Who hasn’t dreamt of pulling off the perfect heist? It’s not that you ever plan on putting such a plan into action, let alone that you have the means to do so or believe that you can outsmart the law, but from classic films like The Italian Job to more modern capers, there’s a certain romanticism to the genre. When Payday 2 is at its best, it can evoke just such a feeling.
And it’s at its best when you’re playing as a group of four friends, chatting away and working together to case and knock over a bank, fight off the waves of suicidal SWAT that come after you during a police assault, or sneaking around trying to avoid detection. You can play offline with relatively lacklustre AI supporting you or hop into games with those you don’t know via the Crime.net map – though without headsets, this generally precludes a quiet option – but playing with friends is where it is at.
Being able to talk and coordinate is also the best way to explore some of the myriad of options available to you during many of the missions. A handful are pure gunfights, others mandate stealth, but most of them give let you tackle the mission how you see fit. The missions that Overkill have created demonstrate an ingenuity and style that can always keep you toes.
One mission will have you robbing a jewellery store, another breaking a comrade out of jail with an audacious assault, or trying to steal bombs from shipping containers and then escape on forklift trucks. Some missions span multiple days and there are even random elements within a map, from the location of a vault to the guard patrol routes, so you never quite know what to expect and can’t learn the missions by rote.
Thankfully, since you will be repeating some missions and maps numerous times as you try to level up, this random element helps with the game’s longevity, but there’s still a lot of game to be explored, especially with the number of new heists added on PC via DLC that are in the Crimewave Edition, there’s a lot of game to be explored. It’s messily presented, though, and the Crime.net map pops up missions at random, with varying difficulty levels, so that unless you want to buy in for a specific heist you could be sat waiting for several minutes until something appealing appears. Though not vital, this does also make each contractor’s stories – which feature familiar faces and voices from popular TV shows – a little difficult to follow.
Having all of that DLC included turns over a new leaf for the game on console, with the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 left behind and largely un-updated, ostensibly through various platform limitations. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One can now easily match the game’s best visuals on PC, with 1080p that’s absolutely locked to 30 frames per second, even though the game wouldn’t exactly have blown your socks off graphically at launch.
Yet this goes beyond just adding content and matching PC graphics, since it also brings across the many changes that were made through nearly two years of patches, and is included in the promise of more DLC and support over the next two years. Though you won’t be able to carry your progression forward between console generations, levelling up can be a fast process by tackling the larger and more difficult heists. It gives you a good opportunity to explore the fifth skill tree, the separate perks system that has been added and the Prestige-like Infamy stat reset.
On the other hand, you will be starting from scratch to unlock the dozens and dozens of guns by levelling, and their various modifications. It’s almost funny to look back and see that Payday 2’s central hook for these is as randomised and fickle as that of Destiny, but arrived over a year earlier. Completing a mission lets you pick from three randomised cars which unlock everything from weapon mods to new masks, shaders, patterns and so on.
As a consequence, this means that I am still waiting for a silencer that I can fit to a pistol, which is practically vital for trying to tackle missions stealthily. That’s not so much of an issue when playing with those you don’t know, where stealth is difficult to coordinate without playing with voice chat and these almost always end up in a gunfight, but just as in Destiny, I find myself silently praying to the gods of the random number generator for a silencer.
The game also falls down a little with its core gunplay. It’s relatively easy to adjust to and you will unlock weapon handling skills, gun modifications and buy better guns that are easier to handle, but some of the early guns are unwieldy at best, lacking stability and accuracy that you want. It doesn’t help that while you can snap to a target when aiming down sights on a controller, it does little or nothing to assist tracking that target if its in motion. I also found myself upping the analogue stick sensitivity to compensate for a degree of sluggishness, and struggle with rapidly firing pistols, as it seems to want me to fully release the trigger before being able to fire again.
It helps a little that the cop AI is really quite dumb and often very stationary, relying on weight of numbers, occasional aimbot-like accuracy and at higher difficulties the hard to kill special enemies who come at you in bomb disposal suits, get close enough to zap you with tasers or have ludicrous spinning kicks that simply knock you on the ground. It fits in with the sensationalised, over the top heists, but don’t expect them to test you in ways beyond weight of numbers during a police assault or the size of their health bars. It just means you need to make sure someone’s got an ammo bag with them, or you’ll run out of bullets.
There are other quirks to the game that still persist, from minor points like the odd two stage lobby before loading into a mission and the relatively slow feeling load times on PS4 to wanting even just a handful of filters for the Crime.net map or the ability to just auto-join a game. Someone joining a game midway through also triggers a brief loading screen for those in the middle of a heist, which is particularly odd.
Playing on PlayStation 4, I wasn’t able to test the Xbox One version of the game, which is apparently having issues with online functionality at this time. Overkill have acknowledged these issues and are working on fixes.
We didn’t review the original release of Payday 2 – which is part of the reason why we are scoring this Crimewave Edition – but even then, this was a game with a lot of depth and variety to the scenarios it put you in, and that’s great fun to play cooperatively. Though it still has its flaws, the added content and changes that have been brought together in the Crimewave Edition build upon the original release and mean that there’s plenty of reasons to sink back into a life of crime.
Version tested: PlayStation 4