Crimenet is Facebook for thieves. Jobs blink randomly across a map of Washington DC, from bank heists to robbing art galleries, each offering a unique challenge. No two jobs are the same, either. The game uses Left 4 Dead-style randomisation to alter level layouts and enemy types. It even randomises the position of security cameras, or whether certain doors are locked. The greater the risk, the bigger the payday. You'll start off robbing small jewellery stores, working your way up to huge, Heat-style city banks.
You can play Payday 2 solo, but it's really all about co-op. The AI is quick to revive you if you're downed, but is otherwise pretty useless. It can't pick up loot, tie up civilians, or drill safes. This is a game designed around playing with other people. You can play with strangers, of course, but the game comes into its own when you're working with three friends, coordinating with headsets. As you drill bank vaults, steal priceless paintings, transport drugs for shady kingpins, and other cinematic criminal activities, hordes of police come after you. They're aggressive and relentless, from regular street cops to armoured SWAT teams with riot shields.
You constantly feel on the edge of failure, which makes each robbery feel incredibly tense. Once you grab the loot, the intensity of the police response increases, making fighting your way back to the getaway car a real challenge. Heists are unpredictable, and will change when you least expect it. The getaway driver might be arrested, for example, forcing you to find another way to escape. There are around 30 of them now, compared to the first game's handful, and they're often made up of multiple levels, or days: the heist, the escape, the drop-off, and so on.
RPG character progression and a class system give it surprising depth. You can build your character to excel at different schools of thievery: the stealthy Ghost, the intimidating Mastermind, the powerful Enforcer, the gadget-loving Technician - or a mix of all four. With the right gear, it's possible to pull of some heists without ever being detected. The money you escape with can then be spent on new weapons and gruesome-looking masks, both of which are richly customisable. By combining special abilities (unlocked through an MMO-style skill tree), gadgets, and weapon mods, you can create some really interesting character builds.
Getting through a heist using stealth isn't easy, though. This is where communication becomes essential; someone keeping civilians in check, someone focusing on cracking the vault, someone using electronic jammers to disable security devices. You start with only a basic assault rifle, which severely limits your options and reduces most jobs to drawn-out shootouts with hundreds of cops. But as you unlock more tools and weapon mods, and start making progress through the four skill trees, the experience becomes much richer.
"Payday 2 is a vast improvement over the original, but that's assuming you're playing with other people."
The game's biggest problem is signposting. If you aren't familiar with the maps they can be confusing. With chaos erupting around you, and the throbbing electro soundtrack blaring, you can feel overwhelmed, and confused what to do next. Another issue we had is with weapon attachments. They drop randomly at the end of a successful job, rather than something you can buy in a store, which can limit your character-building. If you're trying to play as a stealth-focused Ghost, it can be a while before a suppressor finally drops.
Payday 2 is a vast improvement over the original, but this review, and the score at the end, assumes you're playing with other people. Don't go near it if you don't have someone to team up with, or an internet connection. With friends, it's one of the most intense, thrilling co-op multiplayer games we've played. The unpredictability of the randomisation can make even heists you've played a dozen times feel fresh, throwing new surprises at you. Making it past seemingly impossible odds with a fat bag of money slung over your shoulder is hugely rewarding.
A superb co-op shooter, with rich character customisation and tense, unpredictable missions.
- Compelling character progression
- Cinematic, challenging heists
- Not worth playing solo
- Can feel overwhelming at times