Although there are a lot of games that put you in the shoes of a career criminal, there are surprisingly few that see you actually pulling off Ocean’s Eleven-style heists which is why I think the original Payday was received so well when it was launched a few years back. Payday 2 carried on the tradition of co-operative thievery that was established so well in the first game and now, Payday 2: Crimewave Edition brings that feisty heisting over to the current generation of consoles whilst also bumping up the resolution to 1080p and including a few pieces of the DLC that weren’t available in the PS3 and Xbox 360.
Looks better than PS3/Xbox 360 but it’s still way off from the PC
Although the resolution has been upgraded to 1080p, there are still a number of elements that don’t look as good as they should. The detail on your hands and gun is quite good but ultimately, a lot of the game looks quite…square. As you can see from the screenshot below, the phone looks like it’s from a PS2 (or at the very least, early PS3) game.
Fortunately, the visual differences between the old-gen and current-gen versions are fairly noticeable for the most part and although still nowhere close to the impressiveness of its PC counterpart, improvements have definitely been made. The framerate also isn’t as high as it is on the PC version but it does remain quite consistent throughout the game and doesn’t even falter when you have what feels like hundreds of cops and SWAT members swarming to your location. This is especially helpful because, as with all FPS games, split-second timing can mean the difference between life and death.
The music throughout the game sounds a bit like it was lifted from a cheesy ‘80s action movie but it fits really well with the tone of the game. Although retro-techno isn’t usually my idea of good music, it helps to build tension when the alarm goes off and hundreds of cops arrive at your position as if they’re Manhattan shoppers and you’re the shoe-sale. You also have the option to choose the song that plays throughout the mission but I often preferred to just let it go on random and let the game pick which beep-boopy track best suited the scenario.
The AI is programmed to kill…but that’s all it does.
Much like the first game, Payday 2 focuses very heavily on online co-op and although there is an option to play entirely offline, I would strongly advise against it. Your AI allies are pretty damn close to completely useless because they never interact with things like loot and couldn’t be bothered to give you a hand with the extremely tedious task of drilling through safe doors. They do provide decent cover for you whilst you work but ultimately, all the heavy lifting is left up to you. When it comes time to do a strictly stealth mission, the AI will piss you off in one of two ways: Either they will hang around the van, doing as much work as government paid construction workers on a highway, or they will run straight through a guards line of sight and trigger the alarm. On top of that, it really isn’t fun in the slightest to play with AI because part of what makes Payday entertaining is playing with other people and co-ordinating your robberies based around everybody’s individual talents rather than doing everything yourself and relying on AI as little more than moving turrets to cover you.
Mad skillz, yo!
As I said, playing with other people rather than AI makes for a far more enjoyable experience. Over and above the uselessness of AI crew members, live players have perks and skills that are acquired by leveling up the 5 different skill-trees, each of which provide talents that make the jobs go substantially smoother. The 5 trees each focus on particular elements of a heist and a well-balanced team goes a long way in ensuring success. Masterminds focus on health, revival of team mates and capturing hostages; Enforcers have increased armour and do more damage with shotguns; Technicians specialise in trip mines, sentry guns, rifle accuracy and are more efficient at drilling; Ghosts are stealth experts and have access to electronic jammers, faster lock-picking, increased efficiency with silenced weapons and can loop camera feeds; Fugitives can dual-wield guns, regenerate armour with headshots and are more likely to score critical hits. Although each tree has its own specialisation, it seems best to mix and match talents from all 5, rather than dumping all skill points into an individual tree, because each tree has talents that prove to be extremely useful in most situations as well as talents that only really help on particular types of missions. For instance, if you have focused heavily on the Ghost tree, your talents are only really usefull on stealth missions and you are left quite vulnerable on missions that require fending off wave after wave of police officers. There are skills which allow players to board up windows to slow down police, capture more hostages (which can be traded for a team mate should they get captured) or carry ammo/medical bags which are accessible to the whole team. A diverse team with a range of skills is not only helpful but it can also greatly increase the amount of loot that you can acquire before getting overwhelmed by the steadily increasing amount of law enforcement. Fortunately, should you feel that your skill tree is not quite all you had hoped it would be, you have the option to respec as often as you like, for a fee of course.
There are over 30 jobs available which range from robbing jewellery stores and banks to rigging elections and destroying mall property for “protection” money. At the top, I mentioned that the game was 15-20 hours but that would be if you only played every mission once. As with all online games, multiple attempts are encouraged because the outcome can be vastly different if you use a different team setup and because there is no real over-arching main objective to the game other than getting richer, it can essentially be played indefinitely. On top of that, the placement of loot or mission items such as keycards are randomly generated and this means that every time you play, you will have to look around for what you need and this helps to stop the missions from feeling stale after numerous playthroughs. Some jobs take place over a number of days and each day has you performing a different task. The longer jobs obviously have a larger payout and each job has the option of picking one of four difficulty levels with the highest, Overkill, awarding the most bonus experience on completion. At the end of every job, all team members are given the opportunity to pick a card which will award bonuses such as weapon mods/upgrades, new masks or even extra cash.
Because Payday is so heavily focused on online play, it’s a bit frustrating that connecting to games can be quite difficult at times. Although I had no problems once I was in a game, I often had trouble connecting to games and was even faced with a number of crashes which seemed to happen every time I tried to connect to one particular mission called “Hotline Miami”.
Although the game has a number of flaws, overall it was increadibly satisfying, especially when things went smoothly. I didn’t come across a single person online that used a microphone (which would be really useful for a game that realies so heavily on team synergy) but every now and then, I found myself in a team where everyone just knew what they had to do and we would finish the mission with $500 000 more than we expected purely because everyone slotted into their roles perfectly. It’s this sort of thing that would keep me coming back and replaying missions just to see if I can get a team that will do it even better.