Breaking down Payday 2 is almost like trying to review two completely different games, as the difference between multiplayer and single player is the difference between a game you should buy, and one you should forget ever existed.
Like a large number of the shooters that we have seen in recent years, Payday 2 uses a customization system to help extend its replay value, but the lengths it goes to extend the content can cause a great deal of fatigue. Simply by completing a job, you are rewarded with usable cash, unusable cash that goes into a ‘off-shore bank account’ (use unknown) and the ability to choose one of three cards. The card that you choose gives you a random item that can be a weapon mod, mask, mask color or some other random thing like money.
Once you have unlocked a mod or a mask, only then are you allowed to use it to modify your load-out, meaning that you have to keep playing until you randomly acquire a much needed sight, grip, barrel, foregrip, magazine, stock or upper receiver for your weapon. But, that is not to say that the customizations are not welcome, as there really is a great deal of value and diversity to be found in the number of guns, mods, armor, abilities and masks – it is simply that the method to unlock them will require you to replay the same missions dozens and dozens of times.
Leveling up your character requires you to spend ability points and in-game money on four skill-trees – defensive, offensive, skilled and stealth. The Mastermind is basically the defensive character that deals with staying alive, the Enforcer is more about dealing damage and having ammunition, the Technician is about breaking into things and the Ghost is about staying under the radar.
Once you actually try to play the game, that is when you see whether it is highly enjoyable or barely playable. Unlike a number of games, Payday 2 is not about a campaign or story, it is simply about performing jobs to get paid, so you can perform bigger jobs. The only problem is that, to perform many of the bigger jobs, you will need a capable team to get through, and Payday 2 currently has a number of networking issues for public matches – as any time you try to join someone’s game it almost always gives you the same “ERROR This room has been filled, please try another one,” even if there is only one person in the lobby.
As of this review, I have only been able to connect to about 3 or 4 public rooms in total after trying to play this game over the span of about 18 hours. It is also of note that, while playing, I have only had one instance where one of my games was joined out of all the games I have played, which isn’t a good sign as I have hosted over a dozen public rooms. Searching the forums and speaking with other people who have the game, it seems to be a wide spread problem that is basically crippling what would otherwise be a great game.
Not being able to reliably find people to join my game, I have had a substantial amount of time performing jobs with the in-game AI, and find them completely useless. The computer controlled characters do not have the ability to interact with objects, so they will not be able to carry loot or open doors, and just follow you around like a lost puppy – this in turn means that any position or hostage you need to guard will be lost the second you leave. This problem also persists among the hostages who will stand up or run into cross fire looking to get shot, something that will deduct from your overall performance for that mission.
Performing a job by ‘myself’ involved a complex set of actions that required me repeat them until the level was over or I died. Putting on my mask caused all hell to break loose, which meant I had to yell at everyone to get on the ground, take out the guards and start a drill to break into any safe in the area. Then, I grabbed a bag of loot and headed to the getaway vehicle parked next to the police cars and dropped it off, then ran back into the building that was swarming with police – since the AI just followed me out the door. With the hostages gone and the drill stopped, I was forced to kill everyone inside to get to the next bag and restart the drill. After repeating this this 3 to 6 times, I was finally able to complete the job. Given that this was one of the simple missions, it goes to show how more complex objectives will be just about unplayable by yourself.
If you are able to get someone to play with, the game is a completely new monster that is both exhilarating and dynamically entertaining with most of those earlier issues forgotten. That same heist can have different outcomes depending on how your crew wants to handle the situation, Ghosts can knock out the cameras and cellphones, and the rest can subdue all of the hostages without the police ever being alerted, or you and your team can each grab a bag and fight your way out. Fans of the movie Heat will love this game as it does a great job of mimicking the tension and action of a good plan gone awry that determines the amount of resistance you face based on how you react and how long you take. If you can get to play with someone.
Payday 2 is not a game for people looking for something without flaws, as it currently rests, it is only a shell of the potential it holds. The public online infrastructure is completely broken, the lobby system is nothing more than an awkwardly slow cursor trying to catch a fading job listing on a map, the frame rate will randomly screech the game to a halt, the game’s Safe House isn’t upgradable, even though it says it is and the AI doesn’t know what the ‘I’ stands for. Thankfully, the game is tremendously fun when played with the right group and does work with friend invites, the sound is definitely a highlight and the missions, while repetitive, have objectives that spawn in random locations, giving it a great deal of replay value that adds to the much wanted chaos.
So, if you are interested in Payday 2 I would say wait and stay tuned to PSLS for news on updates, as the game in its current state is not worth the asking price. But, as there is a lot of fun to be had if you have a good group to play with that doesn’t want to deal with public rooms, it is definitely worth checking out. Please feel free to share your user names below if you would like to find people to play with, as you might not be able able to find them in-game.
*The final score for this review is based on how the game is at publication, and does not reflect any patches or updates that may have released after the fact, as reviews cannot wait for developers to fix a broken game – even if a patch does seem to be on the way.
[Update] The servers for Payday 2 have been updated since its release, making it now possible to play with randoms in a public match. So, anyone waiting to be able to play this game online, should stop waiting and go get it.