Payday 2 is the quintessential Steam Sale game. Exactly the kind of blood diamond in the rough that makes Steam's bi-annual extravaganzas so exciting.
When Payday 2 launched, I could definitely see the appeal and juuusst about bought it. I love heist movies, I enjoy co-op games, and as embarrassing as it is to admit, I sometimes go in for the kind of over the top gun-porn Payday is basically built around. But was it really something I'd pay $40 for? Wasn't the first Payday basically an over-glorified L4D mod? It was just a little too expensive for a game that I half expected to be kind of broken and janky in the best of circumstances, and there was always some other game that seemed like a better use of my time and money.
But a year later, and down to criminally low price of $5 during the Steam Summer Sale, that's a different story. That's just the right price to buy into silly crime fantasies and redneck gun fetishization on a whim. I figured I'd buy Payday 2 while it was being offered for pennies on the dollar, laugh through a few capers with my brother and a some friends, and promptly forget about it - I've spent five bucks on more questionable things after all.
Honestly, I never expected to love this this game so much. I don't know if I gave Payday 1 a bad turn (my dim memories of playing it only include buggy clipping problems, simple objectives, and a dull air of boredom) or if Overkill really stepped up their game for the sequel, but Payday 2 blows the original away in just about every capacity, and completely decimated my woefully misguided expectations. For $5, you could even say it was a steal. (I'm so very sorry, I couldn't help myself)
Nobody has to get hurt! (But they probably will be)
That's not to say it's always smooth sailing. Payday 2 can be rough at first. There are a lot of unexplained mechanics, like the importance of taking hostages or answering security guard pagers after snuffing them out, things you just won't figure out without making a few embarrassing mistakes. Those first few jobs will be clumsy as you stumble into security cameras and painstakingly pick locks by hand. These growing pains will be long forgotten by the time you're hacking grids with ECM jammers and using a carbon tipped power saw to rip through security gates, but still, there is an initial hump to get over that almost turned me off the game.
Part of the problem for me was that I wanted to be a sneaky thief. Your shady underworld contacts will advise you to play it low-key and complete your missions using stealth and guile without alerting the police, which sounded great to me. But, the sad fact is that it's basically impossible for new players to pull that off. As a new player you lack the equipment and class skills necessary to pull off a stealthy heist (not to mention the game know-how).
- This is my face every time someone in the lobby suggests we try and stealth the Train Job
Stealthing jobs is a pro's game you have to grow into, but Payday 2 doesn't really go out of its way to tell you that. In fact the radio contact seems surprised and annoyed every time a simple jewelry heist turns into a free-for-all bloodbath. So for those first few missions, you just feel like the most incompetent Snake Jailbird of all time. You're Waingro in Heat, Sean Bean in Ronin, hell, you're the Leroy fucking Jenkins of crime - a bunch of bulls running straight out of the china shop and into police custody. Compounding that, the initial offering of weapons available to new players are limp and unsatisfying, so when things inevitably go south, fighting it out with the low-level rookie cops feels more like a slap fight than a shoot-out - embarrassing for everyone involved.
The wall is tall and foreboding, and I'm sure many a player have broken their spirit against it. But if you can endure those first few rough hours, a promised land of white knuckle shoot-outs and fantasy heist film scenarios awaits. This game gets GOOD. I mean, surprisingly GOOD. When you have a few levels under your belt, a respectable stash of gear for various types of missions, and maybe a heist buddy or two you can rely on, things get wild. The beauty of a professional robbery reveals itself in all its criminal splendor.
Get on your hands and knees!
Payday 2 is fun. Whether you're expertly stealthing a heist, controlling a room full of hostages while your friends crack the time-lock on a bank vault, or when everything has gone tits-up and you're laying down a wall of cover-fire while weighed down with a duffel bag full of coke, you'll probably be having a good time. The game has a variety of missions that cater to both sneaky types who want to plan the perfect score, and dust-ups that have you and your friends plowing through urban warzones like a wrecking crew. There are banks to rob and jewelry stores to knock over of course, but I was impressed with some of the more imaginative capers. Aside from robbing stuff, you'll commit more elaborate crimes like rigging an election by tampering with voting machines, or stealing a perpetual energy machine on behalf of big oil (which actually feels more scummy than just ripping off stacks of money).
- Aww yea, making those cameo dollars.
Then there is the “Big Bank” heist hosted by Gustavo Fring (sorry, “the dentist”) which just goes off the fucking chain, letting you plan out every detail of the score of the century. Pay off guards, work out how you want to breach the vault, choose your extraction method, and study the floor plans. It's very Ocean's Eleven and makes me wish the game had even more heists that let you get that deep into the planning.
While the progression system is slow to start and overly dependent on randomization, cool new toys and customizable masks are dolled out on a regular enough basis to keep most players entertained. The skill tree system offers a lot of flexibility in how you build your career criminal. While some skills are definitely handier than others, a forgiving respec system encourages experimentation and playing with the various classes, all of which focus on different aspects of the heist.
There are plenty of ways to go about your dirty business. Players heavily invested in the Mastermind skill-set focus on flashy room dominating theatrics like converting cops to their side and taking hostages, but they also double as the medic of the group. Enforcers are the bully-boys of the crew and have a lot of straight up tanking and combat perks, but also get access to a powerful circular saw to speed up going through doors and deposit boxes, and a bunch of cargo mobility perks which let them bag and haul loot faster (more handy than it sounds). The Technician and Ghost classes are designed for players who want more options taking down scores, opening up access to safe-cracking C4, improved drills, ECM tech, and cat burglar gymnastics. You're not locked into any one class, and while pre-req skills do steer you to specialize somewhat, most players will probably dip a bit into each class while picking a favorite.
Empty your pockets!
Before deciding if Payday 2 seems worthwhile to you, you need to factor the cost of the Gage Courier DLC into the purchase. Straight up, do not pass go, do not collect $200, get that DLC before you even start your first heist. It's necessary like wine is when visiting the in-laws - and that kind of sucks.
Under normal conditions, weapon mods are dropped on a random basis as one of several possible rewards for successfully completing heists. At the end of a mission, you are just as likely to end up with new paint for your masks or a wad of cash as you are a gun part. When a gun mod finally does drop, you can end up with just about ANY attachment. So while you might be DYING for a laser sight for your out of control machine gun, or a scope for your long range rifle, it can be a total crap-shoot when and if you'll get that gear. It is the single most frustrating element of the game's design.
Not so with the Gage Courier pack. Each type of collectable package unlocked by the DLC has a set selection of unlocked gear. Collect enough Red Spider packages, and your guaranteed a laser aimer among other goodies. Scoop up Yellow Bull packs, and you'll have that silencer you desperately need for stealth missions in your hot little hands. Believe you me, it is a whole lot better than waiting and wishing on a star for the gear you want.
- Yes, this is a silenced shotgun with a 4x scope, tactical laser, and comfort grip. We haven't even gotten to the stupid stuff yet.
To make the pot even sweeter (and the DLC money making tactic even grimier), some of the mods in the Courier DLC are flat out the BEST in their class, and they're freely swappable! Unlike normal mods, you don't have to pay every time you take an attachment on or off (which generally forces you to permanently alter your weapons and consume mods). So you have the sweetest candy of the gunshop, and it's all free to mix and match as you like, so long as you pay a $5 fun-tax. Hrummmm.
If I paid full price for the game, this would almost be a deal breaker. It really feels like a pay-for-power set-up where if you want to enjoy the game to its fullest extent, you need to buy stuff shamelessly hidden behind a paywall.
But, this is where getting it on a Steam Sale for such a good price really saves the day. Considering I only paid $5 for the game and ended up enjoying it so much, I was able to perform the necessary mental gymnastics to convince myself it wasn't a rip-off and swallowed the cost. If I bought Payday 2 on day one only to find this out, I'd be livid, but now I just can't muster up the indignation. Just another in a long line of good reasons of why it's smart to be patient with your game purchases.
Other DLC is more take-it-or-leave-it based on personal preference. There are plenty of weapon packs available that usually include some masks and achievements along with the flashy firearms, but none of them are as necessary as the Courier pack. Although if you are a big fan of shotguns, you'll probably be miffed to find that most of the cool boomstick options are only available through a DLC pack. Personally, I did end up buying Weapon Pack #2 which includes the winning combination of fuck-huge machine guns, sharp looking knives, and a mask that makes you look like Cobra Commander (what can I say, I always wanted to rob a bank while hissing “I was oncesss a mannn...”, we all have dreams).
Time for a crime spree
I'm not going to mince words, I straight up love Payday 2. It's crazy and ridiculous and fascinating in all the dumb ways that make my smile. It took me completely by surprise and I'm still hooked, figuring out the various ways to take down scores, twiddling around with the never ending weapon combinations, and planning out skill builds and burning up respecs.
If you asked me back in June what game I'd end up playing the most over the summer, I would never have guessed Payday 2. But here we are heading into fall, and I have a trail of cracked safes and bullet casings at my heel to say otherwise. An absolute gem you should remember for the next time it goes on sale.