It’s rare that we get a chance to play as the villain. Even in Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row, you’re either helping rid the city of gangs or acting in self-defence. Payday: The Heist dared to cast players as a group of ambitious thieves determined to make their fortune. It’s an unusual point of view and it’s that perspective which offers some of the more interesting elements of game.
First and foremost, this is not your average shooter. From the off, you are introduced to many of the game’s mechanics in your safe house where you can practice cracking safes, improve your aim at the range or check up on your bank balance in the vault. While most of the safe house serves as nothing more than a tutorial at present, customisation to the hub has been teased to inject a little more personality into your thief and his hideout.
Once this brief introduction is over, your life of crime is ready to commence. As with most game’s of an RPG-like nature, your armoury is poorly stocked but it doesn’t take long before more powerful weaponry is available to purchase for use in Bain’s criminal contracts. Initially, the work on offer consists of short one day missions, starting off with a jewellery store robbery, a four store hold-up and a bank heist with varying contents.
All three maps hardly change, barring a few randomised start/drop-off points and CCTV camera placements, meaning you’ll get familiar with the layouts incredibly quickly and while that will allow you to master them, it will start to grate after the eleventh or twelth time of playing. While new, longer contracts open up every ten levels your profile gains, it is a short-lived high when you explore a new contract.
In single-player, the AI provides support by helping you up on your feet if your downed, but aside from that there is little else they offer. However, as long as you find some friends to play with, co-op play is a different beast though; with four different skill trees to invest in, specialisation in your group is vital so every player has something to offer the team. Skill trees are divided into four groups: Mastermind, Enforcer, Technician and Ghost. Each have very basic skills ranging from faster interactions to faster movement, while more elite skills provide more specialisations with items such as shaped charges to blow open safes and doors, or a circular saw to cut open ATMs and security bars. In a team of four friends, you’ll feel like a true professional when you’re asked to breach doors or intimidate guards forcing them to surrender.
Each skill tree has different strengths which can alter the tactics you use in a gunfight with faster movement in Ghost for a faster retreat, reduced recoil for Masterminds to pick out that perfect shot, more armour as an Enforcer providing your team with a stronger shield, or an increased level of zoom for Technicians so snipers will never best you in a one-on-one. In the early hours of play, gaining skill points isn’t much of an issue; but with the later skills requiring four points for the basic ability and a further eight to ‘ace’ it, it can feel like a true grind for what is ultimately a small pay-off. Combine that with no further unlockables after level 39 and it feels like no progress is made, with random pay-day loot drops and skill tree mastery being the only appealing attributes.
The random loot drops appear at the end of a successful mission and can vary in the reward. Once you pick a card, you’ll receive either a cash bonus, a new mask part or a weapon mod. Mask crafting requires four elements: the mask (which can be worn regardless), a material, a pattern and a colour. With the sheer amount of crafting materials, you can truly created some unique items and impose your personality on your character and become instantly recognisable.
Weapons modifications improve the already impressive gun-play, an aspect in which you can really feel David Goldfarb’s presence with Payday 2 easily able to match his previous work on Killzone 2 and Battlefield 3.The upgrades can affect a weapon’s damage, mobility, noise, etc while some are purely aesthetic. Tight gunplay is emphasised by the title’s sound design with everything from gunfire to explosions on par with the more realistic shooters out today. Payday 2‘s techno/synth soundtracks also helps accentuate the game’s louder moments when all hell breaks loose. Being the villain of the piece means hostility, curiosity and fear is always a problem.
Fortunately, not only do you have firepower on your side but also your lungs. As thieves, you possess the ability to scare the living daylights out of civilians to the point where they submit to being zip tied, which can cause cops to hesitate when storming the building providing players with a short respite. Hostages can also be used in a straight swap for a team-mate that has been taken into downed and taken into custody.
Payday 2 is a budget title. There’s no denying that and while it can be felt in the game’s small amount of content, its production values, unique features and incredible gun-play will make sure that you will have a terrific time in one of the best co-operative games released this generation. With Overkill Software pledging to give players a year’s worth of downloadable content, it’s only a matter of time before Payday 2 becomes the flesh-out and complete title that it deserves to be.