There's a seminal moment in all great heist films where a character is faced with a life-altering decision -- brief period in time where our hero stands at a crossroads, still in possession of just enough free will to turn back and forget about any ill-advised plans he may have concocted. But taking the righteous path wouldn't make for a very interesting story, now would it? So we as the audience cringe with glee at that moment where the character puts on a mask, bursts through a bank door, and begins to take what he believes is rightfully his. It's this kind of cinematic tension, drama, and choice that developer Overkill is aiming for with Payday 2, the sequel to their 2011 cooperative shooter centered around all manner of heists.
Taking another cue from Diablo, Payday 2 allows you to play with a skill tree made up of four distinct paths that cater to whichever style of thief you prefer. For instance, you can assume the role of a Mastermind, an analogue to Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight. This archetype is adept at mind games and able to convince civilians and police officers to surrender using a forked tongue. Or maybe you'll steer your points towards the Technician, who seems ripped straight out of Ocean's 11 thanks to his ability to hack security systems and cause complete disarray from behind a laptop. Much of Payday 2's strategy depends on forming a balanced team that can use its unique abilities to overcome a given mission's obstacles in a number of ways. If you don't diversify your team, you just might find yourself sorely lacking options in certain predicaments.
The best sequels learn from the mistakes of their predecessors, build upon their strengths, and find ways to introduce new and innovative features to ward off stagnation. Lucky for us, Payday 2's lead designer David Goldfarb agrees with all three of these principles, and vows to make a game that trumps the original in every way imaginable. Goldfarb emphasizes the titular moments of reward as a misstep in the original title. Sure, a successful mission would leave you with cash, but money lacks the weight of an actual, memorable
prize. No one remembers where a dollar bill in their pocket came from. For Payday 2, he wants to give rewards emotional weight, narrative impact, and lingering resonance.
"Value is at the core of robbery,” he declares proudly. “I mean. why else would you steal something?" Successfully completing your goal will yield dynamically unique items; the tougher the mission, the bigger the reward. The team's goal is to have rare pieces of loot forever linked to the heist you earned them in. Every time you use that specific gun or don that particular mask, you'll think back to the intense shootout in which you claimed it.
Our attempt at stealth did not go well.
In another nice touch, heists vary dramatically in length, and only in seeing them out to completion will you be able to earn the high-level paydays. This scalability present in the mission structure provides a refreshing variety that can adapt to fit in with any amount of time you might have to play. Heists range from quick, five minute grab-and-gos, to multifaceted missions comprised of many different jobs that eventually culminate into completing the perfect crime. What's even more exciting is the promise of each mission containing dozens of dynamic elements that ensure no two playthroughs are identical. Security placement is fluid, a getaway van might pick you up in a completely different spot, and a safe that once contained a precious tiara could suddenly be empty.
Overkill's heart is absolutely in the right place with Payday 2. While it's reassuring that Goldfarb is able to spit out cinematic inspirations like a film major, questions still linger regarding how everything will come together in the end. Grandiose ideas and good intentions don't mean much if the moment-to-moment gameplay doesn't have what it takes to sink its claws into the player. For now, we'll have to wait and see if Payday 2's schematics are able to come together and deliver on its film-infused promises.
Marty Sliva is an Associate Editor at IGN. He doesn't like talking about his dark Bonnie and Clyde phase back in '05. Follow him on Twitter at @McBiggitty and on IGN.
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