Withdrawal

Payday 2

Wednesday, August 7, 2013 | 02:31 AM | by

One of my favorite multiplayer/coop experiences were the Fragile Alliance modes of the Kane and Lynch games. So while the Payday series doesn't totally recreate that (there's no versus involved), it comes pretty close. The first game had some major rough edges, but I still really enjoyed it despite getting repetitive very quickly. So I jumped to pick up the second game, and I've been playing in the beta this week. Typically I'd avoid "reviewing" a beta, but since the game is officially launching next week, I think this is pretty close to what the opening build will look like.

It's a far improved experience over the first Payday, but not without some issues of its own. I find that the deeper leveling and customization systems add a lot more longevity to the game, and the wider variety of mission (30ish from what I hear), including some jobs that span multiple stages, will offer some nice variety. The random placement of objectives and security even within a single stage compounds that exponentially.

I've put quite a few hours into it the past few nights, and even though the beta restricts you to a handful of the overall number of jobs, they've all offered a unique enough experience that I can tell this is a game I can get a lot of hours out of. They've got enough right here to be worth a play, though it should be obvious that this is the sort of game that works best with voice communication. In-game VOIP is very solid, but like most things, matching up with random internet teammates is incredibly hit or miss. Your best experiences will be with a group of friends. And they'll be memorable.

Still, it doesn't feel as polished as I'd like it to. There are some game systems that either I don't fully understand, or that just don't work the way I guess I think they should. The "visibility" system, for instance. As you equip bulkier body armor or larger weapons, your visibility meter increases. This makes sense, right? You can conceal a pistol, but would have a harder time concealing an AK-47.

Most jobs start off with "casing" the joint wherein you can walk around and check things out before deciding on a plan of attack. You would think that higher visibility would perhaps make this more difficult, making the gear you bring to a job a deciding factor on your approach. It doesn't. You can walk into a jewelry store wearing military-quality body armor and carrying a huge bag of bullets, and nobody will bat an eyelash until you put on your mask. (Nevermind the question of why bother putting on the mask at all when everyone in the store has just seen your face anyway...)

Sure, if you stand too close to a security guard for too long he'll notice your gun and start some shit, but for the most part there isn't enough reason to not wear body armor and not take a large gun. Low visibility doesn't seem to make the game easier or make you more money.

And then there's the other end of the spectrum which I believe is mostly related to glitches, wherein people will magically spot you through walls across the map and alert everyone. It's rare enough to be a minor inconvenience, but there are definitely times where you have no idea how your cover got blown.

I also don't feel Overkill got their loot system quite right. As it stands now, at the end of a successful job, each player flips over one of three cards, and they are awarded either money, or a gun piece, or a mask piece, or whatever. I don't really have a problem with random loot... MMOs are built around the concept. However, you end up getting a lot of parts that you don't really want or need, and there is no way to trade them with friends.

I feel with a game like this you either need to be able to swap your unwanted loot, or work towards the loot you actually want. Playing six games in a row where you get parts for a shotgun and you never intend to use shotguns can be a little frustrating. Especially when your shotgun-fanatic friend has to sit there and watch you get all the stuff he wants.

But these gripes aside, Overkill has definitely improved the Payday franchise. It's a stronger overall game, with a lot more replay value. If they push the regular updates/DLC as hard as they're suggesting, I can see this game getting legs, at least for a while. But at the same time I do hope there's a big launch-day patch waiting in the wings, and that they at least consider addressing some of the design concerns being raised by the community.

There aren't enough through-and-through coop-centric games out there, and so I applaud Payday for going in that direction, and creating a pretty solid experience where you can act out that great scene from Heat with your friends.