PayDay 2 is one hell of a great idea for a game. Select a job, anything from knocking over jewelery store to a full blown bank heist. Organise a crew. A stealth expert, a technician, and an enforcer. Choose your weapons, paint your clown mask, and get ready to make some money.
With such a great premise, extremely cool art design (drawing heavily from Heath Ledger’s Joker), and excellent pre-release sales, Overkill Software’s PayDay 2 seems to have everything going for it. And it may well live up to its promise. But, for the first week I played it, all I got from PayDay 2 was an appallingly repetitive singleplayer game, non-existent AI, and a whole list of great sounding features that I thought I’d never get to experience.
Although the good news is that when I loaded up PayDay 2 to give it a last couple of hours before writing the review, there was a patch available. Nice. All the multiplayer issues sorted. Time to go online and hit those banks. At least, eventually...
The PayDay 2 patch isn't a patch. It's a PATCH. Weighing in at around 2 GB, I started downloading it at nine in the morning and - after a number of error messages and restarts (there's no download management for a patch) - I finally got to play PayDay 2 they way it’s meant to be played - online and cooperatively. If PayDay 2 is a deliberately and completely munted dog in singleplayer, it has a lot going for it in multiplayer.
PayDay 2 is a game that's all about the missions. There's no story, no effort wasted on characters. You choose one of four guys, and begin in your safe house. In the safe house you have display racks for your masks and weapons, a gun range to try out your newest hardware, and a laptop. The laptop takes you to the main menu where you access the in-game store and character skill trees, and can choose online and offline missions from the city map.
To start a mission you simple click on a flashing point marked on the map. From there you go to the mission's lobby, check your load-out, and listen to the mission description. It has an old-fashioned feel with video of live actors rather than animated scenes. In keeping with this, the whole structure of the game is reminiscent of older racing games. The games where you access menus from your base, the menu takes you to the start of a race, you run your race, and are instantly transported back to your base to spend your winnings and choose the next one. PayDay 2 works just the same.
You begin a mission by casing the job. It might be a bank, a jewelry store, or a mall. You walk around checking for security cameras, guards, exits, back rooms, and any opportunities for a bit of extra loot. For most of the jobs, it all starts when someone puts on their mask and yells for everyone to get down. Then, depending on the mission, you start smashing stuff up in the mall, set up your drill to crack the bank vault, or make your way upstairs to the manager’s office in a nightclub. If your team members get captured, killed, or drops out because of a lost connection, then new players can join. This is good because real people are infinitely better than bots, but frustrating because it happens a lot. And, every time someone new joins, the game pauses for up to a minute.
Each of the four classes you choose from - mastermind, ghost, enforcer, and technician - have their own skill set for you to level up. Among the various buffs and skills, the enforcer gains armour and damage bonuses, the technician can set mines and a sentry gun, the ghost has a stealth bonus and can crack safes without a drill, while the mastermind can tag enemies to take extra damage and gets an experience bump for teammates. While later skills should allow a high level team to get in and out of trouble more quickly and quietly, as long as you’re under level fifty all your jobs inevitably turn into the same extended gun battles with armoured Feds and riot police.
If you're playing online with a full crew of four, the game is pretty great. The the enforcer is an unstoppable tank and the mastermind can both negotiate with and intimidate cops. Snipers, helicopters, flash grenades, an energetic soundtrack, teammates bleeding out and getting arrested, and all the time the drill slowly working away on the bank safe. It’s intense, edge of the seat stuff.
Unfortunately, even post patch, it’s not all good news. The odds are one in every four or five games will end in a connection error. It's especially frustrating considering how much time you can spend fighting through the harder multi-day missions. Also, if the player that starts the mission drops out, that’s it - the mission closes. It’s also frustrating considering how hard spendable cash is to get. That’s right, pull off a million dollar heist and most of the money goes to an offshore account. What you get is a few thousand to spend on weapon mods, your skills, or paint for your clown mask. Just don’t expect enough for everything you want. If you unlock a new gun, you’ll have to save up your earnings from a few jobs before buying something else. At the end of every mission you also get a random prize that might be a mask, or weapon mod. Of course the only problem with the random prize is that getting something half useful is a matter of luck. I guess crime really doesn’t pay. At least, not that well.
I was really looking forward to playing PayDay 2. It is such a great idea for a game. The second Batman movie was always my favourite, and PayDay 2 totally has the vibe of the bank heist that opened that film. But, remember how the Joker deals with his crew in that film? If you’re stuck playing PayDay 2 in singleplayer, or if connection problems and waiting for players to join drives you crazy, you’ll want to do the same.