Hands On With Payday 2

By Brendan Caldwell on July 23rd, 2013 at 9:00 pm.


You’d think robbing an art gallery would be fairly straightforward, especially if there are four robbers working together to pull off the job. But when one of those robbers sets off a noisy hand dryer in the bathroom, and another one falls through the skylight, knocking himself out on the hardwood floor beneath, you should probably take some time to reflect. Just not now. Because right now there is a helicopter shooting at you.

Yes, I played Payday 2. Here are some thoughts.

These are all things which happened to our team of criminals during one of my games of Payday 2. Although, now that I think about it, I can’t be sure if the helicopter itself was firing at us, or if it was just the SWAT guys rappelling onto the roof that were blazing their sub machine guns at us on the way down the ropes. Either way, it was a pretty stressful problem altogether, but one that was solved almost exclusively by bullets. Other problems, such as the hand-dryer episode, happened much earlier on – before the alarm was triggered (sorry) – and was solved thanks to a team member who knocked out the guard who came to inspect the noise, put his body into a bag and shouldered it to the nearest toilet cubicle.


Similarly, when one of us fell through the open skylight and dashed his legs against the ground, instantly flooring himself, the leader of our pack rushed in and helped him to his feet before any of the security men noticed he was even there. It was only after the alarm went off (sorry) that things began to fall apart. The shutters came down on the gallery, trapping two of the team inside while I headed to the rooftop to get a good vantage point for all the murder I would soon be doing. The cops were on their way. In the end we managed to scrape our way out with four paintings in our escape van, after the leader shot out the skylight and began throwing me the plastic tubes of sweet, sweet art. It was only after catching the final tube that I looked up and saw the helicopter and everything from that point on is something of a genocidal blur.

The next two missions (this was a three day job, which splits the level into several parts) were spent shooting at every policeman we could see in an attempt to escape and sell off our well-earned art collection. I don’t know if they were Monets, or Manets, or Man Rays, but they were a pretty good bargain for our buyer as far as art goes. Anyway, we were told by the developer guiding us through (ie. the nice man who was constantly saving us from detection, although not in all cases (sorry)) that our escape was only loud and dangerous on day two and three because we had been so obvious back in the gallery. Why was there an ambush waiting for us on the third day? “Because we fucked up,” declared our leader. He insists it is possible to just walk through that last day without a hitch, if you are quiet enough on previous days.


Sadly, I neglected the first Payday, so I’m not sure how familiar this sounds to everyone. Although I am aware of the complaints that first game received. According to all these reviews I just Googled, it was tough, the guns handled a little clunky, and it always came down to shooting everybody dead. Looking at it, the second game feels more of the same in these regards – although the weapons felt perfectly fine to me – except when it comes to what you do with your money. In the first game, you didn’t really use the money you stole. Here, the developers at Overkill have added a bunch of customisation options. In this regard I have seen the lead designer tout this line that they want it to be tough and RPGish, like Dark Souls. On one hand, this is a baffling comparison to make. Frankly, you should not compare your game favourably to Dark Souls, unless the game you are making is Dark Souls 2. It’s just silly. On the other hand, what Overkill means when it talks about this isn’t just the failure/success ratio they want to achieve but also the amount of skills and inventory it has added to personalise each player.

There are four classes of skill here. Mastermind, Enforcer, Technician and Ghost. Each with its own standard ability as well as 18 other skills that can be bought. The Mastermind includes a medic kit, for example, but you can also unlock the ability to intimidate basic security guards, avoiding a fight altogether. He has the ‘Joker’ skill too, which converts one of these subdued guards to fight on your behalf. The Enforcer skill tree is full of tanky abilities, making your melee attacks stronger and better at carrying heavy bags from place to place. Meanwhile the Ghost gets an ‘ECM’ device that disables phones and cameras, a perk of additional damage with silenced weapons and a bunch of ninja-like abilities to make him harder, better, faster. But not stronger. The Technician gets trip mines and a sentry gun (or two if you go high enough up this tree).


The confusing thing here is how to determine which class you are playing as. You unlock things on your skills page between games, but it isn’t clear which of these skills you will have during play. I feel this is mostly a GUI problem. I played four or five games and by the end I was still unsure whether I was more of a Ghost or a Technician, or what role my teammates were playing, because apart from the icons over your health bar there’s nothing to label you. I imagine this clears itself up with time, good communication and a practiced memory but for a new player it’s a bit confusing.

The loadout screen deals with your weapons, which is a mostly CoD-like system of balancing your two guns until they are as ‘bang bang’ or as ‘pew pew’ as you like your guns to be. There are a LOT of weapon attachments though. And this EVERYTHING TO THE MAX attitude toward customisation applies to the masks too, allowing for an impressive amount of creepy possibilities. I wore a mask with three warped ‘Greek Tragedy’ faces made from burnt-looking tree bark, which made me wonder how any police officer could shoot at me straight after having so thoroughly wet themselves.


At the end of a successful heist there is a loot drop – more of these ‘Dark Souls’ shenanigans – whereby you might get a weapon attachment, some assets for a new mission (eg. blueprints of the building you want to ransack), or a shiny new mask. However, this focus of progression and customisation, though done pretty damn well, is only supplemental to the core of the game, which remains mostly a cops and robbers shooter. We are assured that there are stealthy ways to burgle the banks, stores and so on – you can even get through the art gallery level without bashing a guard on the skull and leaving him in a dumb heap of limbs for his security guard pal to disocover and call out the alarm (sorry). But such an attempt at quietness feels like almost like a secondary goal – something to try only after you have raided every level in ‘loud and angry’ mode.

It’s clear from our heisty debacles that Payday 2 is looking to embrace the ‘losing is fun’ philosophy that governs games like FTL and Day Z.But perhaps not fully embrace it. I didn’t get too much of that ‘things are going wrong this is ace!’ feeling exactly because for a bank heist to go ‘wrong’ it implies there was some plan beforehand which has been screwed up in some way, whereas we always just started the level without any plan at all – and everything always seemed to work out okay after killing everybody. Despite this, it’s still good as far as ‘Cops and Robbers’ goes. Or, as we in county Armagh call it, ‘Cops and Wrongly Accused Individuals’. The moment the alarm goes off and everyone groans is a genuinely funny team experience that you don’t get in a lot of shooters and I expect the games will be best when you are a veteran, taking minute details into your teams and timing everything so that you pull off a completely stealthy heist. It’s also important to note there were some tougher looking levels on the map that seem to be offering a lot more of a challenge. (We tried our hand at one of these – a coke deal gone south – only to be torn to ribbons).


Payday 2 might still not escape the shadow of its Left 4 Dead cousins, but Overkill does seem to have invested the time and money in smoothing out some of the problems of its predecessor. That might seem a little understated of me to say, but it really is the heist praise.

(Sorry).

Payday 2 arrives August 13th.

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30 Comments »

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  1. Synesthesia says:

    But do you want to play again?

  2. whexican says:

    Who did you hijack that pun from?

  3. Viroso says:

    Just one thing I want to know.

    Is every objective based around waiting around as some door is cracked open or some other excuse to make you sit in the same room for 5 minutes while you kill a horde of zombie cops?

    • Ringwraith says:

      From what they’re released thus far, it varies, in the painting robbery mentioned, if the shutters come down you have to break into the security room via drill and then use it undo the lockdown. But if someone has the angle-grinder-equipment-thing you can just saw the security bars protecting the paintings right off, but as everyone can only carry one painting, you have to decide whether to run back inside and find more paintings or just bail with the minimum number.
      It also seems you have multiple approaches to bypassing some obstacles, like a door can have the lock quietly picked (slow), drilled (faster) or just blown off with C4 (noisy). Or sometimes, you can just find an alternate route entirely.

    • zin33 says:

      what do you expect? to run in the bank pick the cash and leave in 30 secs?

      • Viroso says:

        I expect a game with variety of objectives. It’s all make up bank heists, they don’t need to be realistic. It isn’t like the game was realistic anyway, you’d wait 5 minutes to open some pedestrian doors with the worst piece of hardware on earth, that needed to be restarted every 30 seconds. The entire game was just taking that idea and dressing it differently, often to bad results.

        • Rinimand says:

          It does have a variety of objectives, and the team can choose a few different ways to approach it based on their selected skills and weapons. It could be improved by showing highlights of players skill selections in the lobby before the heist is launched (ie. do we have a driller with a silent drill? Do we have a sneaky Ghost to do our dirty work?) but I don’t know how they could do that given the variety of skill selections available to players.

          Also about variety, there are only a few maps but a) each map has some randomness (Will the escape truck show up in this alley or that alley?) and more randomness occurs at higher difficulty levels (I found one window was boarded up and inaccessible that I usually relied upon for entry).

          The system for armor and damage is good. Armor takes the hits until it depletes, then you start taking damage. If you take cover for a bit, your armor will “recharge”, but your health won’t. So you could be left with a sliver of health and full armor and have to make a mad dash for the getaway truck, hoping your armor holds out until you make it.

          Another nice addition is the “assets”. The player hosting the game can opt to purchase assets which are strategically placed in the map. This can be a medical bag, ammo bag, gas cans for setting fires, etc. Or an expert driver that will attempt to pull up closer to the heist area facilitating an easier or sneakier getaway. It’s a choice – spend some money to make it easier, or keep the money and hope you can pull it off.

          The game would also benefit from an in-game voice command system menu like Tribes or Killing Floor has. So many times I kept typing “GET TO THE VAN, THERE ARE NO MORE BAGS!” to no avail. It does have an easy “shout” button which can be used on players rather than civilians. Doing so says something random like “Hey Wolf, come here”, “Hey Wolf, follow me”.

  4. nimbulan says:

    “Losing is fun” only works if you actually get something out of it. I did not enjoy FTL because not only is it impossible to win most of the time, but you very rarely get any sort of reward or progression for your time. Payday, despite being extremely difficult, always provides at least some progression for your time and a sense that it was your mistake (or your team’s) that made you lose, not that the game was impossible to beat. As long as Payday 2 continues that structure, I’ll be happy.

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      jrodman says:

      That’s an overreach.

      I accept that you find games that tend towards capricious and don’t offer progression aren’t fun for you, but a lot of people enjoy the playing of the odds.

      I mean, people play poker. A lot. And in that you sometimes lose and get no progression!

      I’ve played angband hundreds of times, and I won twice. And the only progression is in my personal knowledge. To me, it’s a fun game. Dying is pretty brutal but I always come back.

    • Phendron says:

      Sorry, I don’t think you put the time in for FTL. Back at the height of play for me, I was able to win at least 40% of the time (ballparking there). It’s definitely luck-based, but there are a lot of tricks and micro you can do to massively increase your odds.

    • Zikzor says:

      I understand that unlocking or earning something can be fun at times but I personally am sick and tired of this tendency towards unlocks in every game. Some games seem to improve somewhat when there are things you get over time but in many of cases (such as shooters and dota like games) I want to have at least the possibility to be as good as the other guy. While someone who played more may be better there’s really no need to make the difference even bigger by giving them unfair advantages.

      In single player coop style games I’m ok with unlocks over time as long as I don’t have to repeat monotonous tasks endlessly just to get something to play the game with.

      If an in-game item is fun to play with I want to have relatively easy access to it.

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      Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      I have yet to win FTL. Presumably I’m some sort of gaming anti-prodigy. I still, however, have fun.

      • jonahcutter says:

        If you’re hunting for your first victory still, Crystal ship focused on boarding is probably the easiest to win with.

        • Leb says:

          to do that though, one would need to get the crystal ship, which is like other aspects of that game, largely based on luck

          • jonahcutter says:

            Can’t argue with that. I can’t remember how many times it took me. It was a lot.

            There are ways to maximize your chances.

            Rock ship is a easier one too. Although an unlock too, it doesn’t take as many randoms as the Crystal.

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        phuzz says:

        I’ve won FTL quite a few times, but then I’ve only ever played on easy (except once).
        And despite having played it many, many times now, I still keep going back, although I do still have the slug and mantis ships to unlock.
        I love that game, just reading it’s name in the review made me wonder if I can install it on my work computer…

    • jonahcutter says:

      I love both FTL and Payday. I think they might be my two most played games on Steam.

      I get immense satisfaction out of FTL even without any tangible progression rewards. Of course, I get attached to my lil dudes running around the ship. I get invested in their drama.

  5. famicom says:

    i played the original payday over twice as long as left 4 dead 1+2 combined (though i’ve racked up less than 1/10th the hours i’ve spent on killing floor, if that reveals my tastes). i experienced many of the original growing pains payday had, and only went back to it in november. that being said, it is a great execution on the concept, and i more than got my money’s worth.

    the last time i preorderd something (other than starbound and cube world, which i have faith in and already enjoy, respectively) was borderlands 1, and i was eventually annoyed with the inclusion of securom with the many pieces of dlc. i’m a little nervous with the plans for multiple dlc releases, a season pass, and the need to pay an additional amount to play the same game as everyone else (discounts, starting cash, and equipment, ignoring the cosmetic items). granted, that brings it up to the cost of most games on release day, but all of the planned dlc before the game is even released has me leaning toward waiting for a winter sale via steam or elsewhere.

    • Leb says:

      you got me excited when you said you enjoyed starbound… made me think it had released and I had not noticed.

      Browsing their website it appears not to be released.

      Goodsir… how are you enjoying a game that is not yet released?! (excluding the awesome soundtrack)

      • famicom says:

        alas, the “already enjoying” was a reference to cube world. the “have faith in” was with regards to starbound. i love the frequent updates, and it cannot be released quickly enough! well, i’d actually prefer they take their time and do things right, which appears to be what’s happening.

        back on the topic of payday 2, i know i’m going to like the game- i’m just not sold on if i’m going to like it $50-80 US dollars-worth. all signs point to everything being solid in the main game, but all of the plans for dlc- whether cosmetic (which is fine in my book as a way to support developers), extra content via multiple dlc’s/season pass, or pay2win advantages (discounts, starting money, equipment)- before the game is even released just rubs me the wrong way. i have it sitting on a wishlist and debate daily whether or not to pull the trigger.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      I lost interest in Payday after like 15 hours or so. I love L4D2, but only the team competitive modes. I wish Overkill would have spent time developing some kind of team competitive mode rather than just adding dozens more unlocks.

      For what it’s worth, though, I hated Killing Floor too.

  6. snappycakes says:

    There was a certain level in the Wolf Pack DLC for the first Payday that you could do the first part completely silently and set off no alarms. The Police/SWAT teams still turned up. I’m glad to hear that there are other legitimate methods of play other than blasting your way through waves of the 5-0.

  7. thrymr says:

    I for one love the current Payday. Yes, some of the weapons where clunky, but I adapted and loved them.

    And yes, pulling of a stealthy heist is much harder and close to impossible when you are new… and that exactly made me try it again and again.

    Even with random people in your team, at a certain level they know how to play.
    Pulling off a Heist on maximum difficulty while minimizing the casualties was very satisfying.

    For instance, If you have a good team with good communication, you can pull of the No Mercy Hospital with minimal police force attack and only at the very end.
    You can of course also go in an shoot everything to smitherines.

    There are a lot of possibilities and for me, that made the replay value very high.

    But I might be biased, Steam sais I put 77 hours into this game… only topped by Skyrim and Arma 2 (or rather dayz)

  8. scut says:

    I’ve been playing Payday 2’s beta release and I’m loving it. I think the ‘losing is fun’ notion should be replaced with ‘it’s still fun when things go wrong’. When you play with a crew of friends and start to learn the maps, you can create new challenges for yourself by going to maximum hauls or stealth runs. It’s a shooter that tickles the same part of your brain that has you coming back to a racer because you thought of a new line or braking pattern that can get you a better track time.

    One thing everyone should pay attention to in this game is the weapon sound effects because they are absolutely spectacular. Every gun has a different cadence depending on what environment you fire it within, and the sheer violence and rawness of the noise is an experience in itself.

    Oh and they modeled suppression a bit into the game. More shooters should do that.

  9. GameDreamer says:

    Excited to this game PAYDAY 2.

    Free CD Key