Payday 2 co-op hands-on: united we stand

By Dave Owen
23 July 2013 08:32 GMT

Payday 2 might just be the most fun you can have on PC with three friends since Left 4 Dead. Dave Owen goes co-op and speaks with Overkill about its intense sequel.

Payday 2

Developed by Overkill Software, Payday 2 is the sequel to Payday: The Heist.

The game is heading to PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on August 13 and offers co-op for up to four robbers across varying heists.

You can watch Sam play through an entire heist in the PC version here.

There’s also a video of us cocking-up a bank job which is much more embarrassing. Watch us fail hard here.

Payday 2 is getting a collector’s edition release. Find out what comes in the box here.

Payday 2 is not a game well-suited to a noisy preview event environment. Overkill’s heist-based squad FPS relies too much on teamwork and communication to thrive amid the combined racket of four screens.

It’s also incredibly intimidating to jump into a mission that falls mid-way through the game, as there’s a lot to learn and death is plentiful.

Payday 2 wants you to hear the pounding of your own heart. It might prove to be the most fun 4 players can have together since Left 4 Dead.

“You really need to play from the beginning,” laughed Andreas Hallpenninger, QA agent for developer Overkill, when I told him how many deaths I suffered during my first session. Payday 2 consists of 10-12 ‘jobs,’ which in turn are split into 26 separate missions.

For example I played a gallery heist job which took place over 3 days, splitting it into distinct missions. Hallpenninger told me that there is no overarching story in Payday 2, but individual jobs contain short narratives.

Jumping straight into the gallery heist was a truly overwhelming experience. The general noise of the venue made it hard to hear in-game instructions. Without headsets we could only communicate via shouting. This was soon drowned out by sudden eruptions of intense action, as SWAT teams attacked us with real aggression to divide and pick off our foursome.

With objectives to meet, such as finding and transporting stolen paintings, it was a lot to take in. We all died. A lot. But it gradually became apparent that my confusion stemmed from not quite grasping the depth of Payday 2.

Create a De Niro

In the first game you accrued huge wealth but couldn’t spend it on anything. “Now there’s an economy system,” Hallpenninger told me. “So you get money and spend it on weapons, weapons customisation, mask customisation, and skill points.”

It’s the skill points that really matter. Payday 2 has four classes with skill trees that allow you to level up your character. I soon found out that I’d been playing as a level 1 guy with no skills or gear at all. The difference between me and my tooled-up squad mates was enormous.

There’s the Mastermind class, which Hallpenninger described as “the Robert De Niro guy from Heat.” His abilities focus on crowd control, allowing you to intimidate enemies into fighting for you or to convince civilians to revive you. Enforcer class offers better health, armour, and faster running when encumbered with a big bag of cash. Technicians can access useful gadgets like sentry guns, and Ghost is a stealth class.

It’s a familiar system, but one with interesting implications within the team dynamic of Payday 2. Players aren’t locked into one particular class – skill points can be spent anywhere to customise your character around your play style. There wasn’t much chance to experiment, but it has the potential to add real strategy to team games as you try and utilise each squad members’ individual abilities, which will change when playing with different people.

My team of four had been balanced for a good mix of everything. We embarked on a bank heist that allowed us to scope out the building first without triggering any unpleasantness. Two squad members walked serenely through the front door, while I followed another around the side to pick the lock of a back entrance.

We crept through the tight corridors until we encountered security cameras. At this point my squad mate shouted at me to use a device to cripple the security systems. Before I could activate it, everything went to hell.

The alarms spiralled. Civilians screamed and ran. Security guards opened fire and we shot back, innocents tumbling in the crossfire. While three of us mopped up the guards and pinned crying hostages to the floor, the remaining squad member set up a laser cutter to crack open the vault. And that’s when the police showed up.

It was a genuinely thrilling experience that captured the tension and panic of the very best movie bank heists. We tried to work as a team to cover different entrances as SWAT teams stormed the bank. The shooting felt weighty and satisfying, the generous aim assist countering my weapon’s serious kick.

This defence was effective until the vault was open and we had to transport bags of cash across the road to our van. It split our team apart, and we were promptly picked off. When our teamwork failed, the mission wasn’t far behind.

Leave the Engine Running

I didn’t have the opportunity to try again, but it made me wonder how else we might have approached the heist. “You can do that mission completely with stealth,” Hallpenninger told me afterwards. “It’s very tough, but you can pull it off without killing anyone.”

To emphasise Payday 2’s focus on stealth, he compared this mission to a similar heist in the first game. “You walked into the bank, put your mask on, and that was it: you had to kill all the guards to proceed. Now we want to give players the option to approach the levels in a different way.” Apparently around 80% of the missions can be completed entirely with stealth.

This isn’t the only way that Payday 2 aims to bring variety to its missions; many elements are randomised. “The next time you play the bank heist there might be more guards, the cameras might be in different places, there might be a civilian watching you from an apartment,” said Hallpenninger.

“We made the environments dynamic too. For example we watched fans play the beta and on one level they always put paintings into a container. So we made it that there’s a 20% chance the container won’t be there. We don’t want players to get too used to environments.”

This has the potential to further the importance of team work, as you might rely on squad mates to report environmental details and help you navigate a level. There are also small touches, such as how carrying a bag of money tilts your screen and prevents you from running.

During the gallery heist mission I was pinned down, and managed to throw my bag to a squad mate in a better position so that I could make a dash for it. The team play did have some small issues such as clipping on one another, which was sometimes a problem in tight spaces. But it did little to hinder the overall experience.

It’s difficult to imagine playing Payday 2 alone with an AI-controlled squad. There was no chance to try this, but Hallpenninger was open about the fact that the game was designed for group play. “It’s like Left 4 Dead,” he told me. “You really want to play with your friends. The game is so intense and hectic and fun, you want to experience it together. Communication is very important.”

A couple of hours with Payday 2 wasn’t really enough. Not only because it was great fun to play as a team, but because there was so much to learn and experiment with. When this releases in August it’ll be interesting to see just how deep these systems go. With three friends alongside you, this promises to be tremendous entertainment.

Payday 2 is released on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 on August 13th.

Disclosure: Dave played the Xbox 360 version of Payday 2 at a press event in London. No merchandise or advertising was offered or accepted.

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