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Payday 2

Score: 80%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Overkill Software
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Heists. In the real world, these can evoke anything from grudging respect for a particularly adept group of thieves (the 1978 Lufthansa heist) to outright disgust and horror (the 1997 North Hollywood shootout). In the world of fiction, however, they are often relentlessly exciting set-piece moments that provide a shot of adrenaline that smoothly dissipates into the emotional high that accompanies success. Payday: The Heist was a good first effort at truly (and safely) capturing the thrill of getting away with violent crime in video game form. Now, Payday 2 is out, and as you'd expect, it's loads of fun... provided you're playing with friends. It's a great ride, but not one that you want to take solo.

Visually, Payday 2 is a marked improvement over its predecessor, though it isn't particularly impressive when held up against other shooters. When you arrive on site to... uh... practice your trade, it's hard not to get excited just thinking about how trashed the place is going to be once you extract. Every opportunity is illustrated for you, and it's a rush to get the confirmation that you've got the tools necessary to get to your "earnings." The gunplay is fast, violent, and well-animated. Enemies go down in style; while it's a bit weird to see a headshot individual stumble around to a rail just to trigger a canned falling animation, it doesn't really mess with the illusion. On top of all this, the interface is clean and unobtrusive, letting you easily go where you want.

I thought the sound design was perhaps the best part of Payday: The Heist, and it may very well be the case for Payday 2. The soundtrack in particular is excellent: it's equal parts original work and homage to classic crime films like Heat. Voice acting succeeds at capturing the nastiness of criminals, from your snarky handler to the truly terrible human beings you call your comrades. In the heat of the moment, they sound fearsome; when they shout at individuals to get down on the ground, you can tell they really mean it. By the tone of their voice, they don't really care who they have to waste if it means getting one more dollar out of the job.


Gameplay:

If you're a fan of crime fiction, you may have been wondering what took so long for the art of the heist scene to be made manifest in video game form. These moments are literally preloaded with mechanics that would absolutely fit in a somewhat asymmetrical cooperative gameplay model. And that's exactly what Payday 2 delivers. It drops you into the role of one of four different miscreants, gives you a series of jobs, and rewards you for completing them with tools that might make you better at your grim work.

Though Payday 2 is clearly inspired by scenes like in Dog Day Afternoon, Snatch, and The Dark Knight, it does not bother with storytelling. It gives you a job, lets you pick your resources, and tells you to go do it. That's really all there is to know. If you need context for your criminal activities, go pick up a Grand Theft Auto game, because you won't find any in Payday 2.

So you pick your guys and immediately head out on a mission. Missions generally start off in "Casing Mode," where you're free to walk around, spotting potential objectives, obstacles, or threats. Once you're ready to go, you pull on your mask and announce yourself -- with big guns and the face of a sinister clown. From there, you get to cracking safes, threatening civilians and shopkeepers, smashing and grabbing merchandise, and murdering hundreds and hundreds of law enforcement professionals. It's a brutal, mean-spirited game, and a ton of fun, at that. Level design is great, and provides multiple incentives for exploration. There's nothing like stumbling upon a safe in the heat of the moment or surviving a particularly harsh assault squad.


Difficulty:

Payday 2 is difficult by default, and this is either amplified or pared down depending on how you play it. If you're playing with friends, it's not as tough. If you're not, however, some heists are almost impossible. The friendly A.I. is about as unhelpful as it could possibly be. Computer-controlled teammates never even address objectives and often just hang out, doing nothing at all until there's something to shoot. To be sure, they'll revive you when they can, but otherwise, they're just dead weight.

Cops, on the other hand, are aggressive and attack in both force and numbers. The longer you stick around, the more prepared they will be. They start out by sending inadequately-equipped grunts to meet their untimely deaths at the end of your firearms, but if you get too greedy, they'll be able to send in some seriously fearsome foes. Late-game enemies charge in with body armor and shotguns; these guys can take you down in no time flat, bringing a twenty-minute job to a quick and fruitless end.


Game Mechanics:

Payday 2 is essentially Left 4 Dead with cops, more varied objectives, and a rewards system. You explore each heist location, looting stores and shooting enemies, getting to hidden valuables, and finally reaching an extraction point. Several of these heists are split up into phases, or Days. Heat generally doesn't die down once you fly off in the escape chopper, so Payday 2 doesn't always try to sell that illusion. Instead, something might come up; perhaps the getaway van blows a tire. When this kind of stuff happens, your only course of action is simply to deal with it.

So how can you earn? Well, there's lots of money and valuables for the taking, but it's not all on display. Much of it has to be accessed in some illicit manner. This means the return of the drill that was frequently referred to as a "piece of sh*t" in Payday: The Heist. If you see a safe, you'll need to set that baby up and let it do its thing. It will burn out multiple times, so you'll need to keep tabs on it while you're fending off the police or trying to earn more money. ATMs are all over the place, and if you've got a saw equipped, you can cut your way into it, among other things.

As is the case with most shooters these days, Payday 2 features a healthy number of unlockables. From weapons to gear to accessories, you'll be earning all of it as your career progresses. On top of this, you earn skill points as you level up. These skills start small but gradually become incredibly useful as the heists get progressively tougher. That being said, this is also a very good reason to have some friends along for the ride; many of these skills complement others quite nicely.

Payday 2 fills a niche in the shooter genre, and one that isn't very populated, at that. If you've got some dedicated friends who are willing to work through the game with you, it's absolutely worth the time and money. If you don't, you will be disappointed.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows XP SP3, 2GHz Intel Dual Core Processor, 2 GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce 8800/ATI Radeon HD 2600 (256MB minimum), DirectX 9.0c, 20 GB HD space, DirectX 9.0c compatible sound
 

Test System:



ASUS G74S Series, Intel Core I7 - 2670QM, 2.2 GHz, Windows 7 Premium, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560M, 12 GB RAM

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