The lights are on
If in the first 20 minutes of the game you’ve failed to properly instruct me on how to achieve victory, I don’t think we’re going to have a great future. I know I’m late to the Payday 2 party, and maybe it was better when more of my friends were playing it, but right now, it’s insufferable.
Learn more about the Game Informer Fight For the Top 50 Challenge 2013
The game opens with a tour of your safe house, showing off your vault, your mask customization area, and your shooting range. None of that matters when you begin, because you don’t have the resources to make use of them.
Instead, you’re thrown into a shakedown mission that asks players to hold up and gather as much cash as possible from four stores. I played alone, and would have preferred the braindead AI simply wait in the van.
Maybe I have an aggrandized view of the intelligence of professional bank robbers, but I would have assumed that this crew was smart enough to be quick and quiet. Instead, the sub-par equipment on the job constantly overheats requiring reset. It takes forever to crack a safe, and the game becomes police officer horde mode while you’re waiting.
There is no way to do things quietly, and no matter what I tried the police were inevitably alerted. After countless dead bodies and pointlessly yelling at bystanders to hit the ground, I finally had enough money to finish the mission.
Of course, my getaway driver was just as smart as the rest of the AI. The van crashed, and I was thrown into another shootout as I waited for rescue. As a shooter, Payday 2 is terrible. The exaggerated gun movements when turning seem to imply that I’m waving the piece around to intimidate civilians, even when none are nearby.
Playing with randoms online wasn't any better. The game doesn't offer any guidance about mission objectives. In one, we were simply told "destroy $50,000 worth of stuff" in a mall. What kind of stuff? Windows and display cases, or cars and cosmetics? No running tally on the screen gives any hint about what the game is expecting. I had no idea if what I was doing mattered, and if so, how much.
Again, I'm not sure how it's possible to stealthily approach something like this, but the different loadout options make it seem like being quiet is a possibility. It didn't work when I repeated the first shakedown mission with a full party either. No one seemed to have any idea what to do except put on the masks, start the slow-as-molasses drills, and wait for a steady stream of police to shoot. Perhaps there’s something deeper and more nuanced in Payday 2, but I honestly don’t care to find out.
I skipped this when it first came out because I don't have a regular group to play online with like I did when Left 4 Dead and Borderlands first came out. Maybe that would make a difference, but I need games that allow me to have an enjoyable experience on my schedule. In the 90 minutes I played, I got more than enough of a taste of the criminal life. I’m a retired bank robber, and I’m never going back.
My VoteAny game that hinges on having a team of four friends (or even randoms willing to talk and strategize) has an uphill battle. The game barely clues you in on the recipe for success, nor allows you to practice and get a feel for things on your own (thanks to the miserable AI). Heck, even the Overkill team alerted the police and barely escaped in a heist they shared. If the developer struggles that much, I’m not sure how Payday 2 could possibly end up on our Top 50 list.