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Within the world of criminal acts, how has the heist become the de facto fashionable form of breaking the law? Behind the elaborate strategies, clever tricks and cunning back-up plans, a heist is, quite simply, theft. Hollywood has told us that those who succeed in the game of heists are ‘cool’, ‘suave’, and really have it all. They’re the people who deserve some sympathy, as they’re the down-beaten, under-privileged members of society who steal from the ultra-wealthy because those better of them then deserve it. Even when real heists happen, like the one pulled off in the Netherlands last fall, the news reports almost read like the pages of a movie script. It’s the romanticised crime of the century.
The public’s fascination with heists knows no bounds and, in the gaming world, Sweden-based developer Overkill Software uses this popular crime as its canvas to construct the Payday series – a cooperative first person shooter that tackles the gritty nature of the heist in nearly all of its various forms. The original Payday: The Heist hit PlayStation 3 via PSN and PC via Steam, but only offered up 6 different missions to experience the many ways a heist can go right and wrong. Unfortunately it didn’t really gain quite the traction it deserved.
The upcoming follow-up, Payday 2, promises what most sequels advertise: more missions, more diverse gameplay, more everything! But it also brings a decidedly RPG-like experience to proceedings with dynamic mission scenarios and deep customization systems that you really don’t find so often in shooters.
This time around Payday 2 also draws upon many other co-op FPS titles, Left 4 Dead in particular, to help shape the experience. The control and mechanics are remarkably similar and both have that straightforward nature about them. While each of the game’s 30 missions (math tells us that’s five times more than the original) has its own background and narrative, this isn’t a game with a traditional start and finish. Instead it’s is built around co-operative trial and error, and it wants you to play with friends over and over again to acquire more cash, unlock more weapons and gear, and test out a variety of tactics to complete various jobs.
Going hands on with Payday 2 for the first time, I found myself admittedly on the error-side of the court balance. It didn’t take long for us to accidentally scratch our itchy trigger finger and blow the face off the first security guard I came across, thus igniting a cavalcade of alarms, along with a swift attempt at adjudication from the fuzz. If I had been a decent criminal, I would have definitely attempted to stay quiet and concealed, as missions can be entirely completed without firing a single shot.
You don’t have to have played Payday to understand what’s going this time around. Chances are, if you’re going in fresh, you’ll end up pressing fire to win. There definitely seems to be a learning curve when you go down the stealth route, which smartly rewards those who begin to understand the complex customization and variety on offer.
In the mission I played, which involved stealing several pieces of art from a high-security gallery, I experienced the dynamic mission structure first hand. Since I triggered the alarm and the security system had kicked in, the windows, doors and paintings were all barred up. Successive waves of police then descended upon our group and forced me into a traditional gun battle. Eventually we were able to steal the art and get away in our van, but the sloppy nature of our strategy predicated what happened next: our van breaking down, leaving the team and me to move our loot and call in a backup chopper to extract us from the situation. After another successful Rambo impersonation was complete, I then progressed to the delivery phase, where I arranged to sell off the stolen artwork.
Depending on your skill and the nature of your performance, the delivery, and mission scenarios, can go down in a variety of ways – that’s according to Payday 2‘s game director, David Goldfarb. In certain cases, buyers will try to sabotage the exchange. Sometimes in other situation, you can make the delivery without a hitch, but the police ambush you before you can make off with the cash – which happened to us, probably due to the wanton death we wrought in the previous sections. It’s also possible for nothing to happen at all, allowing you to make the delivery, grab your reward, and head to your van, just as simple as your weekly errand to the dry cleaners.
If every mission has this amount of variety, it’ll certainly warrant multiple attempts and play styles. Missions are split up into “days”, with the art heist we experienced including three distinct segments. Goldfarb does tell me that five and seven-day missions are in the pipeline following launch.
Even the mission selection system reflects the dynamic nature of the gameplay. Dubbed “CRIMENET”, you can choose new contracts highlighted on a map representing a fictionalized version of Washington DC. New contracts open up depending on which mission you’ve completed previously, as well as the manner in which you’ve completed it.
Your character class, of which there are four different types to choose from – including Ghost, Technician, Enforcer and Mastermind – significantly impacts the way you play and the skills at your disposal. The Ghost class, for example, lends itself for the stealthy approach, but it’s not impossible to stay quiet and unnoticed as a different class.
From what I’ve experienced, there’s a lot to like about Payday 2. It’s up to you how to experiment and try different approaches, especially as it never really tells you, or shows you, how. It’s a refreshing change to see a title that assumes that you have the intelligence and patience to experiment on their own. You can play it with bots if you like, but you’ll want to get a group of friends together and pretend like you’re filming the upcoming Heat remake with Jason Statham.
There are a lot of games that claim to offer solid replay value, but with Payday 2 replaying levels is nearly essential to enjoying the core experience, it just wouldn’t be fun without testing a variety of different strategies. Payday 2 is on track to deliver a lot of co-op entertainment. With the amount of content they’re set to deliver at a really low cost, you’re already stealing from Overkill before you start the first mission.