Having launched in 2011 as a PlayStation 3 title, with a more muted PC release also available, the original Payday: The Heist was met with a mixed response upon it’s arrival. For all of its inventiveness there were just as many ideas that seemed underdeveloped; promising but malnourished in their effect on the gameplay. It seems that the development team at Overkill are aware of this, and for the upcoming sequel have made every effort to ensure that all of the weaker points of the original have been bolstered, now strong enough to become an essential component in a cohesive whole.
The original Payday: The Heist saw players band together to enact crimes on a handful of mission types, with the tight structure seeing many of the same missions repeated time and again in order to continue your progression. At no point does it appear that this is the case in Payday 2, with a concerted effort being made to ensure that variety is the order of the day. Whether that’s in the missions you take on or in the way you choose to play the missions is entirely your preference, but from the very first instance Payday 2 is of a much more impressive arrangement than the first title.
The demonstration Electronic Theatre witnessed began with the overhaul of the mission select screen. No longer just a simple list of available missions, players must meet with contacts across a map and secure jobs that work in tandem with their own successes. Meeting new contacts will offer new opportunities, and being successful in these jobs will often lead to greater challenges with better rewards. Jobs can have multiple phases, but early on only have one phase. The cause and effect between phases of later levels is an interesting point however, and one that emphasises the fact that Payday 2 isn’t just a videogame about criminal violence; this is a videogame about living your criminal lifestyle.
For example, the first phase of a job may be to escape a heist with bags of cocaine, with the number secured being that which you have for sale in the second phase. Another example offered was that of lengthy challenge that saw you stealing art from a museum, placing hidden cameras in the frames and selling the paintings, before robbing the person who buys them from you. The more paintings you steal the more cameras you can place, the more of these paintings sold the more information you will have about the target location.
The missions themselves play out in a relatively realistic manner. Electronic Theatre was shown two different missions, the first of which was played in two very different ways. Tasked with stealing a tiara from a jewellery store, the players decide to take things slowly, avoiding the metal detectors, security cameras and members of the public in the front and instead sneaking round the back of the building. After incapacitating the patrolling guards and picking the window lock to gain access, one player begins drilling the two safes in the back rooms while another deals with any strays that wonder into the area, tying them up in order to prevent them from raising the alarm. Two minutes later, tiara in hand, the pair flee the scene and cross the road to the getaway van. Job done.
The second play through was not quite so clam and collected, barging in the front door guns blazing, it was a smash-n’-grab tactic that took far too long to be successful. The alarm was raised the second the pair walked through the door, alerting the cop parked on the corner. Reinforcements arrived within seconds while the players will still finding the safes and struggling to take charge of the situation. Smashing the display cases and bagging up the jewellery, taking down any police that were seen to be lining up shots, the players were soon notified of the arrival of a SWAT team as they barged through the back door. A short gunfight later the first player was floored, and as the second tried to reach him the inevitable happened, and not only did the players not find the tiara, but neither did they escape with any of their secured goods. Mission failed.
Outside of the core gameplay players will be able to utilise an overhauled skill system. New skills can be earned through levelling-up, with four skill trees available per class. Six tiers of skills are available in each tree with a total of nineteen skills available per class: The Mastermind, The Enforcer, The Technician, The Ghost. While the gameplay may be grounded in reality, the skills are entirely removed, offering abilities that can get cops to fight for your side, or the Stolkholm Syndrome skill that allows you to get civilians to aid you when wounded. Players will not be able to be a jack of all trades by design; you may be able to max out one class and select a few skills from another, but should you wish to develop your character in a different direction a re-spec is the only option, and it won’t be as easy as moving skills about freely.
The weapon system also sounds intriguing with players able to purchase and modify weapons as they see fit with the money secured from completed jobs. You are able to buy as many of each weapon as you wish, for purposes of different tactical options, and there also seems to be very few limits on exactly what mods can be attached to what weapons. However, without being able to put this into practice it’s hard to asses just how far reaching the customisation can be. For now, Payday appears to be a videogame series that’s being pushed in the right direction with its sequel, and if Overkill can bring each of the pieces of the puzzle into touch, Payday 2 could well prove to be one of the most inventive first-person shooter experiences this year.