BY NICK McCOY
The video game world is filled with plenty of cooperative shooters which are guaranteed to give you and your friends a fun time. One of the most famous is Left 4 Dead, arguably one of the best cooperative zombie shooters on the market. In recent years, the genre of cooperative horror and survival games have also been on the rise, with Dead by Daylight, Phasmophobia, The Forest, and several others.
However, of all of these co-op first-person games, one has flown under the radar in recent years, it seems; That game being 2013’s Payday 2.
Deserving of being up there with the rest of this genre, Payday 2 is an absolute blast to play. Whether you’re playing with friends or going it solo, Payday 2 is full of simple yet satisfying gunplay, a wide range of activities, and a whole different selection of customization options.
Developed by Overkill Software and published by 505 Games, Payday 2 is the sequel to Payday: The Heist, released in 2010. It was originally released for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC in 2013. A remastered version, Payday 2: Crime Edition, was released for PS4 and Xbox One in 2016, and later Nintendo Switch in 2018. A third entry in the series is currently slated for a 2023 release date. Several DLCs and Post Launch updates have been released during the game’s lifetime: These include brand new heists, masks, as well as new characters.
Payday 2 follows the titular Payday Gang, a group of masked criminals who complete various heists and jobs around the Washington DC area. Originally consisting of four core members, Dallas, Wolf, Chains, and Hoxton, players can now choose from 22 different members of the gang: This includes characters such as John Wick from the popular film series, as well as Jacket, the protagonist of Hotline Miami.
There is technically a story to the Payday gang, which is much better explored via a web series created to promote the game. However, the story is so confusing and bloated that most players choose to ignore it. The story is mainly there to give some backstory to the members of the gang, and to explain the various contracts the members get jobs from.
These contracts include the gang’s handler Bain, Ukrainian criminal Vlad, the mysterious Dentist (played by Giancarlo Esposito), Senator John Henry Simmons aka The Elephant, Colombian drug lord Hector, and South African mercenary Vernon Locke.
The main gameplay of Payday 2 is exactly what you’d expect: You take on various heists and jobs, with other players or alone. These are accessed through Crime.net, a website created by Bain in game which essentially acts as the matchmaking system. Players can join active games, create brand new ones, or play offline. While the obvious bank heists and robberies are there, there are so many other jobs that players can tackle.
These include property destruction, transport truck hijacks, car thefts, drug transports, meth labs, and art gallery thefts. Each mission has loot the player can grab outside of the main targets; for example, there may be some cash in registers, or an extra safe containing some additional money.
Each contractor has their own specific jobs that they give to the player; Vlad will give the player property destruction jobs, while Hector will task the player with transporting drugs. Each mission has its own difficulty and payout. The difficulty is shown through “risk”, indicated by skull icons; The more skulls that are shown, the higher the risk. While higher-risk jobs give the most XP and cash, they also result in more dangerous enemies spawning and are much more chaotic. The highest difficulty is called “Death Sentence” for a reason.
Each different mission is fairly open-ended, with multiple routes and directions for the player to take. At the end of the day, however, there are two main gameplay types: Loud and Stealth.
Loud is just as it sounds; you barge in, tell people to get on the ground, and drill into the safe or try to grab as much loot as possible, all while dealing with constant waves of police. This type of approach is arguably more fun, but can be an absolute nightmare on higher difficulties.
Stealth, on the other hand, has you trying to drill into the safe or steal loot with raising any alarms. This can also be quite challenging, especially when you take into account things like cameras and bystanders who can phone the police. Doing missions stealthily does grant you an extra boost in XP. There are some missions which require stealth, while others can only be done loud. This type of non-linearity in the missions really adds to the ultimate satisfaction of completing a job.
Another aspect of the game that makes Payday’s missions so great is the soundtrack. There are several different songs that play during each job. It starts off thrilling enough, with pulsing techno and a heart-pounding beat. Then, as the action picks up, the song slowly builds as more and more police arrive on the scene. The song that plays during a police assault wave, in particular the song “Razormind” by Simon Viklund, is guaranteed to get your blood pumping.
Now, in each job, you need to be wary on how to handle civilians who wander around. When the heists start, civilians will either run around in panic, stand with their hands up, or lay on the ground by prompting a certain command. Players can take hostages via cable ties, which are important to look after; if a teammate is knocked down and taken into custody (They are left spectating the match), a hostage can be traded for them.
Killing civilians is also highly discouraged, as it takes a cut from your payday at the end of the job. The fee is increased based on the difficulty and how many civilians you shoot. While it may seem tempting to some and admittedly makes some jobs easier, don’t just start shooting the innocent people running around.
Before each job, players can go over their loadout and purchase “assets”, such as an ammo bag, which can make things a bit easier. Loadouts can drastically change how you approach a job and what you can do. For example, if you’re robbing transport trucks full of deposit boxes, it’s a good idea to bring a saw; however, the saw only has a limited amount of power. If you run out and don’t have an extra ammo bag, you’ll be stuck lock-picking each one, which takes a lot longer. It’s possible to complete the job without a saw, but it takes a lot of patience. The saw also allows you to break open ATMs for some extra cash. There are also some other options that can help make things quicker, mainly things like C4 and the keychain. C4 makes getting through doors a whole lot quicker (at the cost of stealth) and the keychain allows you to lockpick areas you normally wouldn’t be able to.
Another thing players will need to focus on is what kit they decide to bring. Aside from things like C4, there is another important decision to make: Ammo bags or doctor bags. Doctor bags, especially for harder jobs, make the difference between life and death. Unfortunately, the doctor bag only has two uses between you and your teammates, so you have to use it wisely. There are first aid kits that, if you upgrade your skills, can be dropped up to 11 times.
At the same time, the last thing you need is to run out of ammo during an intense firefight. If you’re confident enough in your skill, and one of your teammates has already brought a health kit, an ammo bag is the way to go. An ammo bag is especially important when you bring a saw. Consider how much ammo is used up. It’s all down to how you want to approach a job and the chemistry you have with your crew.
Another important item to look out for is the ECM Jammer. This device is extremely useful, especially for stealth missions. Basically, it blocks all communication devices and cameras in its vicinity. The main problem is that, without a specific skill purchased, it only has one use. So, if you don’t have that particular skill, you need to use the jammer wisely. The ECM Jammer can also be used to crack open ATMs in place of the saw, but again, you can do this with one.
What makes Payday 2 truly stand out is just how many customization options a player has at their disposal. The player’s crew member, loadout, skills, perks, outfits, and masks can all be changed and customized to their own liking. Perks and skills greatly affect what a player can do during jobs, and are arguably the most important aspect of your specific crew member; some skills include being able to carry up to 11 first aid kits, throwing money bags farther, and the ability to mark enemies.
Each individual perk deck contains up to nine perks (four mutual perks and five unique ones) and each deck has its own benefit: The sicario deck grants a player a smoke bomb which causes 50% of enemy bullets to miss players, while the sociopath deck allows players to regenerate health and armor by killing enemies. Keep in mind, these are just two of the 22 different decks; what a player chooses is all down to personal preference and what specific playstyle you’re going for.
However, arguably the most iconic part of Payday 2 is the masks. Players are given access to over 100 masks to choose from. While they are purely cosmetic and serve no gameplay purpose, the masks are what give Payday 2 its charm and help it stand out from other cooperative shooters. There is the default mask that each of the members has, but there are so many others the player can choose from. With the DLC and updates the game has received, the selection of masks has drastically increased. Some masks are neat and interesting, some are creepy, while others are just goofy. There’s one particular “mask” which is just a tall beanie, that makes your character look like they just got bonked on the head in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
Now, as much as I love playing this game, it isn’t perfect. Admittedly, most of the time, the problems I have are brought on because I choose to play by myself. While playing with bots still makes for a fun time, it makes some missions so much harder than they need to be. There are some missions where you end up crashing your getaway vehicle, and have to survive an onslaught of police as you try to recover the loot bags on a specific timer. On anything above very hard difficulty, this is nearly impossible to complete solo. While the AI can carry the bags on their back, having to constantly go back and forth with up to 10 bags is exhausting, and is so much easier if you have the full team. Again, this is not the game’s fault, per se. I just thought it was worth mentioning.
What I can say is the game’s fault is the grind. Now, the grind in Payday 2 is nowhere near as egregious as many games released today. However, it is still there and quite noticeable. The grind mainly has to do with the slots available for the masks and weapons. At the start, players have access to up to six slots for both items. Each new slot where you can unlock weapons and masks costs $800,000 in-game cash. This isn’t necessarily a big deal for the masks, but it’s pretty annoying when it comes to the weapons. Considering most of the guns aren’t cheap either, you’re going to be spending a lot of time grinding away at different jobs trying to afford both new weapons and weapon slots. However, this is admittedly nothing too awful; some jobs have a ridiculously high payout, and if you keep doing those, you’ll have plenty of money to spend at your leisure. Still, whenever there’s a grind, I always feel the need to point it out.
Either way, Payday 2 is an incredibly fun time. From the load of customization options, the ways to approach a mission, and the complete satisfaction of pulling off a successful job, it is guaranteed to be a fun time. Whether you’re playing alone or with friends, Payday 2 is definitely worth picking up.