Payday 2 Review: The ultimate heist

You’re in front of a jewelry store with three friends. You decide that you and a friend will scope out the side alleyway for any wandering guards or paths to enter the store, while the other two stay outside controlling and watching the crowd. You see the guard standing around. You put on your mask, rush up, knock him out. Your friend forgets to answer the pager, and the police are alerted. You panic, and realize your heist just went from well-planned to epic disaster. You end up getting the money and getting away with your lives barely intact. This is a typical heist in Payday 2, and it’s what makes the game so much fun. However, a random loot drop system and questionable economy hinder the game from living up to its full potential.

Payday 2 makes a lot of needed changes from the original, such as an improved level-up system, dynamic missions with different variants, new weapons and attachments, and the ability to customize your clown mask. Where the game really shines is when all the pieces of the puzzle fall together and you pull off a heist without alerting the police. That’s no easy task, as a single mistake can turn the whole thing around.

Having the right team, communication, and plan is all crucial to a perfect heist.

Crime.Net serves as your mission hub, showing you different heists, their difficulty levels, and the payout. Each heist changes when you play it. For instance, in the bank heist, the vault, cameras, security room and even doors can be moved, opened or completely gone. At times, the manager will have the keycard you need to get into the camera room, while other times it will be on his desk. One time, the back door might be left open, and you have an easy way to get in. Other times, you’ll have to lockpick and get in. These types of changes to the missions add a nice level of variety–replaying becomes fun and challenging at the same time.

As you complete the heists, you’ll earn experience points and money that you’ll get to spend on leveling up your character and buying new weapons and attachments. However, this is where Payday 2 starts having problems. When you complete a heist, you are presented with a card select screen, and you have to choose one of three cards. Behind the card could be a mask or gun icon, which will unlock attachments, mask customization parts, or new masks altogether. While masks might not play such a big role, not being able to, say, buy a silencer for your pistol because you didn’t unlock it, is rather annoying. Not only that, after you unlock said attachment, you then have to purchase it for the right gun. Make a mistake, or don’t like what you’ve picked up? Sorry, no refunds.

Leveling up in Payday 2 is treated more like an RPG rather than the original’s. You have a choice of four skill trees, ranging from the Mastermind, Enforcer, and Tactician to Ghost. As you and your friends specialize in these trees, you start unlocking things like faster drill times, the ability to knock-out guards faster, more experience gain, etc. I found it best to specialize in one, while dropping a selective few points in the others.

Payday 2 also plays a lot better than the original. Each gun has its own stats and feels different from others. Shooting feels tighter, as you now have aim-assist and police don’t have perfect accuracy. You can also survey the scene without putting your mask on. This adds more depth to how you’ll pull off each heist and it’s a much-welcomed change. The addition of an actual stealth mechanic makes the game more about trying to pull off the perfect heist than having an all-out shooting war with the police.

The stealth, while great, also has its flaws. It would have been nice to have an ability to get the attention of a guard by whistling or throwing something from the environment. It’s nothing game-breaking, but it can be annoying when guards have a certain path that forces you have to wait before moving in for the kill.

Having friends is also a must if you’re thinking about playing Payday 2. Single-player is pointless, as your A.I teammates do nothing but act as meat shields and extra fodder, forcing you to make multiple trips to get the items needed in the mission. Playing with random groups is an option, but microphones are a must. This game is all about cooperation and working as a team; once that fails, it becomes nothing more than a firefight between you and cops.

In the graphics department, Payday 2 is OK. The environments look decent, but certain items lose texture or become pixelated once you get close. Walking through your teammates and civilians is also a bit weird. I didn’t find these things to be that much of a problem, as I often laughed at some funny encounters that happened.

I’m having tons of fun playing Payday 2 and some memorable memories of heists gone wrong have been created that I will never forget. The game does a lot of things to improve on the original but has certain flaws that keep it from being a must-play. The inability to unlock gun attachments on your own terms is annoying, and the prices placed on shop items are criminal. Still, improved gunplay, cooperative excitement, and the thrill of perfect execution make Payday 2 a step in the right direction for the sleeper-hit series.

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The Final Word

Payday 2 is a step in the right direction for co-op action still throttled by lame single-player and an annoying unlock system.