Payday 2 PS3 review – Co-op smash and grab makes off with only some spoils

Why this isn’t just one title in a bustling, oversaturated mass of bank heist games is one of the industry’s greatest mysteries. Busting open safes, stuffing bags full of cash and shouting things people would say in Tarantino movies at people who are desperately trying not to wee on jewellery store carpets – these should have been gaming clichés since the days of Pac-Man.

PayDay 2 PS3 review

As it happens, they are not. Payday 2 exists in a peculiarly spacious niche, offering four-player online co-op heisting mixed with a wave-based survival element. It’s capable of stealth, tactical depth and mindless five-oh blasting within the space of a single job.

This sequel’s raison d’être is to deepen its co-op aspect with four class trees; hold your interest with character levelling, mask customisation and post-game loot drops; broaden the possible approaches to jobs; and make the whole experience feel less like it’s held together with string than its predecessor. All things considered, though, it’s the concept itself that remains the game’s biggest draw.

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Oh, I could tell you things that happen to me during Payday 2’s jobs that would make you reach for your trusty ‘shut up and take my money’ line in excitement. How about the time I bust into a nightclub, drill a safe and make off with four gym bags of cash without a single soul knowing about it?

Or the flawless bank heist when I pull on my clown mask, walk through the front door and shoot the security camera at the exact second my accomplice melees the guard and answers his walkie-talkie to avoid suspicion. Meanwhile, a third clown smashes through a side window and places a thermal drill on the vault door as the final crim follows me in and cable-ties every shivering, terrified patron to use as leverage in hostage negotiations should it all go south. We have the entire bank at our mercy, and no one has even called the cops yet.

But stop. Drop your Philip J Fry meme and stay down, motherf… sorry, force of habit. Anecdotes like that give the impression Payday 2 delivers exactly what you’d wish for in a four-player co-operative heist. Sadly, this is a façade dislodged all too easily by weak AI and distinctly homely graphics that give the impression this is a game that’s been on your to-do list since 2007.

It’s the AI that proves the real immersion-buster. One second you’re shooting your way out of a bank and into the street full of SWAT teams, feeling like Robert De Niro in Heat. Then you reload, and notice they’re not shooting back at you. They’re not even looking at you.

More frustrating is the unpredictable suspicion system.
You’re often left guessing why you’ve been detected,
like Agent 47 in those wilfully obtuse early Hitman games.

More frustrating is the unpredictable suspicion system. You start each level in Casing mode, weapons hidden, able to scope out the job before masking up. Ostensibly, if you get too close to security staff, they’ll suss you out. In reality you’re often left guessing why you’ve been detected, like Agent 47 in those wilfully obtuse early Hitman games. Either that or you realise that because you stepped into the club after the bouncer said, “Come on in”, but before he moved to the side, you got rumbled. Fourth wall: shattered.

You figure these idiosyncrasies out in time, however, because you play each mission many times over. That’s both a blessing and a curse – each playthrough uncovers new possibilities, as well as incentivising greater specialisation as a Technician, Ghost, Mastermind or Enforcer. But when a game promises 30 missions only to serve up slight variations on the same six or seven levels, you’re left feeling vaguely hustled.

And yet, in spite of itself, Payday 2 is fun. Not the kind of slick, cinematic enjoyment you’re expecting, but a messier, anarchic experience bolstered by excellent weapon feedback and a broad choice of approaches. It simulates the botched bank job with unintentional vigour, but its shaky mechanics hold it back from becoming the smooth criminal it so wants to be. A sequel with increased complexity but no more finesse than the original. Payday 2 has a swag bag full of worthy ambitions, but overstretches when it comes to execution.


Our Score

Score: 7