Shooters today have always focused on the glorious battles for righteousness in space and on Earth. It isn’t often that you get one that focuses on the nitty gritty of the criminal underworld. The seedy people are concerned with one thing -- money. Payday 2 makes no apologies for its name or its gameplay. You’re a thief, murderer, drug trafficker, and anything else that bad guys do to get paid. Let’s see if Payday 2 actually has something of value in the vault, or if the cops are lying in wait to haul it away from your game collection.
Payday 2 puts you in the boots of a criminal looking to get rich quick and retire early. It is a first-person-shooter with heavy emphasis on co-op. You and up to three other people are charged with completing missions that range from the basic smash and grab, to drug trafficking. It is all done in pursuit of the all mighty dollar and a beach blanket in Bora Bora.
This sequel is very similar to the original. The basic gameplay remains very familiar with some decent tweaks to help tighten and polish the experience. What really sets Payday 2 apart from any other FPS on the market is that it's damn hard, and requires as much thinking as it does an itchy trigger finger.
In order to get anywhere in a mission, you have to “case” the joint and get a good look at where the valuables might be hiding or where the security might be patrolling. Next up on your roster of evil deeds is to find a quiet place to pull out your mask and start taking hostages. Hostages help to keep the police at bay and can be traded if one of your team gets captured. Now, you’ll finally have the chance to clear out security guards, smash cash registers, and start cracking safes. But, picking locks and drilling safes take time, and you really need to manage your team well to keep the cops off you and successfully rip off whatever joint you’re robbing.
Notice that the above paragraph doesn’t really involve much shooting? That’s because the shooting mechanic in Payday 2 is quite dull and boring. It is more of a punishment for not properly thinking through your heist and executing it perfectly. The cops have a ridiculous amount of health and the aiming doesn’t feel accurate at all. You feel disconnected from whatever weapon you hold and that takes a lot of the fun out of playing the game.
The graphics of Payday 2 look dated and not in a nostalgic way. Everything looks quite flat, low-res, and not up to standards with today’s shooters. This would be fine if the environments were a bit more creative, but they all feel a little bit dull and fail to pop off of your screen. It should also be noted that I ran into a lot of invisible walls, and nothing breaks the immersion quite so jarringly as those pesky invisible walls. A pair of jersey barriers or a dumpster across the alley would have been an easy fix.
Also, don’t bother playing this offline. That A.I. of both your companions and the police are unbearably stupid. More than once I saw one of my partners running in place while facing a corner. The best experience for Payday 2 is online and with real humans at your side so you can plan and coordinate efficiently to pull off the mission.
But, Payday 2 isn’t all bad. The emphasis on strategy is a welcome respite from the usual, “Go there! SHOOT THE THING!” gameplay we’re so used to in the FPS genre. It requires you to really think about what the objective is and how to achieve it with minimal civilian casualties, and not get busted by the fuzz. Once you trip an alarm or alert a security guard, you have to learn to improvise. It is much more about your brain rather than how twitchy your fingers can be. With a few friends, Payday 2 can be a challenging and fun experience.
Payday 2 isn’t the greatest FPS you’ll find, but it is certainly one worth trying. In a time where everything revolves around Call of Duty or Battlefield, Payday 2 carves out its own territory in FPS land. It isn’t the most desirable territory, but after some more polishing and thought, it could be something truly unique.
A retail copy of Payday 2 for the Playstation 3 was purchased for this review.