Last week I got a first look at Payday 2, the sequel to Overkill's heist-themed co-op shooter. The presentation offered a hands-off run through of the game's features and a two-man mission, played twice, in very different styles - both of which proved extremely exciting. It was clear even from this brief glimpse that the level of ambition for this game is a considerable factor of the original. It no longer feels like an indie conversion (albeit a commendable one) of Left 4 Dead. Indeed, it feels less like a straight-up shooter and more of a fulsome heist simulator.
We'll open the vault doors to our preview of Payday 2 in a coming issue of the magazine, but hit the jump to see the shiniest trinkets we've plundered so far.
Your robber now has to specialise, putting XP into four divergent skill trees. Masterminds are better at crowd control, and turn corrupt cops to your side; Enforcers are your token weapons experts, dealing and taking a good deal of punishment; Technicians have improved safe-cracking skills, explosives and deployable turrets; Ghosts can sap cameras and jam alarms. It's not possible to be a jack of all trades - you really need to carve out a niche in the criminal underworld, forcing you to think about who on your Steam friends-list will balance out your crew.
Overkill haven't gone for the (presumably tempting) option of appending microtransactable goodies to your crook's personalisation. In fact, they looked pretty offended when I even suggested it.
All that specialisation plays an important role in the expanded mission variety. Each mission now offers a broader range of approaches, and some favour a softly-softly strategy more befitting of light-fingered crooks than gun-toting psychos. The choice is presented via a dynamic map screen: contacts pop up with new missions, and it'll be up to you which you take on. Some may be quick scores for a mere pocketful of dirty dosh, while others may require you to play through a chain of five or so phases - each lasting between five to ten minutes each. Your success in one affects your circumstances in the next, too.
This is more a fullsome heist game than its pureblood shooter predecessor. Now - as in the films which inspire the game - planning plays a much larger role. That's in no small part because you'll want to construct the perfect crew for a given mission. There are also 'assets' which you can purchase to help your preparation: maps which show the camera positions in a jewelry store, for example, or the codes to activate its metal security shutters - which will keep prying eyes and sniper scopes off the scenes occurring within. It's worthwhile casing the joint before going in, too - different dynamic elements may be in play.
Missions have been designed to account for the different skill biases: put your points into the ghost skill tree and you can shimmy open a window round the back of a jewelry store, knock out the camera feeds with a handy jammer gadget, crack a safe quietly, and then slip right out again before anyone is the wiser. Of course, such a restrained approach may leave some money on the table...
Money is heavy. Gold bullion is even heavier. Sling a bag full of it over your back and you won't be getting anywhere in a hurry. It's wise to plan not only for your escape, but for your bags' escape, too: you might think about setting up a relay, tossing a bag out of a window to a waiting accomplice. Nor do you want bags getting in the crossfire - a sack full of coke will leak its dollar value out of every bullet hole and the cops will try and confiscate your score if you leave it lying about.
It's all looking to be a thoughtful expansion of the Payday formula, and one which encapsulates the whole crime caper fantasy in a far fuller way. We'll have to see how the idea of creating a criminal career within Payday 2 unfolds over time, but the potential is prize enough to set any thief's fingers itching.