I’ve been playing the full version of Payday 2 a bit. Not enough for a review, but certainly enough to offer an informed opinion. It’s good. Really good at times. But it’s also a little bit odd, and I’ve run into a few technical problems that I suspect aren’t simply down to my PC.
So rather than sticking a finger in the air and picking a score – here’s a little bit more detail about what I like and dislike.
I love how unrepentantly bad it asks you to be
Unlike most crime games, there’s no moral crutch or reasoning behind what you’re doing beyond “you are a bad man, take their money.” While GTA, Hitman, Sleeping Dogs and every other crime related game I can think of try and find an excuse for the violence and mayhem you inflict, Payday doesn’t. Payday is pure. Pure evil. It’s ace.
It’s not just about robbing banks
You’re a crim for hire, and that hiring doesn’t just mean breaking into vaults. There’s extortion (one ridiculous mission has you shooting up a mall), street robbery, drug running (there’s an amazing mission where you have to defend a drugs delivery) and more. The meta-goal changes, but how you achieve it doesn’t. Hold your position against waves of police until the getaway van/helicopter arrives.
Payday’s focus is admirable.
Payday’s a thin game – a selection of levels that can be replayed at many different difficulty levels. The locations aren’t complicated – a street intersection, a mall, a bank, a jewellers. They’re the kind of maps dedicated PC gamers would have made when experimenting in Hammer. But they’re made better by an element of randomisation; safes will move places, guards and civilians will appear and disappear, and the level of difficulty can be altered. That means there’s a fair amount of replayability. Certainly, I’ve not tired of the bank heist from the beta quite yet.
And it’s best when played well
You’ll often hear reviewers talk about how much better a game is when played with friends. I beg to differ: a game is better when it’s played with people who know what they’re doing. Friendship can come afterwards.
If you’re playing with a well co-ordinated group, Payday is something else. It’s not just talk about combat tactics: about calling targets and reloads, about asking for health and support. When you work together, players can use their their abilities and inventory to avoid combat. Knock out a guard. Silence his pager. Avoid the civilians. Knock out the cameras. Pick the lock. Start the drill. And pray no-one notices. Stealth is only possible when the four of your team are ready and willing to implement it. In random groups, there’s always one idiot who starts the firing early.
It’s deeper than you expect.
Payday gets better the more you play – there’s a tech tree and reward structure built in that makes your character look and feel more powerful as you earn. Cash is awarded for successful heists along with experience. Experience points unlock perks in one of four trees that emphasise stealth, teamwork, player power and gadgets, but unlocking those perks also costs cash. New weapons and vanity items are surprisingly expensive, but remarkably effective: I was amazed at the difference a sub-machine gun made over the bog-standard pistol.
The AI’s not terrible, but not great
One point I am disappointed with is the police AI. There aren’t really enough flavours of behaviour to make them particularly interesting. You never really get any sense of differentiation between officers, nor between officer classes. The only real change up comes when the fatties arrive: heavily armoured SWAT officers that need to be focused on at close range.
I think it needs a lean command
I’m glad Payday isn’t a cover-shooter. I can’t think of anything worse than a bank full of waist high concrete bollards to hide behind. But I wish I could hide behind doors and walls and peek out, even if I didn’t fire, without exposing myself to gunfire.
It’s quite crashy
It’s a great game, and I kind of love it. But everyone I’ve played with has suffered from the game crashing; either as it launches a level, or as a level ends. That’s occurred in both the beta and the review code that we’ve been provided with. That can occur a couple of times an hour, in some of my friends cases, to once every couple of hours, in my own case.
I think it’s definitely worth you playing it. But until we can see how the full game behaves in the real world, I’m just not prepared to put a score on it.