for you-- that's probably the biggest factor. Playing it with friends and voice comms will result in a much better game than playing with randoms and trying to co-ordinate via text. It's a vast improvement over the first, but if you didn't get into the first, you prolly won't get into this either.

        Suspension of disbelief is one thing, killing the equivalent in police as the population of a small nation over a bank job or jewellery heist just seemed stupid. It never sat right with me for the setting and made it feel too much like a zombie shooting game.

        If it's actually possible to avoid this outcome with a skilled/coordinated play through I would definitely consider buying however.

          Oh yeah, it's definitely possible to do some levels (note: not all!) without incurring the wrath of the cops (or delaying their intervention until late in the game and then dealing with a muted response), but as I said, that depends more on who you're playing with. Although, a lot of the things you're need-- suppressors, shorter barrels, slimmer armour, perks that lessen your visibility to guards, civilians etc require some significant to unlock, 5-6 hours maybe, it depends. But hey, there's no doubt this will be on steam sale before then end of the year for around $10-$14. And if you've got mates who play, all the better.

          And yeah, I agree with the silliness of killing several hundred cops. It's probably the one big conceptual issue with a game like this that would be nigh on impossible to resolve. Warfare, yeah, no problem, people die. 4 guys take down a bank and kill nearly the city's entire police force, yeah... The national response and media coverage would be akin to something like 9/11. But it's a distraction from an otherwise fantastic game.

      I can confirm that this is pretty much correct. The stealth mechanics/approach is improved, and the multi-day stages of the heist dependant upon earlier stages is new (and good), but the second you screw up it quickly degenerates into a wave after wave shooting at police mode.

    This really seems like a review of PayDay: The Heist rather than Payday 2. One thing Patricia overlooked was that Overkill constantly maintained and tweaked Payday for a long damn time after it's release, even after the Wolfpack DLC was released. The game that was released in October 2011 was significantly different to what players were playing in January of this year, and this will be the case with Payday 2. Overkill didn't simply release something, fix a few issues and throw in the odd token dlc a few months later like many AAA title do. They listened to the players and constantly tweaked and evolved it, even while they were developing the sequel.

    One big consideration that was also missed in this review: This is also not a game for CoD players who love to run & gun and who ignore teamwork. Much more thought required for starters given the dynamic nature of the settings, objectives, interactions, etc as opposed to the rather static DM levels and 'kill anything that moves' style objectives of most contemporary shooters. I'm seeing a lot of these players getting kicked pretty regularly for lone wolfing and being a weak link in the team (Same thing happened when back in Oct 11 too). You can ignore most of Pat's opinions here, it's really a very good game, just, maybe not for those who're used to or prefer playing your CoD style TDM. To compare Payday to the Battlefields and Calls of Duty because they're all shooters is like comparing test cricket to baseball because they're bat & ball sports. Each has their own merits, but are completely different to play.

    ...though PayDay has far, far fewer douchebag players than CoD! :p

    did this come out a day earlier on PC or something? its release date for Xbox 360/PS3 is tomorrow.

    There's very few moments in a game where I've felt as much satisfaction as pulling off a Jewellery Store heist on Overkill without tripping an alarm, and getting the safe in the back rooms - awesome. Trying to do the bank job full stealth, but it's proving harder; gotta have two out the front ready to rush, contain, ECM and block the tellers on the panic buttons.

    Massive adrenaline rushes with this game, but pretty useless without at least 3 people - that's perfectly fine though; it's a co-op game first and foremost.

    My only real complaint about this, other than the new generic Yank voice actor for Hoxton (WHY?!?!) is the mulitplayer joining system. It used to give me the shits in 1 when it would really disrupt the game to add a player, though it seems to be much faster now. It's a shame you can't just drop in and out like L4D without stopping the game completely.

    Have to say this is the best review of Payday2 I've read so far.

    Just wanted to rip apart the arguments for waves of police. You have to ask yourself what exactly are your expectations if you want this type of game to be more realistic.

    The mechanics are fun and difficult, with investing your time into a career track granting the perks that will vastly speed up the mundane situations you've been feeling.

    The frantic pace on alerts is phenomenal on harder settings, keep in mind how vital cover and awareness of cops are to survive.
    The initial challenge is networking and luck to find people of similar skill, so make or join a steam group people : / Communicate well and once you're aware of everyone's skill or have a few successful normal heists (easy card unlocks) start ramping up the difficulty for that payday. (a decent crew can complete hard easily at an avg lvl of 8, hell, it is possible to complete jewellery overkill at lvl 1)

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