I’m pretty sure PayDay 2 hates my guts. Not because it’s a particularly hard game — it’s easy enough if you know how to play as it intended — but rather because I’m just not a very good bad guy. Planning, precision and patience go out the window as soon as I take the front seat of a bank heist, smash-and-grab or whatever, and therein lies PayDay 2’s brilliance: it’s a great heist game, made in such a way as to demand — rather meticulously — that you approach it as if you really were intending to run away with millions of dollars.
Crime.Net sets the scene: spread out across an interactive map of prospective heist missions, you’ll team up with three buddies — or feel free to go at it alone, but this is cooperative gameplay at its best — as you prepare to take down your next target, be it a simple bank robbery, or a complex break-in-smash-grab-and-run type of plan.
Heists have been thrown into the spotlight as of late thanks to their forthcoming inclusion in Grand Theft Auto V, with screenshots being especially reminiscent of that scene in Michael Mann’s Heat. With PayDay 2 the game lacks the narrative coherence to add much moral worth to what you’re doing, but that doesn’t matter because the experience alone is so engaging and satisfying. If anything, PayDay 2 is every bit the game Reservoir Dogs from the PS2 era should have been.
Each mission presents a fascinating scenario: you’ll scope each area, pinpoint the objectives, note areas of interest and take particular care to avoid detection and remain mindful of civilians. In that regard you’ll want to be extra careful because for every innocent civilian killed comes a “clean up” invoice deducted from whatever final figure you end up with when (if) you complete the heist.
It works well to balance the brutality of each heist and the mindless killing you’ll eventually encounter as police and SWAT members surround you, but PayDay 2 never wants to be especially structured on the morality front. In fact, it rewards you for being as effective a stealthy criminal as possible, and there’s little-to-no punishment for killing NPCs if you manage to walk away with a healthy pay packet.
Your capacity to efficiently counter any possible compromises to your ability to complete a heist help round out PayDay 2’s overall depth. How do you take out a security guard quietly and then avoid their colleagues from suspecting something fishy when they don’t respond to a call-out? Or how do you deal with unavoidability-tripped alarms that ring true as soon as you enter specific rooms? PayDay 2 certainly throws a lot at you as a roadblock on your way to completing a successful heist, of which there are many different ways to walk away with cash dribbling out of your pockets.
The skill trees branch out beyond weaponry and combat, allowing you to head down a specific path of lock picks or tools of the fist, determining which role you’ll play during a heist. It’s in this level of depth that PayDay 2’s cooperative relevance shines through: the AI isn’t able to balance alongside your own skills as well as a human-controlled squad member might, meaning your team might be lacking in certain areas as you try to cover for what the AI isn’t able to do particularly effectively.
Because of this I found myself engaging in long — albeit fun — firefights when playing with the AI as opposed to alongside humans. The AI is bad: you’ll notice at the start of every mission that they just randomly run around like chickens with their heads cut off, but in moments when you have to wait a few minutes for a drill to break into a door they act as respectable cover as AI enemies flank from all angles.
Yet, for a game like PayDay 2 it feels especially tedious to be critical of the AI, although a single-player game without AI-controlled squad members may have made for a most respectable experience when you can’t log on with other people for whatever reason. These glaring issues aside, the game presents a pretty enjoyable range of weaponry and gunplay to make any shootout memorable enough so as to bury any frustrations.
PayDay 2 is a great cooperative shooter, incorporating an engaging mission structure, deep skill tree and solid gameplay mechanics. The AI is poor, but that’s probably a purposefully implemented design choice to push you to play with others. If you’re after some explosive four-player action, PayDay 2 will definitely be right up your alley.