Get the bags!
People have proven their capacity for idolizing bank robbers, the anti-heroes who take our money with total disregard for the law. "But they're so handsome. It's insured anyway! I wanna be one too!" Yes, yes, what people are really hungry for is the rush. They think of how easy bank-robbing looks and marvel at what they'd do after the adrenaline, once they could roll around naked in the pilfered cash.
Payday 2 tries to emulate that rush... not the naked part. With a four-man team, you start to feel like you could take on any job. Running cocaine between delivery drivers, drilling a massive bank vault—every scenario does what it can to provide a playground of sorts. And therein lies the simply stupendous sense of adrenaline. Where inevitably you (and Payday 2) falter, though, is in the execution, but keeping cool, focusing on objectives, and most importantly, playing with friends won't have to steal your time. You'll happily hand it over.
Overkill still emphasizes gun play in its sequel, but the multitude of options mean you might not have to fire many bullets to make out with a huge sack of loot. Casing the joint allows you to explore, size-up, and generally puzzle your way to the fastest, most profitable getaway. You can approach multistoried compounds from different angles, cut through fences, and generally infiltrate all levels of a mark. You can sneak up on guards and bind their hands to null the threat of both alarms and waves of reinforcements.
In the game's most heated shootouts, players almost always have the upper hand, controlling vantage points, hiding out in tight spaces, and benefitting from some silly AI traffic. Lose focus on the drill, though, and it might falter, belaying your escape and dwindling your supplies. Thanks to Payday 2's skill tree, anyone can score, but only if the group sticks together and communicates, as emphasized by the skill tree itself. When you assign your first skill point, for example, you unlock a deployable that can greatly aid your team if used just right.
Ammo bags provide extra magazines when the actual mission time and your plans don't match up. Medical cases provide a set number of players added health (though you can pick your teammates up if they haven't been arrested). The player customization continues with varied weapon load-outs and your chosen mask. Many guns can be modified heavily and balanced to your taste, but my favorite thing about Payday 2 is the mission variety.
Jewelry store theft, night club assaults, convenience store hold-ups—every mission parameter has the capacity to throw a curve ball, and so do those stupid AI waves. Every once in a while, a team of police officers can sneak up behind you, separate stragglers from groups, and even steal a few bags of loot. The first time it happened to me, I reacted angrily, irrationally.
I chased after one of the cops making off with the last bag of cocaine and downed him quickly, but squads dropping from helicopters and appearing behind shipping containers sent me to cover. Payday 2 let me suffer the white-hot greed that proves a bank robber's downfall. This humbling experience came with critical cohorts from around the globe. In a random game, even the most level-headed players might falter due to a lack of communication.
Team play is so heavily emphasized in Payday 2 that it's impossible to expect great success with a team of admittedly dedicated meat-shields. The AI partners don't play well with Casing Mode but they do fire a rifle well. If you decide to buy, make sure you pick a platform that will provide a healthy and dedicated community (like Steam) to get the most out of every inch of the game. Depending on how smartly you play together, jobs can take less time than you thought thanks to multi-phase arcs with truly challenging objectives.
In a multi-phase mission, players will follow a target from scenario to scenario, ensuring safe passage of cargo or defending against unexpected pursuit. You might case out a joint in the day light and return at night to stealthily dispatch the guards and silently lift the paintings. This sense of progression from mission to mission feels hugely rewarding and requires a bit of commitment from players. The longer missions can start to feel like raids if your team suffers delays thanks to waves of enemies.
Payday 2 might ruin friendships, but it might solidify them too. It might prove how you and your band of online thugs are all looking out for two things: yourselves and the cash. Does that sound like an underground network of criminals looking to score big? In that objective, Payday 2 is a resounding success.
Unfortunately, without friends it feels shallow. The Crime.net menu randomly generates missions for you, so you can't just set the target and the parameters, you have to progress and join with others to have access to high-paying gigs. Solo players won't get the mileage necessary to level up enough, but for anyone with the courage, the fruit is ripe for the picking. I encountered several bugs on the Steam review build, but the lengthy beta from Overkill should have them squashed fast.
Payday 2's presentation feels plastic, but the rest feels exhilarating and livened by the presence of human players you have to rely on. Trusting in the caricature players wear as a mask during the game's most intense moments feels foreign, but not for long. Soon you start to build your skills, your list of workable partners, and your empire. The overseas bank account stat strung me along for the ride. Even if I'd never see that amount of money in my lifetime, knowing it's waiting for me somewhere in Payday 2's world is addicting enough.
Code provided by publisher. Based on PC version. Also available on Xbox 360 and PS3.