As a loyal “Left 4 Dead” fan, I was immediately intrigued by the premise behind “PAYDAY: The Heist” and its successor upon their release, even though I hate clowns with a passion. They offered a four player cooperative experience…though instead of fighting off zombies and wiping off boomer bile, you were robbing banks and the like. With that being said, I was a bit turned off by the rumors regarding their single player modes…enough so that I convinced myself to wait until a price drop before picking them up. With the recent Steam holiday sale slashing “PAYDAY: The Heist” by ninety percent and “PAYDAY 2” by fifty-five percent, I managed to grab both for just under fifteen bucks…not a bad haul (pardon the pun) if I may say so. It’s important to note that I started playing “PAYDAY 2” first and thus will be reviewing it first (because I can)…though time permitting, I’ll cook a review up for “PAYDAY: The Heist” as well.
Before we even touch the subject of bank heists and actual gameplay, I should probably first mention how in-depth the character customization is. Like most action RPGs (“Borderlands”, “Fallout 3”, “Elder Scrolls: Skyrim”, etc.), you’ll be allowed to upgrade your profile/character to be suit your play style. The game comes with a total of four different skill trees, though you are free to distribute points between them at will. Gaining skill points requires that the player “level up” by going on heists and gaining experience, though they’ll also need to spend their hard-earned cash in conjunction with their skill points in order to start filling up their skill trees. Thankfully, a respec option is available to refund all skill points spent, though the player will only get half of their cash back.
In addition to skill trees, players can customize their weaponry to a degree. There are quite a few weapons featured in the game (pistols, assault rifles, sniper rifles, etc.), but I found their presence to be much more profound once I started adding all of the goodies to my favorite weapons. You’ll have your pick between active mods like suppressors, barrels, and fore grips to passive mods like colored skins and patterns. The active mods actually change the weapon’s stats in a particular way, usually by increasing one stat while decreasing another. Once you have your guns modded the way you like, you can set to work on customizing your mask with different color combinations and patterns. It’s important to note that these mods have to first be unlocked, then bought with cash in order to equip them.
Of course, crafting your character’s look and tools for their life of crime is only half the battle. When you’re ready to go on a heist, you’ll be able to choose from a list via the “Crime Net” map. While the number of actual heist types is relatively small, Crime Net is constantly creating new dynamic contracts to accept. These heists are dynamic in the sense that while the overall map is the same, the locations of various points of interest and the types of events that appear are randomized. Luckily, the game will tell you how difficult a heist is before you accept it…it goes without saying that you can (and probably should) choose the easier contracts until you get a firm grasp of the basics. You can play with bots by going into “offline” mode, though their functionality is limited.
When it comes time to actually play, you’re thrown into the world as a civilian which allows you the chance to scope things out risk-free. Like the “Hitman” series, there are different ways to approach your objectives, whatever they happen to be. You can attempt to stealth through a level, for example, or just mow down everyone in sight. I didn’t like that I couldn’t interact with objects as a civilian…that is, you’ll have to put your mask on before you can crouch, run, steal, and etc. You can shout commands and tell civilians to stay down, or take a hostage by tying them up. Civilian kills will actually deduct monies from your character account among other penalties, so at best, they serve as a distraction when combating law enforcement.
Speaking of which, you’ll encounter both lightly and heavily armed personnel who will be trying their darndest to stop you. Security cameras also play a strategic role, as they will sound an alarm if you’re in front of one for too long. Civilians will run off and try to get help if you’re not covering them, so having a friend dedicated to crowd control is certainly ideal. While it is tempting to let the waves of law enforcement come through the door so that you can mow them down (they never stop coming once the alarm sounds), you’re only rewarded for the loot you manage to get to your escape van…this helps to eliminate the gung-ho approach a bit, I feel. There’s also the fact that these do-gooders will get harder and harder to kill as time goes on…you do NOT want to be facing SWAT members in full riot gear, so act quickly!
The AI/single player is my biggest complaint, as bots don’t have much of a function other than being human shields and mobile sentry guns. They will shoot at “enemies”, but won’t deploy special weaponry, pick up bags, or interact with the environment…think “Left 4 Dead” bots, but stupider. To make matters worse, you can’t even order them around with a radial command menu. Still, single player is a great way to get the basics down without pissing anyone else off. Just be aware that in single player, you’ll be doing everything yourself, which can potentially lengthen a heist (thereby making it more difficult). Some missions task you with carrying three bags to your escape van, for example, and doing that by yourself one at a time can be difficult. “PAYDAY 2” is certainly better suited to be a multiplayer experience…especially with people you know and game with regularly.
“PAYDAY 2” turned out to be a pretty engaging experience, all things considered. I found there to be a lot of repitition…that is, you’ll be doing the same mission types over and over again in order to grind out experience and cash. The dynamic missions keep things somewhat fresh, but there comes a point where you get tired of robbing the same jewelery store for the umpteenth time. I was personally more drawn in by the customization options available (the skill trees in particular). It’s a good game as it stands, but more TLC with regard to single player would have pushed “PAYDAY 2” over the top. There’s a free demo available, so my advice is to “stay frosty” and give it a try.
Final Verdict: 6/10
Editor’s Note: For those of you experiencing mouse/game lag, try adjusting your game’s compatibility mode by finding the .exe file in the steamapps folder…XP Service Pack 2 mode worked for me.
You can learn more about and purchase “PAYDAY 2” by visiting the following websites:
http://www.pd2skills.info/ (Skill Trees)