Platforms: PC | PSN | XBLA
Developers: Overkill Software
Publishers: 505 Games
The original PayDay: The Heist was something of a mixed bag, also taking the crown for having a slightly disingenuous title in that there was only really one level in which you actually got the chance to pull off an awesome heist: the aptly named 'Diamond Heist'.
Indeed, Diamond Heist is the level I bring up when the chaps at Overkill ask me if I enjoyed the first game. Out of the six jobs in the original Payday, it's Diamond Heist that sticks in the brain: a multi-stage, near-impossible mission. There are diamonds in a vault on the top floor of a skyscraper. It's a level that can be completed stealthily, but the random elements (changing keycodes, hostage willpower, alarm sensitivity) mean that almost never happens.
It's fantastic. And to think, that last level was a bit of an afterthought.
"In the first game we kind of said to one another, 'maybe we should incorporate some stealth mechanics', but we'd pretty much run out of time and money so we had to kind of shoehorn it into one of the stages: Diamond Heist," said the game's designer and composer Simon Viklund. "That level was a bit of a mess. We've put things right this time."
Mess or not, Diamond Heist provided some of the most nail-bitingly tense moments we've had from a game like this since Rainbow Six Vegas. Viklund's point, though, is that the team have completely embraced that idea of openness and player choice from inception for the sequel.
"For this game, we brought it onboard from the very start, so we were building the game up and designing jobs and heists with stealth in mind, so that made it a lot easier to incorporate those elements. Now we have more missions where you can take a stealthy approach, and we leave it up to the player to decide. It's not really down to action or stealth, it's not that binary, and situations will change, but the options are certainly there this time around.
"Of course, you can fail. Something might go wrong, and then you'll have a firefight on your hands, but that's really down to you."
We weren't able to have a crack at the game ourselves, indeed the devs almost didn't either given that they spent a good ten minutes just trying to get the preview build to run. But at least that way we knew the code was legit, and it was in the nature of the game itself. After all, unpredictability is very much at the heart of Payday 2.
"The random elements were really important in the first game, it's why people kept coming back, because no two games were ever truly identical," said Viklund. "We've just pushed that in this game, so there are more missions in total, more missions with random elements, and more random elements themselves."
"In every mission we have this setup, and then there are a number of moveable pieces that can be changed around, swapped in and out to create different scenarios within the same framework," added QA lead Andreas Hall. "But the conditions are also always changed by what players bring to the heist, their skills and tools. Whether or not you have a drill or explosives or a saw, these things will shift those pieces around even more."
"It's not just what the games hands you, it's absolutely what you bring to the table as a heist team as well, in terms of skills and gadgets," concluded Viklund. "But it's important to note that it's not too over the top. It all makes sense. We don't want to confuse the player too much."
With that in mind, it's quite impressive that the enemy AI will often attempt to sabotage your mission through non-lethal means. So before everything descends into a massive free-for-all, police officers will be squirrelling away the loot bags that you've tried so hard to pinch. They'll start leading hostages to safety, thus removing your human leverage, and head straight for your machines off thievery to make sure that they're switched off. From here, missions can diverge again: do you go for the getaway with what you have, or do you risk it all to go back in for greater reward?
"One of our favourites has been seeing what people do when the escape van turns up," saidHall. "It''ll pop up for the players, and people will step up the pace a bit. But the police might spot it, realise what it is, and just open fire on the escape van. Then you'll have to hold out and wait for the game to spawn another one."
It's clear that Overkill have really looked to ramp up the variables in this game, and that's true of the added levels of customisation available to player. The tools and skills are more wide-ranging and varied this time around, allowing for true specialisation. Going back to the getaway vehicle for a moment, you can even upgrade the driver's skillset, with the game allowing you to splash a little cash for a wheelman who won't burn rubber at the first sign of a blue light, or one who'll circle the block a few times to keep your cover intact if you're going for a stealthy run.
There are four skill trees to work through, this time around. If the proverbial hits the fan, then you'll want to make sure you've got a tank-like Enforcer on your team that can act as both bullet-sponge and offensive heavy ordinance. For stealth runs, Ghosts will be essential, given that they can take out patrolling guards stealthily and disable security cameras. Masterminds are useful for crowd control, able to coerce hostages into co-operative action with greater ease than their fellows, and useful for intimidating and turning guards. And then there are the Techs, whose skill set directly involves the vaults themselves: faster, quieter drills; sentry guns for protection.
"By design you can't max out everything as you could last time," Viklund told me. "You might be able to max out one of the four trees, but in doing so, you won't be able to max out any of the others. And we wanted to do that to incentivise team play, and to make specialisation cool. So everyone feels like they're bringing something to the party."
Kitting your characters out looks to have been expanded too, with weapon customisation to delight gun enthusiasts, allowing you to build weapons that cater to your own strengths. You'll be able to personalise your own mask too, placing your own visual stamp on proceedings.
"Our motto on this game has really been 'more'," Vikland explained. "More weapons, more weapon parts, more choices, more shifting elements to the levels, more levels themselves, more masks, more personalisation options. But we also wanted to make the player experience a risk and reward element. Being able to spend the money you earn from a job directly is probably the favourite addition that we've made. But you have to think about it. It costs money to add parts to a weapon, and also to take them away. So if you find a gun you really like, perhaps buying two of them is the best way forward, then you can customise them into two different ways for different circumstances."
More expansive missions and greater depth and meaning to the RPG mechanics away from the action please us greatly. And then there's CRIMENET: an online hub, laid out as a map, from which you can cherry pick the multi-stage job you want to take on. Some are easier than others, all have anywhere from one to five separate stages, and you'll unlock larger jobs and a wider range of missions the more you prove your worth.
It's impossible to tell without going hands-on just how much of this will be realised smoothly, and indeed the code that Overkill had in for the preview was clearly quite buggy, early build, but their ambitions match up with what fans of the first game might have hoped for in a sequel. That original title was a flawed-but-fresh take on a familiar theme that proved to be fantastic fun at times. Steered by new overlords Starbreeze, it looks like Overkill are on track to make the sequel everything that we could have wanted.