Crime is stupid and risky and I’d make an extremely bad criminal. Not bad as in ‘nasty’, bad as in ‘not good at it’. That’s the lesson that Payday 2: Crimewave Edition on the PlayStation 4 has taught me, anyway.
For those uninitiated into the criminal fraternity playing out on PCs and consoles around the world, Payday 2 is a co-op crime simulator. Players get together in teams and steal things. Putting it that way, it sounds pretty easy but Payday 2 is anything but. Whatever can go wrong will go wrong and while this can be somewhat mitigated by actual planning, all it takes is one slip-up and SWAT teams are kicking down the door.
You’d think that a crime simulator with a first-person perspective and loads of guns, grenades and other explodey-bits would be all about the shooting. You’d be wrong. It’s all about the money, and loading as much of it as possible into your getaway vehicle without getting nicked, shot or left behind. But mostly it’s about micro-management. You need to develop your character, though the skill tree and class system and then actually be able to play according to your abilities. There are a lot of other factors to account for as well, whether you’re doing a small-time smash-and-grab in a jewelry store or trying to pull a full-on bank-heist.
Assault or stealth? How many security guards are there? Is there an alarm? Cameras? Do you have the equipment needed to blow the doors open or do you need to wait for a temperamental drill to finish its work? And you kinda have to take hostages, because that slows police response times down. They’re not going to storm your position when you’ve got a hostage on hand – there’s going to be a rescue attempt first. And Payday 2 discourages killing civilians. Control them, certainly, but you need them alive.
Whatever Can Go Wrong…
When you’re playing with a team of cons who know what they’re doing, Payday 2 is pure magic. You might be controlling hostages while one team member is drilling a safe and the other two are keeping the fuzz at a safe distance. But it’s how you got into that position that is exciting. If the security guards were controlled and no alarms were tripped, then players have a few minutes of peace before things get hot.
But if everything didn’t go smoothly then you’ve got to plan as you go, keeping the police at bay long enough for you to get what you came for and get out. This is where things get frantic and extremely exciting, both extremely positive aspects of Payday. There’s nothing quite like grabbing your loot and legging it out the back door as the next wave of SWAT are busting through the front at the close of a job gone wrong.
…Will Go Wrong
When Payday 2 works, it works well. When it doesn’t… well, that’s a con with a different rap sheet. It’s a good thing that gunplay is secondary, because it’s not that great. It’s not simulation, nor is it arcade, it’s in some nasty middle ground where you feel like you’re firing marshmallows at policemen.
Speaking of the cops, they can be extremely dense in Payday 2. They’ll either charge a group in a mad rush without fear of lead or just… stand there for a moment while you’re taking potshots at them from close range without reacting. And don’t even get me started on the dunces-of-the-year AI crew – leave them behind, take actual humans instead.
And then there’s this updated-for-next-gen edition. It’s not a terrible update, visuals certainly look better than the Xbox 360 and PS3 release from a couple of years back and the downloadable content inclusion is nice to have but it looks very dated nonetheless. Higher-res textures are all good and well but there’s no extra detail to be had. No extra gameplay tweaks either.
The negatives are only distracting if you’re in the midst of a bad game though. If you’re working with a crew, or have dropped in with a bunch of strangers, and are thinking like a criminal then Payday 2 can be one of the most rewarding 4-player co-op titles you’ve ever experienced. And if you’ve played it before and are thinking about picking it up again – if you’re on PC, give it a miss. The PC version is better. If you’re on PS4 (or are after the Xbox One edition, which I have not tried), then the answer is a solid ‘maybe’. If you’re going to be putting in the hours online, upgrade that to a yes.