Movies and video games tend to cross over quite a bit. In a lot of cases, what makes a good movie usually makes a good game: a lot of action, a good story, and characters that you can connect with. This is the reason that a lot of games are derived from the same ideas as that their silver screen counterparts. Racing games play on the great chase movies like "The French Connection," war games owe a debt to classics like "Apocalypse Now" and "The Bridge on the River Kwai," and even sports games have movies like the "Rocky" franchise to credit for laying the groundwork for their popularity. However, there is one great genre of action films that is well underrepresented in the game world - heist movies. Cinema classics like "Ocean's Eleven" (both of them), "The Thomas Crown Affair," (both of them, too), "The Usual Suspects," and "Reservoir Dogs" all prove that thievery makes for a good story, but in terms of games, it's slim pickings. "Payday 2" hopes to change that, as it continues the genre homage that its predecessor, "Payday: The Heist," began back in 2011.
Published by 505 Games, and developed by Overkill Software, "Payday 2" is a co-op first-person shooter, which builds on the groundwork laid by "The Heist." The team-based shooter that plays out like a robbery themed "Left 4 Dead," where the goal is to complete the crime and get out safely instead of stay alive and shoot the zombies. You start out the game with no money, and a limited weapons supply, as you explore your safe house, but as the game progresses, you bank more cash for your escape fund, purchase and upgrade your arsenal, and pimp out your digs. The game's missions are fairly straightforward robberies dictated by various criminal factions within the Washington D.C. area. Choose the crimes you want to commit, and set out to make bank either flying solo or with some of your closest friends online.
On the surface "Payday 2" may look like another generic shooter, but underneath the hood it's got quite a few things going for it that help separate it from the pack. The thing that makes "Payday 2" a fresh experience is the missions, and how you choose to go about them. Whether you opt to play alone or with a team, there is an equal balance of strategy and skill that goes into successfully completing each heist in the game.
Whether you're heading into a jewelry store or a bank, an upscale apartment or a mall, planning your crime is the key to success in "Payday 2." First you need to case the joint, then settle on a plan of attack, choosing when and how to move in, and finally, hope you can execute your crime flawlessly, evading a police presence for as long as possible. The more time you put into planning, the better off you'll be once you decide to slip on your mask, and step into the shoes of the game's real criminal. For most of the missions it's in your best interest to rely on your stealth, but it's not required, and if you want to go in with you guns blazing, you're perfectly welcome to, just as long as you're ready to suffer the consequences. The faster you can execute your crime and make it to your escape vehicle, the less resistance you'll run into, but if you stick around, so do the cops, and they increase in strength as time goes on, progressing from street cops, to the SWAT team, and eventually to fully armored civil servants.
Each mission is structured to send in a team of criminal associates, so that no one ever gets bogged down under heavy fire alone. Whether you're playing alone, or with friends, there will always be someone there to get your back. However, while the AI in the single-player deserves some credit, most people are going to be more successful, and have more fun, if the team up with some real people.
Outside of the more intelligent cover that a human can provide, an extra set of hands never hurts when you're trying to make off with bags of drugs and money. Playing the game alone means that you have to do a lot of the heavy lifting (literally carrying items back and forth) by yourself, whereas multiple people can carry multiple items if they are working together. If the game allowed for the AI to carry cargo, it was never fully explained, which is another one of the game's shortfalls - there isn't really a tutorial. Outside of some light training at the safe house, players are on their own figuring out the best way to play the game.
One of the other big problems with the game is that most of the heists take place in the same settings. For example, you're always attacking the same jewelry store. While the layout, placement of the items within the store, and overall mission change with each play through, it's still the same maps over and over. It somehow doesn't cheapen the experience, but it does get a little old running through the same layouts every time. However, should you opt to partake in any of the next year's worth of DLC for the game, this is likely a gripe that end up being a moot point.
The game's weaponry and customization are pleasant highlights that are well woven into the gameplay, making each mission's awarded spending money and experience constantly rewarding. Whether you're unlocking and purchasing a modification for your secondary weapon, or adding a new coat of paint to your in-game mask, "Payday" feels like it compensates you for a job well done more often than not.
Overall "Payday 2" does a solid job of delivering gamers a great experience for an underrepresented genre. While committing crimes in video games is nothing new, the design of "Payday 2" puts more of an emphasis on strategy than shooting, making it a much different experience that some of its contemporaries. If you think you have what it takes to knock over a virtual bank, grab a gang, put together a plan, and do your best to stay off the police scanner for as long as possible - if you can do all that you'll really enjoy everything that "Payday 2" has to offer.
Score: 8 out of 10