Soooo... Wanna rob a bank? It's easier than you'd think! We'll need someone to run the thermal drill to bust open the safe. We'll need a guy to keep the security guards out of our way and the civilians quiet. And a van to carry away the loot!
We'll need some guns, too. We don't have to go shooting up the place, but nobody's taking a robbery seriously if we don't have guns, right?
Oh. And masks. Proper ones, none of this amateur-hour stockings-over-heads nonsense. If all goes to plan the cops won't even know we were there until we're gone and we don't want them identifying us after the fact, do we?
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? What could possibly go wrong?!
Well, in Payday 2, a whole hell of a lot can go wrong. And will. Frequently. And hilariously!
You and three friends (or strangers from the internet) form a crew and choose a heist to complete from a list of contracts. There's a story in behind this, with a mysterious über-hacker setting up the missions and laying out the plan, with some threads of the plot weaving in between.
But the story is just fluff. There's no "end" to Payday 2 as such and if you just want to rob the same jewellery store over and over, you can do that.
Contracts can be offered in three basic difficulty levels: Normal, Hard and Overkill. The higher difficulties may have more security guards, cameras, less cooperative civilians, harsher police responses or just require escaping with more loot. The jewellery store heist on Normal requires 3 bags full of sparkly jewels and gold, a fairly easy task for four criminals of even marginal skill.
Hard? Hard requires 6 bags. This means at least two of your crew will have to make two trips to fill the quota. And Overkill needs 8 bags, meaning you've all got to lug two bags each. There's "Pro" variants which only allow one attempt, too.
Which is all fine and dandy if you've kept the security guards from alerting the police and the civilians from calling the police and you haven't tripped any alarms...
If you're running around in the store smashing display cases and bagging loot and a random civilian strolls past the store at the wrong moment they can scream, run and try to call the cops.
And then you're fucked.
The police in Payday 2 can put a crimp on even the best laid plans. The standard beat cops who arrive first are not too tough, nor particularly well equipped. Pistols and arriving in small numbers mean they won't pose much threat if you keep an eye on them.
The real problem is the arrival of the police forces your getaway driver to relocate. This takes time and can result in a much less convenient escape route. Since the police will continue to put pressure on you during this time, you might be forced to shoot a few of them to get them off your back.
And that's when things get worse.
If you start killing police (or civilians when the police are around) the game will call in progressively tougher opponents. It starts with more specialised tactical officers and snipers, followed by heavily armoured "Bulldozers", police wielding tasers, SWAT teams and bulletproof-shield carriers.
These do come in waves, with occasional heavy assault periods, so you can wipe out enough of a wave to clear a path to your escape vehicle. Or you might just expend all your ammunition defending the safecrackers and have no bullets left when it's time to go.
Should everything go your way and you escape with the loot you and your crew are rewarded with experience points to spend on various skills, plus of course some cold hard cash with which to buy new guns, masks and customisations for both.
Skills are of the expected shoot faster and more accurately sort, but also various tools of the trade like C4, suitcase sentry guns and powerful circular saws, very useful for breaking into safety deposit boxes.
That's something that isn't immediately apparent from looking at Payday 2 . Safes in the game, and many other things like doors and windows, can be opened a number of ways. Some locks can be picked, others opened with a keycard, still others you have to drill through or blow the hinges with C4. Many offer multiple means of opening, like safety deposit boxes which can have their locks picked or a circular saw can slice right through. Neither approach is the correct one and each has its advantages. Picking the lock is virtually silent, meaning guards and civilians are less likely to notice. The circular saw is very loud, making stealth impossible. But circular saws are also a great deal faster.
There's a lot more to this either/or style of gameplay, too. Security cameras can be located in different places each time, making certain approaches impossible, yet opening other routes you may not have considered. Guards may be patrolling new areas or be more numerous or suspicious. You might find two small safes at the minimart in the Four Stores heist, or there may only be a cash register.
This does a great deal to keep things fresh each time. Even if you're planning a stealthy approach you can't just use the same tactics each time as the game may have put a camera over your entrance, a guard around a new corner or just a civilian who doesn't know how to mind their own damn business.
The co-op nature of the game does lend itself more to playing with a group of friends but the player population is high enough you can readily find crews to join. You can try pulling off heists with the AI controlling 1-3 of the crew, but they're of little help beyond serving as a distraction. It's really humans, or nothing, for most heists.
Payday 2 feels like the finished game to the original proof of concept we saw in the original Payday: The Heist. Quite enjoyable with strangers on the internet, but even better with a few friends who find it hilarious when things go wrong.
If you've ever wanted to know what it's like to rob a bank, this is probably the only time you'll get away with it. And when a plan comes together faultlessly it's a real feeling of accomplishment because you'll have seen it go wrong so many times before.
You won't really get the money, but you won't really end up sharing a cell with Bubba the human fart machine, either.