Like the best laid plans of mice and men, any preparations made for my assault on the vault below Waterloo had been decimated before the main event, an ironic precursor to the events that transpired during my preview of Payday 2.

Upon entering the vault I was greeted with a wadge of cash (not real unfortunately) and a freaky looking clown mask, all culminating in an interview with Andreas Hall-Penninger, where storms, tag lines and my future as a career criminal were the topics of discussion.

I was instantly thrown into the pre-planning phase for our team’s upcoming heist, the robbery of a local bank. Strutting out of a white van, our objective is to drill into the vault and get out with the cash. It’s a shame none of us really grasped what we were doing.

Blindly we walked into a restricted area and triggered an alarm. Donning our masks and pulling out weapons as we ordered civilians to get down. Eventually we found the drill in the car park outside, but not before the police had arrived and bullets began flying.

Our priority at this point was drilling into a security office; I took to the rooftops and provided covering fire as the police began raiding the building. At some point the drill had jammed and no-one had the courtesy to restart it, too caught up in the ensuing battle and wasting crucial minutes and allowing some of the tougher arms of the law to set up shop around the bank.

Eventually we got into the security office and began breaching the vault, the not-so trusty drill back on point. I once again ascended to the rooftops to be greeted by the laser sights of snipers and a force of encroaching SWAT officers. I’d left a sea of bodies in my wake, but by the time the vault was opened I was dangerously close to dead man’s click.

It didn’t help that an array of iron bars separated us and the money, a bitter irony considering the predicament we’d gotten ourselves into. With the drill doing its thing, I called out to my partners in crime for an ammo bag, only to realise our team had all opted for the coolest sounding gadgets rather than the most practical. Even I was playing the martyr with the health kits.

We knew it was over, the riot shields were coming in and an intense 15 minute stand-off we met our end. It was my first attempt at the bank heist, but far from my last.

The beauty of Payday 2 is its focus on co-op, coupled with elements of randomisation to keep the game fresh. These become more pronounced the more acquainted with a heist you become. Earlier I mentioned three instances of drilling during my first crack at the bank heist, so it might surprise you to find out that your average bank heist has only one instance of drilling and that the security office that wasted so much time did not exist during my subsequent playthrough sessions (though admittedly you could see a mark on the environment as to where it would be). There are subtle changes to each match as well, from the location of the getaway vehicle to the number of guards and security cameras.

Thankfully my second attempt at the bank heist ran much more smoothly, as things tend to do when you’re spending around a third of the time drilling into things. The gaming gods had smiled upon us this time and the van was a little closer this time allowing us to make it out with a reasonable level of loot. Cleaning costs we’re pretty high, mostly because some sick son-of-a in a clown mask was executing civilians early on.

After clearing a heist you are greeted with a random loot menu where you can earn access to some additional customisation options. We were talking to one of the games developers who told us about the infamous John Dillinger Death Mask, which is literally a one in a million drop.

One of the biggest changes in Payday 2 is that you can actually spend some of that hard stolen cash, on either cosmetic upgrades, like adding additional details to your mask or levelling up skill trees which affect how you play the game. Those looking to customise their character will no doubt have fun picking a mask, especially with a roster than includes the Alienware logo and Cthulhu, along with varying decals and paint options further customise your criminal aesthetic.

In terms of gameplay you can branch out into one of four skill trees – Mastermind, Technician, Enforcer and Ghost. Each of these open different options in pre-planning, for example Enforcer’s get the coveted ammo bag, whilst Ghosts get an electronics jammer. I noted earlier that these also affect the way you play; Ghosts are masters of stealth who are able to blend in and even bag up and move bodies, the complete opposite to the hulking Enforcer who excels in combat.

The customisation doesn’t end there either, tailoring your load out depending on the operation. Deciding whether to don a flashy suit or encumbering body armour are a few of the choices you’ll make when planning your next hit.

Payday 2 is right on target to fix its predecessors failings and turn exaggerated lengthy shoot outs with the police into something much more. Just don’t expect stealth to be a viable option when playing with randoms on Xbox LIVE.

Payday 2 is scheduled for release August 16th 2013 on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

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