I move through the crowded jewelery store like a ghost. By the time anyone suspects anything, it’s already too late. Pulling out my gun, I order the innocent shoppers to the ground. One attempts to call the police, but an ECM jammer keeps the signal from going through. Not wanting to risk another would-be hero, two of my teammates move through the storefront and restrain the frightened civilians with cable ties. Meanwhile, a third partner has infiltrated through a back entrance, subduing the security guard in the process. Everything is going according to plan. Smashing the glass cases, we pocket what we can and stuff the rest into duffel bags. A passerby spots us loading the loot into a van and dials 911, but by the time the cops arrive we’re already long gone. It was a close call, but such is the life of a career criminal in Payday 2.
Make a mistake though, and you’ll change the way the mission plays out. If you lack Walter White’s chemistry know-how and blow up the meth lab on the first day, then you won’t have anything to trade for the intel; you’ll have to fight off the angry gang members and locate the information yourself before they destroy it. Further adding to the challenge, levels are partially randomized with each playthrough; security camera coverage, NPC placement, objective locations, and even entire building layouts can change. This added variation ensures that pulling off a successful heist is a matter of skill and strategy instead of simple memorization.
In addition to a sufficient bank balance, adding modifications to your weapons will also require a great deal of luck. Before you can access a new weapon attachment, you’ll need to unlock it. This is accomplished mainly by crossing your fingers and hoping for the best after picking a card in the mini-game following each mission; depending on your choice, you’ll be randomly rewarded with a cash bonus, a mask customization, or one of the many available weapon mods (but often not the one you wanted). I feel like there must have been a better way to implement weapon customizations, especially since each “unlock” is one-time use. Want to add a suppressor to your secondary weapon? You’ll have to pay a fee to remove it from your primary weapon, followed by another to attach it to your secondary.
Although you can diversify your skill portfolio however you wish, you’ll almost certainly be relying on help from others to pick up where you’re lacking. Payday 2 is almost exclusively a co-op game; like Left 4 Dead, you can play alone, but it won’t be anywhere near as fun or effective. It’s less fun because you’re missing out on the great feeling that comes with planning and executing a successful strategy with others (or reacting quickly when those plans fall apart). It’s less effective because the friendly AI is sorely lacking; your robotic accomplices will do little more than shoot at enemies and occasionally revive you when you’re down. Transporting loot, deploying tools, and subduing civilians is left entirely up to you.
While we’re on the subject of overhearing things, it’s worth mentioning that the sound in Payday 2 is also impressive. While it’s not on the level of a game like Battlefield 3, gunfire and other sound effects are high quality and immersive. The soundtrack scales to match the gameplay situation, heightening the tension as the stakes grow higher. The graphics, while certainly a major improvement over the original Payday, are not as notable. Animations for some actions are sloppy, and many textures look noticeably outdated.