While I wasn’t a particularly big fan of the original Payday, I thought it showed the promise of a possibility to be really good given some improvement. The concept of planning and executing an intricate heist sounds absolutely fantastic to me, and the original did a decent enough job with that, although I felt that it was a good first step. There were a few areas that could be fixed up somewhat, and it could have easily succeeded as one of the few very good heist games out there. Unfortunately for Payday 2, most of the improvements that were implemented only made the issues I had with the original game seem even more irritating. I honestly find the game quite disappointing, largely because I saw such promise in the original only to have this one simply trying to be a bigger version of the same thing, with a few new features. While the game does have some redeeming points, they’re nearly hidden by the constant storm of issues and annoyances.
To be fair, I only ever played single player, partly because the co-op for the PS3 version was apparently unplayable at launch (I was never able to connect to the server,) but from what I understand, the co-op is much better, particularly on the PC version. The other problem with doing co-op for the review is that the cost of the game is just too high for any of my friends to actually buy it, and I have never been a fan of playing co-op with random people. I would have gladly played split-screen with my friends, but unfortunately there is no option for split-screen. So because of that, I was stuck with the infuriatingly ineffectual AI partners who function only as meat shields and moving turrets. You cannot have the AI actually help with the ‘heist’ (which is never even a heist, they’re just flat out armed robbery) so if you’re playing by yourself and you need to get multiple items, such as bags of jewelry or money, you’ll be making multiple trips through the enemies to get all of the bags yourself. Also, while I’m on the topic of AI, all of the AI in the game leaves a lot to be desired, with ‘SWAT’ members charging at you with all of the cleverness of a zombie that figured out how to work a gun. In fact, there was even one instance of a enemy SWAT member coming into where I was in cover, then crouching and looking away from me, as though he was trying to help me defend the point. While the ‘help’ was appreciated, it still makes the whole situation almost laughably disappointing.
Another gripe I have with the game is the lack of alternate control options, mainly because I was playing on a PS3, but I despise the PS3′s tradition of making the shoulder buttons the default aim/fire controls. Other than that issue, the controls for the game are pretty standard and certainly passable as long as you’re alright with the standard control setup. However, no matter how comfortable you may be with the control setup, they will still feel rather clunky in-game. The movement never seems quite right, it’s always a little bit unnatural. However there is one small detail that I do like, which is that whenever you’re carrying a bag the screen will tilt just slightly, as though you’re trying to keep a bag strapped onto your shoulder. Sadly, there are still enough issues that this minor positive is easily outweighed, one of the more irritating being fairly spotty hit detection. Out of all of my shots that clearly hit an enemy, only about half registered as actual hits. You could say that the detection is a bit ‘hit and miss.’
There are still some things that I do like about the game though, such as fairly in-depth customization options. You can put custom artwork on your masks and you can customize your guns with various mods, which you can obtain by completing missions. The game also has a fairly in-depth leveling system, although it seemed to me that it can be a bit overwhelming and nonsensical without looking at everything quite closely. However, it is still nice to see all of the customization available, so that if you play online, everyone will be able to have their own particular specialty.
The visuals of the game, while not exactly bad, do seem to be a bit lacking to me. The textures have a sort of unnatural shine to them up close, and nothing really looks quite as polished as you would expect for a sequel to a game that was already pretty good. Also much of the in-game artwork, like various posters, paintings, etc, seems much too pixelated, particularly in contrast to the established world around it. The sound design is neither good, nor bad. Guns sound like guns, people sound like people, and breaking glass still sounds like breaking glass, so overall it’s passable but not really anything special.
I honestly had a hard time even playing the game enough to feel comfortable writing a review, simply because the single-player is that weak. While I understand that the game is meant to be co-op, it should still be able to stand as a single player experience as well, especially when there is no option for local co-op. I also had a few of my friends try it, just in case I was being overly unfair in my opinion of the game, but I found that they agreed with me on nearly every point. The really sad thing is that I genuinely wanted Payday 2 to be fantastic. I wanted to have an excellent heist game that I could play with my friends, but unfortunately that just didn’t happen. Instead, we ended up with a slightly below average, co-op only FPS. Despite my dislike for the game however, it is still generally playable, and I have no doubt that plenty of people will love it. My advice would be simply that if you plan on getting the game, rent it first to see if you’ll actually like it, or if you want to just buy it immediately go for the PC version. By all accounts that I’ve heard it’s the best version of the game, and it’ll cost you $10 less. As for the PS3 version, it’s not bad enough for me to tell you not to get it, but I certainly don’t recommend it.