Friday, August 30, 2013

Payday 2 (PS3) Review

The first Payday was a pleasant surprise, combining waves of enemies, micromanaging and helping your team.  Just like the first one, Payday 2 will have you and your team pulling off various heists and fighting waves of police to ultimately escape with your haul.

There are various types of hiests with varying lengths, which is a big improvement over the first game.  Many of them are more "bite-sized" and will only last a few minutes, and there are some that take several in-game days.  Those are usually a few smaller levels linked together, but I like that they exist so you can mix it up when you want to.  The longer ones can be fun, but frustrating when you can't get the bulk of your experience and money until the completion of the last part.  I favor picking the shorter missions, as they are the most fun to me.  I would like the multi-part ones more if the individual parts were also available as separate missions.  That way I could practice or just do the parts I enjoyed the most.  A few heists can be completed completely in stealth.  It's a little too hard to fully stealth them, but rewarding for as long as you can pull it off.

So what happens in these heists?  Usually you have to grab an item (or a few) and then enter the escape area with them.  Doors or safes that impede your progress can be drilled, lockpicked or blown open.  If you are drilling them, the drills will continue their work while you fight off the police (and SWAT units) or grab other valuables.  They will overheat or otherwise stop and must be restarted.  You have to manage that while everything else is going on.  It might get annoying to some, but I actually like them.  It makes the missions much more hurried and frantic, and fun too.  If you have to bag a loot item, you will carry it on your back.  It makes your screen tilt a little, to mimic your shifted center of balance.  You also run slower, but you can throw the bag, and it's usually most effective to make a "loot line" where the team spreads out and throws the bags to each other.

After alarms have been tripped or you were noticed by civilians, the police will show up quickly.  Every few minutes, the game enters a "police assault" phase, where lots of enemies will spawn to bother you.  The music will also start and let you know that the stuff is hitting the fan.  The more officers you kill, the stronger the opposition becomes, eventually involving the special enemies that are more resistant to damage or may even tazer you.  Even the "easier" missions can get really hard, especially early on.  It's all too easy to get swarmed by the police, especially when you are making a break for the escape van.  You'd be surprised how many cops are just lying in wait for you to show yourself, or pour in from a door behind you while you deal with their friends.

Killing civilians will cost you money (unfortunately from your actual funds, not the mission reward) and killing a few will spawn more snipers to stop you.  If you can, using zip-ties to keep the civilians from running around is very helpful, since they can easily blend into the enemies at a distance, and the cops have no regard for them, sometimes inadvertently hiding behind them.  It's funny when the criminals are not taking shots because of the civilians in the way while the police are blasting away at you with no regard to who's around.

Despite being several types of heists, you will see missions several times throughout your criminal career.  This will be a turnoff to some.  I'm fine with it, since there are many little spots that are different each time you do a certain mission, like enemy/ camera placement, where the stash is, etc.  Another byproduct of doing them many times is that you can learn them and they become easier to do.  This is a good thing, since the enemies themselves are pretty unforgiving.  The environments aren't too varied either, but if you have time to stare and compare every wall, you are probably about to be overrun by the cops.  There are a good amount of details though, to make the places seem more realistic (like graffiti and trash strewn about, etc).

How unforgiving are the enemies?  Well, if you have played the first game, you know about what to expect.  Enemies are crack shots, hitting you from far away with deadly accuracy (no, not just the snipers).  Sometimes there is an improbable number of them running together to swarm you.  Some of the tougher guys take what seems like a ridiculous load of bullets to take down.  I've had more than one Bulldozer (super armored guy) take a full 6 shotgun shells to the face and not bat an eyelash.  Still, having friends or even just random people with you makes it much easier to handle.  The AI does a decent job with enemies, except the shield ones.  The AI won't flank them, and the shield enemies only seem to target the player, making it nigh impossible to kill them in single player.  I'm guessing the counter to that is they tend to retreat after a bit.

We totally live here, officer.  We're just playing cops and robbers.
The skill system is Payday 2 is much less confusing than the previous game.  Now there are clear class skill trees, and they spell out what each ability does and how many points and how much money you need to unlock them.  There's a lot of customization from the skills alone.  Masterminds can eventually make enemies surrender (or turn them to your cause), get civilians to get them up when downed, and make the group better as a whole.  Enforcers can wear heavy armor, dish out more damage, and my favorite, unlock a special saw that can be used to cut open doors, ATMs and safe deposit boxes.  The Technician can get a sentry gun, a better drill and can even use his C4 to blow open safes.  That last ability is awesome for getting in and getting the goods as fast as you can.  The Ghost excels at stealth and silenced weapons, and can eventually crack a safe silently by hand.  I really like the skills you can get in the game, as it leads to many different ways to pull off a heist and lots of variations for people to play with.

However, getting them isn't as easy as I would like.  Early on it is harder to move up the skill tree because the money cost gets high fast.  Once you get to the higher levels, you have more than enough cash for the skills, but have to do several missions to get the skill points necessary, which can feel like grinding at some points.  It just feels like that leveling and getting money is a bit unbalanced.  This might be because I primarily played single player early on, where you get less money and multiplayer later, where you can get tons of money on the right job.

You will need all that money for pretty much everything in the game.  Buying weapons will take money, which makes sense.  Using money to put mods on the weapons makes sense.  My problems with both is the costs are widely varied, with questionably better guns and mods costing a lot more than others.  The biggest grip is with the mods themselves.  At the end of a heist you pick a random card which will give you a random prize, from bonus money to a mask or mask part or one of the many, many weapon mods.  You have to actually get the weapon mod, then pay to put it on.  Do you like that silencer?  Too bad you can't just pay the chunk of money to equip it, since you better hope you get the drop for it first.  I'd really prefer if it was either or, or if getting the mod from the mission drop would just unlock it for purchase as many times as you want.  Also, if you remove a mod, you have to pay to put it back on.  So while there are lots of options, modding weapons is definitely a money sink.

Mask customization, is, unfortunately, also a money sink.  You can't buy the masks, materials, patterns or colors unless you get them from the mission drops.  Also, you cannot preview them all like you can with the weapons and mods.  At least crafting the mask itself is free, even if it can get super expensive to customize it.  It's a shame because there are a lot of different types of masks and lots of ways to customize it.  The only ones I've seen that matched are when people wear them without customizing them (like me).  It would be fun to play around with, but only much later when I have the weapons and mods that I want and can put all of my money into the masks.

While I'm not keen on how much money you need for various things and the reliance on random drops for things, Payday 2 is really fun.  The single player is pretty fun, but goes pretty slow since the AI won't help you carry anything.  Online is tons of fun, even with random people.  Even if you don't know how to do a certain heist, chances are someone does and you can just follow their lead.  With so much customization of skills, weapons and masks, chances are you won't find another player that has and uses what you do.  If you have a group to play with, I'd easily recommend getting this.  If you are going to play online at all, I'd get it sooner rather than later.  The game isn't without frustration, but it is lots of fun!

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