It is so frequent that we write off sequels in the videogames industry as being merely "more of the same." There is nothing wrong with delivering another high quality product, but it's so rare to see a sequel that greatly improves on the original in every possible way. Payday 2 is one of those rare games. It takes the solid fundamentals from the original game and puts them in a much more complete package. In short, Payday 2 is one of the best co-op shooters ever made.
For those who have no idea what Payday is all about, it's a co-operative first-person shooter where you and three other players get to play as a band of criminals who want to steal stuff. Take note of the italics used on the word co-operative there. This is not a game to play on your own; the bots suck. This is a game that is supposed to be played with real people and if you want a single-player experience, you better look elsewhere.
There isn't much story but that's okay. You get a brief biography for each of the characters and you get to learn a little about the contacts who give missions to you. One of the contacts is a guy named Vlad, a crazy Russian type and his missions are typically gung ho. On the other hand, there is another contact called The Elephant, who is much more professional and his missions can be done in a much more stealthy manner. So while Payday 2 doesn't exactly have much of a narrative, there are some decent characters here that help describe each of the game's missions.
Speaking of missions, Payday 2 has a very interesting system in place with regards to choosing which one you want to do. In the first game, you just picked whatever level you wanted to do from a list but in the sequel, you get a big map screen and before you know it, that map will be filled with different missions you can do. It seems overwhelming at first but once you get used to it, it's a really novel way of picking a mission.
Payday 2's core gameplay is very similar to the first game, on paper anyway. Players will be forced to do a series of objectives in a level and once all of the objectives have been accomplished, the team has the opportunity to try and escape... or will they? Yes indeed, Payday 2 has a lot more risk versus reward type gameplay elements. So for instance, in the Bank level, there is a certain amount of money that the team needs to get in order to finish the mission but they can stay if they want, to try and earn even more money. But staying can be a dangerous thing to do. Health and ammunition only last for so long and the longer a mission goes on, the more likely it will be that the police will send in heavier units to take the players out.
Another big change in Payday 2 is the fact that a lot of missions can be done stealthily. In the first game, only the Diamond Heist level (and some of the DLC missions) could be done stealthily, but Payday 2 offers much more freedom in how you want to approach a mission. However, stealth is usually really hard to pull off, as it should be. Players need to avoid guards, sneak past cameras and control any civilians that catch wind of you. It's hard but if you pull off a heist without a shot being fired, it is very satisfying.
Even if things go wrong (they will), Payday 2 offers some excellent combat. The weapons look, feel and sound amazing. To give an idea of how great the guns are, think of the recent Battlefield games and that should give you a pretty good idea. Each shot feels so powerful and the enemies do a great job of reacting to your gunfire. The SWAT officers in Payday 2 do tend to soak up a fair amount of damage, which is usually something I don't like in games, but because the enemies still flinch when they get shot, the combat remains exhilarating. Shooting a SWAT in the stomach for him to stumble over, giving you ample time to line up a juicy headshot, and if achieved will you will see the guy's helmet ping off. This game is definitely fun.
The combat is really intense too as the game still uses the assault wave mechanic from the first game. During a mission, the police will issue assault waves regularly and during these moments, cops will swarm in to get you. Payday 2 isn't afraid to throw a lot of enemies at you and the combat is frantic. Someone could complain about how the enemy AI tends to just charge in without a care in the world but I think it the suicidal cops make the game more fun.
Upon finishing missions, you will earn experience points and money. Payday 2's character development is far more complex and interesting compared to the first game. In the first Payday, you levelled up but you unlocked weapons, items and upgrades in a boring and linear fashion, which meant you often unlocked stuff you didn't really want. In Payday 2 however, you get to earn money and you can spend that money on whatever guns and upgrades you want. There are plenty of weapons in the game like shotguns, pistols and assault rifles and all of them can be customised with different scopes, stocks, silencers and so on.
Payday 2 also introduces a skills system that is similar to a role-playing game. As you level up, you will gain skill points and then you are start levelling up four different trees, Mastermind, Enforcer, Technician and Ghost. You don't have to stick with one class but it is ideal, in order to reach the highest skills in that particular tree. The actual skills themselves are mostly really interesting and offer completely different ways of playing the game. The Mastermind for instance can get enemies to handcuff themselves and from there, he can convert cuffed enemies to fight for him. The Enforcer can get access to a portable saw which can be used to cut open safes much faster than the standard drill can. The Technician can deploy sentry guns and he can blow through doors using C4 charges. Finally, the Ghost class is the stealthy one who can bag up dead bodies and can pick lock into safes.
There are loads of skills in the games, some aren't quite as interesting as the ones I just mentioned but all of them feel useful. The idea of being able to sprint for longer might seem like a minor skill but after using it for a while, I can't imagine not having it. All four classes seem to be balanced in such a way that all of them are fun ways to play the game and everyone will have their own personal favourite.
On top of all that, after every mission you finish you will get a loot drop. You get to pick a random card from three and it will reveal a new thing that you have unlocked. Typically, most of the unlocks you earn here are cosmetic stuff like masks, patterns and colours but unfortunately, this is also how you earn weapon mods. This didn't bother me personally, but I can sympathise with someone who would want to have silenced weapons but they can't because they haven't gotten any during the loot drops. Oh well, it just gives you another reason to jump back in!
All of the skills and unlockables do a great job of making Payday 2 a very addictive game. It's easy to sink many hours into the game and thanks to awesome gunplay, it doesn't really get old. I do wish there were a few more missions in the game. There's a good selection in the game already, all of which have their own unique feel. Whether you are making meth or robbing jewellery shops, Payday 2 is always entertaining. The game randomises objectives slightly to keep things fresh. Some of the missions are also multi day affairs, which means that particular mission has multiple segments. These levels are interesting as your performance during one segment can affect the remaining segments. So yeah, I could do with a few more missions but I have already put in over 30 hours into a game that isn't even full price, that's pretty good going and I don't think I am going to stop playing anytime soon.
The graphics in Payday 2 are good but compared to other PC games, they aren't too impressive. The game has solid character/weapon models and the environments feel lively and have nice little details. However, the game does have quite a lot of basic models populating the levels and the animations used for the other players are really stiff and robotic. At least the game is excellently optimised and even on my modest machine, I could run the game maxed out with no problems at all.
The sound used throughout Payday 2 is fantastic. As mentioned, the sounds used for all of the weapons sound nothing short of wonderful. All of the weapons sound really hefty and powerful. Even the Beretta pistol sounds like a hand cannon. This is exactly how weapons in games should sound. All of the other sounds used in the game do the job nicely and the voice acting is good, though, I am a bit disappointed that they changed the guy who plays Hoxton. The soundtrack is fantastic with Simon Viklund reprising his composing duties. A lot of the tracks in the game are throbbing, techno style beats that do a great job of kicking in just as a police assault is about to start.
Payday 2 is a fantastic game. It has faults but the game absolutely nails what it sets out to do. The moment to moment gameplay is intense, the gunplay is really satisfying and the deep unlock system keeps players hooked. Payday 2 is easily my favourite co-op shooter and it is one of the best games of the year so far. I hope you get the chance to try it.
FIVE OUT OF FIVE
(An exceptional game whose flaws are barely noticeable.)