Payday 2 Review: Very Fun, Still Consistently Unplayable
505 Games and Starbreeze Studios new online co-op shooter Payday 2 is barely playable a week after release. Regardless of how functional the multiplayer and character building mechanics actually are, the main problem with the game is that matchmaking just doesn’t work. Indeed, at the time of writing, sitting next to my PS3, I have spent the best part of forty five minutes waiting to find a game, and had no luck.
The aim of Payday 2 is to team up with up to three other players and perform crimes around the streets of a fictional urban metropolis. By successfully holding off the cops and grabbing as much loot as you can, you make money to save, money to spend on weapons and gadgets, and experience to improve your character so you can pull off bigger, harder, moe dangerous heists. The four of you face a selection of 30 “hits;” robbing art galleries, laundromats, protecting cocaine, breaking into penthouses, and shipping drugs from under the noses of civilians, policemen, special forces, and worse.
When you get a game with four players, Payday 2 is a damn good experience. It’s how you get a game which is where the problems arise.
The game’s flawed but well-intentioned matchmaking system is called crime.net. It’s like a blueprint map of the city, across which available crimes-in-uteri appear for you to get in on. Singleplayer missions come up as circles which you can click on to open a room; multiplayer missions (with players already in a room) come up as a picture of four little figures. The more players, the more of the silhouettes are filled up.
This is where the problem comes in. As is widely reported on forums and reviews, it’s nearly impossible to find a match. Well, to be more accurate, it’s easy to find the matches, just impossible to join them. Apparently this is due to the unprecedented popularity of the game; Payday 2 apparently turned a profit from pre-orders alone. So Overkill Studios didn’t have anywhere near the server and support power ready to rock many thousands of players on a game like this.
Which leads to the problem I mentioned in my opening paragraph: you skim across crime.net, looking for jobs, and you see a couple that look good. A Watchdogs job where your only role is to protect a shipment of drugs, or a jewellery store heist. One has a single player waiting in the lobby, the other has two players. You move your hand-cursor over to one, and click on it, then click “accept” to join it. Oh, nope- “Error: the room has already been filled.” You can’t join. There were two people apparently in the room, but two more must have rushed in. So you try the other room, which still apparently has only a single person in it. But even since the last refresh: “Error: the room has already been filled.”
Regardless of how many players are in each room, Overkills crime.net servers just aren’t up to scratch. This is an error itself, basically, on their side, which they have been trying to fix in the week since the game came out. I feel awful for the people who sit in single rooms by themselves, waiting for someone to join- but nobody can. O, the tragedy of q8nfy and SYNDICATE_13 who must have sat for at least two hours trying to force people to join, but nobody ever did. I tried to join their games many times. Even sometimes when you make it into a room’s lobby, and the four hauntingly-masked criminals are standing there all badass waiting to start a heist, the game will never begin. It will perennially say “Waiting For Server” in the corner, and the server will never get back.
Aside from this horrifically awkward and broken matchmaking system, Payday 2 itself is very fun, engaging co-op crime game. The first time you make it into a four-player match, and things quickly go from worse to worst, police pouring in from all angles as you try to secure your loot in cashbags and make a run for it, it’s thrilling as hell. There are still problems, even in the gameplay: while the gunplay and game mechanics are good fun, the game’s hit-reg is some of the worst I’ve ever seen. Bad guys sometimes have the physicality of spectres. Occasionally it feels like the realistic off-aim of a real weapon, but most of the time your bullets just hit nothing, even though you’re aiming unequivocally straight at a guy.
Still, most of the time this isn’t an issue, and the game’s fantastic selection of missions, as well as it’s clever upgrading system can keep you going for many hours. The skill tree is fantastic. To break it down for you, criminal abilities are categorised into: Mastermind skills, which are useful abilities for supporting your team and dealing with hostages and police; Enforcer skills, which are based around mostly gun buffs and aggressive ability upgrades; Technician skills, specialising in gadgets and safe-breaking kinds of kit; and Ghost skills, which let you bypass security, locks, and play stealthy more easily.
Every perk tree looks useful and promising- it’s just nearly impossible to get enough skill points to really explore it.
I’m supposed to be reviewing this game, but because of the totally arbitrary matchmaking system, I’ve only made it onto the second or third tier of each skill tree. And every one has six tiers after you unlock them. There’s tons to do and try, and with scaling difficulty levels for all the Hits (from zero stars, just beat cops, to three stars, full-body armour SWAT teams), there’s also a lot of replayability. Apparently plenty of missions are possible to 100% stealth if you play your cards right, forcing security guards to the ground, cable tying their hands, knocking cameras offline, getting in and out fast. There’s an unbelievably huge scope for brilliant team-based play with friends here.
It’s a deep and fun game, you just can’t play it.
Leave your purchase for at least a few weeks until they fix this. Hopefully they’ll even add a quick-match system, as right now having to scrolls ever-so-slowly over to matches on crime.net is totally counter productive.
As of now, I’ve started receiving “ERROR: Failed retrieving games” notices. Which hopefully means Overkill are starting to reboot servers to deal with stuff. Watch this space.