The first Payday was a modestly successful co-op crime-'em-up that saw you and three buddies teaming up to pull off heists, including a memorable homage to the bank robbery scene in Michael Mann's Heat. Payday 2 continues this tradition, but on a much grander scale.
While the first game had six standalone jobs, the sequel has over thirty, some of which are made up of multiple stages. 'Cause and effect' is a term the developers at Overkill Software are using a lot, and decisions you make in one level can directly affect another - for better or worse.
At the centre of everything is CrimeNet, which is like an online job centre for criminals. A map is dotted with contracts, each offering different gameplay types and rewards. Your character is persistent, MMO-style, and completing jobs earns you money that you can use to improve your effectiveness as a criminal, allowing you to take on more dangerous, and lucrative, contracts.
There are four skill trees to work through, each representing a different class. Ghosts can silently take out guards and disable CCTV. They're vital if you want to get through a mission without alerting anyone or being spotted - something that, with proper planning, is entirely possible.
Enforcers are tanks who can soak up damage and use heavy weapons; perfect if you have to blast your way out of the front entrance. Masterminds can convince civilians to revive them if they're incapacitated, and intimidate guards to turn on their allies. Techs are gadget experts who can set up sentry guns and break into vaults and secure areas with fast, silent drills.
Before each job, you can spend money on assets. These include things like a code to open security shutters should you trip the alarm, or a getaway helicopter to make escape easier. Each time you play a map, some elements are randomly generated. A store might have a metal detector at the entrance in playthrough, and not in another. Guards and alarms are also randomised.
The mission we saw was a robbery of a high street jewellery store - a low level crime that you'll be doing a lot of early in your criminal career. Deciding to go for a stealthy approach, both players sneak around to an alley behind the store and one of them, a Ghost, quietly kills a lone patrolling guard, slings him over his shoulder in a body bag, then deposits him in a dumpster.
A back window is open, so this time it's the turn of the Enforcer to work for the group, who creeps in and walks through an office right through to the front of the store. At this point he doesn't have his mask on, or any weapons showing, so nobody reacts. That is, until a suspicious employee spots him and sounds the alarm, which causes metal shutters to come crashing down, blocking the only escape route. Luckily, our Enforcer purchased a release code as an asset before the job.
Back in the alley, the Ghost is cut off from his buddy. Inside, the Enforcer punches in the code and the shutters rise up, only to reveal an army of cops on the street outside. He smashes nearby display cases, grabbing fistfuls of jewellery, before charging through the front door, firing at the cops. But he's killed, and the Ghost has no chance of escaping.
The guys from Overkill who were controlling the demo look sheepish. "This isn't some scripted demo," they say. "Things can go wrong because of the random elements. The last time we did this we managed to grab the loot without being spotted." In the next demo they do much better, ferrying bags full of cocaine to a drop off point while being attacked by waves of SWAT.
Payday 2 provides a unique spin on co-op first-person shooting, and we love the idea of becoming a career criminal with friends, working our way up from lowly convenience store stick-ups to mass-scale bank robberies. The first game was excellent, but with the guiding hand of Chronicles of Riddick developers Starbreeze, which recently purchased Overkill, this sequel could be even better.
Payday 2 is due for release some time this summer