"Fundamentally, I have nothing against multiplayer, but it seems that every competitive match I’ve played in the last decade has resulted in some enraged teen throwing a tantrum fit and ruining everyone’s fun."
People play video games for different reasons. Some play as means of socializing with their friends, some to relieve their frustrations on complete strangers, while others seek unaccompanied escapism. With the entire industry shoving multiplayer and social aspects down our throats, I sometimes feel like I belong to a dying breed of gamers…those who still play games to step away from constantly being connected. Looking at all the trailers for next generation titles, the single-player experience seems nearly extinct. There are fewer and fewer games like Skyrim and The Last of Us and virtually every title these days carries frighteningly similar multiplayer modes with criminally minimal changes to the formula. A few exceptions aside, the differences between most multiplayer ventures are indistinguishable. Fundamentally, I have nothing against multiplayer, but it seems that every competitive match I’ve played in the last decade has resulted in some enraged teen throwing a tantrum fit and ruining everyone’s fun. So why am I bringing this up? Well, because Payday 2 happens to be one of those rare exceptions where the developers decided to alter the playing field. It's a wonderful rarity that encourages, no forces cooperative teamwork…and despite its abysmal technical shortcomings, it’s one of the finest multiplayer titles I’ve played in years.
This is my first outing with the Payday franchise. Having spent only five minutes with the predecessor’s demo, I can’t say I went into the sequel knowing what to expect. The premise is simple. Four players team up to descend on a crime spree by picking from 30+ available heists spread across the Washington DC map. Whether you’re robbing a bank, a jewelry store, destroying valuables in a mall or breaking into a nightclub, the mission diversity is impressive and serves as the perfect playground for players to learn the true meaning of teamwork.
"To get the most out of Payday 2 it’s best to play with people you know. Being able to play with four diversely skilled robbers versus matching up with random players online makes a big difference when planning your heists."
You can’t win in Payday 2 unless you are a team player. If you plan on trolling, Payday 2 is your worst nightmare. The entire gameplay experience is designed around covering your team’s back and strategizing heists cooperatively. When your teammates are down, you have seconds to reach them before they’re arrested. Add to that the nonstop resetting of your safe drills and you find yourself constantly running back and forth between rescuing your buddies and securing the loot.
Heists can be tackled either stealthily or with guns blazing. Since you begin with very basic skills and no additional weapon mods, your early heists are more likely to turn into warzones. This creates a surprisingly realistic sense of progression as you grow into a more skilled robber and acquire enough experience to complete missions without ever alerting the police. It may seem impossible at first…and it’s certainly tough as hell, but the sense of accomplishment is unparalleled. As you gain skill points, you can invest in any of the four available professions: Technician, Enforcer, and Ghost. Each offers deep customization trees with interchangeable skill points allowing you to shape a character that’s precisely suited for your playing style. To get the most out of Payday 2 it’s best to play with people you know. Being able to play with four diversely skilled robbers versus matching up with random players online makes a big difference when planning your heists. Playing with a headphone set and a crew of close friends makes heists feel realistic and immersive, whereas playing with strangers that don’t like communicating can lead to some very unpleasant scenarios. In a way, your experience may only be as good as your co-op partners…and that’s ultimately Payday’s both strength and weakness.
"Other times the audio would go bonkers with the characters’ voices sounding like there were echoing inside a tunnel."
Payday 2 requires a ton of commitment to succeed. Weapon upgrades are absurdly expensive and you might find yourself playing for hours just to purchase a silencer or a larger clip. Additionally, if you remove any of the mods and decide to re-add them later on, you have to pay the full price again. This is incredibly frustrating and detrimental to the overall experience. But strange design choices aside, it’s the technical hiccups that cause the most problems. Aside from the extremely outdated graphics and horrendous screen tearing, there are numerous glitches constantly interrupting the immersion. Clipping issues…audio bugs…every gameplay session introduces some unexpectedly nasty surprises. On more than one occasion, cops were getting stuck inside walls, deeming them invincible and forcing a mission restart. Other times the audio would go bonkers with the characters’ voices sounding like there were echoing inside a tunnel. It may be something the developers can fix with a future patch, but the current state of the game is a little too rough around the edges.
Despite the bumpy production values, Payday 2 is one of the most thrilling multiplayer games I’ve played in a long time…and this is coming from someone who typically likes to game solo. The emphasis on cooperative gameplay is a nice change of pace and there’s plenty of content here to keep you playing for a really long time. And with the collector’s edition retailing at only sixty bucks, this is an excellent choice if you’re craving something a little different and unique.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Xbox 360