We Suck at Heists: Hands On with Payday 2
As Ross Lincoln and I fire up our first Payday 2 round, teaming with two Overkill Software developers to make a four-man bank robbing team, things go … badly.
“Now, you’re going to want to try to stealth this as long as possible,” says Game Director David Goldfarb, looking over our shoulders as we begin our hands-on preview session in a Los Angeles hotel meeting room. “The current record is something like a minute-28, I think? Try not to let the guards see you–”
“Aww, dammit!” Ross cries.
We haven’t event stepped onto the street in front of the gallery filled with valuable paintings we mean to rob, and already this job is going to hell — because Ross hit the wrong button and fired three rounds at a security guard, standing at the front of the building. We’ve literally not even started this mission.
“Guess you’re not going to beat that record,” jokes creative director David Goldfarb, who’s overseeing our demo.
Despite the two of us being terrible, this is when Payday 2 is at its most fun. Following our developer teammates, we dash up to the roof of the museum, crack open a window, drop into the galleries and start searching for the paintings we need to boost. The cops will be here in mere moments; what started out as a stealth run has turned into a speed run.
Our job in the museum is to put the screws to a U.S. senator by jacking his newly bought paintings, and then (I believe) selling them back to him. It was here we got a look at one particularly interesting aspect of the game: Overkill has licensed the images of some somewhat well-known celebrities for the mission dossiers. The senator we were ripping off? Bokeem Woodbine (Crooklyn, Total Recall), at least as far as the dossier is concerned. It doesn’t appear he’ll be having any larger role in the game, as heists aren’t linked by a larger story, but it’ll be interesting to see who else shows up for a cameo.
We’re looking for paintings already marked as sold; one of our teammates has brought a saw as his secondary item, so we’re able to quickly liberate each of the works of art from behind the bars dropped by the alarm. As cops start flooding in, we fan out and protect our cutter, each of us snagging (and then being forced to lug, with a considerable movement penalty) one of the paintings on our backs.
Like most jobs in Payday 2, the end of the mission turns into a sprint to our extraction point. We move as a four-man team, picking off any cops who happen to get too close, and clear a path to the roof. One of our men goes down, back in the gallery, and I stupidly drop down into the center of a SWAT team to try to revive him. The two of us get grabbed but two of our guys escape — enough to end the mission, but with a penalty to our take.
As Goldfarb explained during our time with Payday 2 at E3 2013, the game has been tweaked from its predecessors to make stealing stuff actually a much bigger part of your progression overall. Every time you complete a job, you’re rewarded for the loot — but you don’t get the real “payday” until you’ve actually gotten away from the cops and fenced the take. In our game, we botched things so thoroughly that we triggered an “Escape” sequence after the end of the mission. The dynamically generated scene, taken from a pool of potential quick levels, found us crashing our getaway van with the cops in close pursuit.
The escape is a tough level to play through, requiring us to hold back the cops for about three minutes as our pal with a helicopter heads in to come pick us up. And because leaving the paintings behind means we get nothing for our trouble, we have to snag them from the back of our crashed car and bring them along. It’s an interesting system to have to constantly manage carried items, like you would in a real heist. When we’re all calling for Ross to drop a med pack so each of us can heal, for example, he needs to drop his painting so he can deal with the medical bag. Meanwhile, the rest of us have to cover him because he’s seriously vulnerable while deploying his kit.