Guest Post: Can poor company policy ruin a good game concept? Hax Monster certainly thinks so as he reviews Overkills choices for Payday 2

Posted by: Jason Silverain / Category: , , ,

 In our brave new fast, technology-fuelled world, sometimes questions may arise on what should be considered normal. Should businesses be allowed to break explicit promise they made? Should an enterprise be allowed to openly ask for donations? The games industry in particular is an area where norms and values are quite unclear which also raises very poignant dilemmas. Should consumers be instructed to buy an X amount of content to be given trivial rewards? Should a business with 75 employees, a mother company and a publisher be allowed to call itself an ‘independent’ developer? Should you add the vast majority of your game’s content years after release and should you create downloadable content that is worth five times more than the base game?

 Don't forget that day 1 DLC

Perhaps I’m a simple man. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned and should have been born around the 1950’s when it was impossible to sell someone an oven and later on bring out a ‘chicken frying’ add-on for the oven which would only be available if I would have bought the oven again two times. I might just be so simple, but yet I firmly believe the answer to all of those questions above should be an absolute no. However, all of that seems to be happening today.

 4 men and bags of stolen money.

This time, my vague review introduction alludes to Payday 2, a game that is about bank robbing, but apparently the title also refers to the only thing the developer has in mind. I probably wouldn’t have deemed this possible ten years ago but this game has been made horrible retroactively. It was launched 2013 by Overkill software as a sequel to Payday: The Heist. The Heist was a simple, cheap four-player co-op shooter game about doing a bunch of linear, fairly cinematic missions to nick the arbitrary pile of valuables du jour. Shooting was all you did and missions barely changed inbetween playthroughs. It’s total runtime, without repetition, wouldn’t even outlast a long movie but the teamplay involved was enough to come back for if you had others to play with. 
Essentially, it’s baby boy Payday 2 is usually pretty open, giving you an entire area to freely use in the mission and only an objective. In most situations you can go in guns blazing and fight off the cops until you’ve got the loot and then transport the loot to your van while under fire. Alternatively you can try to stealth it up and sneak in, shoot every civilian because you’ve found out you can’t tie down ten people at once, then find out that one guard’s boss called him to see if that noise he heard was him devastating the bathroom with diarrhea again. Then boss man calls the cops and THEN you can go in guns blazing and fight off the cops until etcetera etcetera etcetera. 

I hope you are near the escape when these guys turn up.

Gunplay is pretty fun; it is smooth in the Call of Duty kind of way and there are enough special enemies to liven up the violence buffet, unless all special enemies are disabled because you’re playing on ‘normal’ difficulty, you coward! I’ve got to mention that I just hate it when a game names it’s easy difficulty setting ‘normal’, just to flatter the player. I can just picture the developer’s thoughts when they chose to do that: ‘Amazing job, player! Most ‘normal’ people would struggle through this but for you it’s a breeze, please feel so badass about yourself that you’re going to leave a positive review for us on Steam, mwah mwah mwah’ etcetera. But yeah, the gunplay’s solid. Actually it is even more solid than it seems, because it shares the problem with Call of Duty that enemy hitboxes are like half a meter bigger in every direction than the enemy themselves, making every enemy a big solid partially invisible fridge that you can hit from kilometres away. One little feature I did like was that the soundtrack’s bass drops when the enemies go and rush for your sorry arses, which legitimately makes you feel like a badarse. Afterwards you use the money you… ehrm… ‘earned’ to buy a bunch of useless gizmos for your gun and all that other standard upgrading nonsense and you just do all the same missions again. This really is a rinse and repeat kind of game where you do all the missions ten times, usually just on one difficulty too once you’ve found the one for you. 
Repetition is not what gets this game down though, I found the community to be relatively twelve-year-old free and most players are ok with making a little heisting scheme beforehand. The community is actually so good that I’ve met the vast majority of my Steam friends, including Silverain, in this game. A lot of the fun comes from the teamplay, but also from the hoarding sensation of shamelessly grabbing a big pile of bank money that probably belongs to some poor pensioner that needs it to feed her cat, you monster! There’s some weird fundamental joy to just grabbing a load of things to take for yourself, which shows that Payday 2 probably gives you the same rush as the rush that starts off a career in shoplifting.
Of course, robbing a bank is best done as sneakily as shoplifting and on that note I’d like to get into stealth a little more. Remember my shoot everyone-radio call-diarrhea-police scenario? Once you get to a slightly higher level and actually know your way around the game a bit (unlike yours truly, who didn’t know the button for grenades at level 90) there’s a possibility to turn this scenario around and when you manage that it’s a smoking gun barrel of fun. Of course there are your ‘standard’ stealth missions where you just wander through the big building avoiding guards and crouching all the time, but if the map is just one relatively small building filled with people you have to use proper coordination and teamwork to run into the building, throw electronic jammers on the floor that block cellphones, shoot all cameras in the vicinity, tie down the civilians and reassure the big boss man on the radio that it was indeed diarrhea and not homicide that just took place. All of that takes about 30 seconds so a proper division of tasks is imperative. The fun in that coordinated blitzkrieg robbery style really is the fun that seals the deal.

A shame it is then that some years after launch Overkill decided to tear the seal right off again to start padding their title like they’ve got ambitions to be a cushion producer. Mission after mission was released after launch to make people forget that Payday 2 had way less heists on launch than the devs promised. The new missions were either really stupid, like the Christmas heist, or were just record attempts at the most obnoxious product placement in gaming history, a record probably now held by the Alesso heist. What was even worse was that some of the useless padding, some Hotline Miami content to be precise, was not only product placement padding, but product placement padding with a sense of entitlement because you as a player weren’t good enough for it if you hadn’t bought Hotline Miami ‘What Was The Pizza Guy’s Number Again’ 2. That’s right, they are making you buy an entirely different game to get content in Payday. And then they repeated it recently with a straight face, demanding that you obtain an achievement in Payday: The Heist before you get certain Payday 2 content! 

 Before Alesso there was Wick..
Besides the neurotic level of padding, Payday 2 has head-butted quite a few promises to bits. Besides a lower number of heists on launch before the game’s launch, Overkill also recently broke the promise that Payday 2 would never have microtransactions. Then there was the ‘Completely Overkill Pack’, a purely cosmetic DLC that was sold for a ridiculously high price and which openly admitted to being not DLC but a possibility to ‘donate’ to Overkill and to ‘support’ them. I literally had to read that three times before I saw they were serious. Last time I checked the World Nature Fund did not change its name to ‘Overkill Software’ so what gives a company the cheek to ask for money for nothing? It’s just insane, I can’t put it any other way.

Then there is the cartoonishly silly idea of the so-called ‘hypetrain’. The idea is that players have to buy a certain amount of paid DLC and if the value of all bought DLC in a certain time period reaches a specific level, Overkill adds ‘free’ content to the game. You can’t really call it free if you ask people to pay money for it, even if you make them do it indirectly.
Now, because of my laziness and me preferring to play video games instead of writing ( what a surprise, right? ) this review took me ages to compose and in the meantime, for the first time in recorded history, the game’s community has embraced the same anger towards the game as I have. On the time of writing, the 15th of November 2015, Payday 2’s Metacritic user rating is 3.5 out of 10. For comparison, the critic reviews, which all came in around launch, are still at 79 out of 100. This low user rating is of course partly because of that anyone who slightly dislikes a game votes ‘0’ to influence the ratings as much as possible, but the fact that so many people decided to go nuts on it still says something. The Steam community page is no different and it is no longer a rare sight to see a player who spent over a thousand hours in-game write a negative review because of the game’s recent developments. Overkill’s reaction did little to improve things for me, especially when the company’s face, Almir, called Overkill an ‘independent developer’. According to Wikipedia, Overkill has a publisher, some 70 employees and a mother company. I think then you’ve gotten a bit too big to still try and be in the same category as bedroom programmers that really are indies and that genuinely try to do a good job.

Payday 2 had the right idea at the start. It’s predecessor let you do nothing but shooting down so many SWAT officers that you could probably earn more money by selling their radios than what your score was worth, but Payday 2 offers a bit more than that. This time around you are actually busy stealing things rather than just committing genocide. Like a pleasant park it was filled with openness, freshness, joy and dead bodies, but because Overkill decided to apply it’s namesake to their financial policies It is now like a park in Tsjernobyl: but a ghost of it’s former glory.
A ghost with loads of money, I hope that makes it up for them.

If you want to know more about recent developments between Payday 2 and the community, in the video below I and Silverain explain it to you

Jason Silverain here, I just want to expand on this since the video OverKill released the rewards for the Completely Overkill Pack which turned out to be a limited edition safe and drill with a random weapon skin out of a possible 25. These skins could not be traded, sold or gifted making it quite likely to get a skin you would never use and not be able to get rid of it or obtain one you want. You also got 7 free previously released DLC but if you had bought them already you didn't get an additional copy and in fact you didn't get anything other than the skin so they were punishing people for purchasing the DLC before this was announced. In addition this gets even worse as by doing this if people attempt to refund the Completely Overkill Pack would have the DLC removed from the game also even if they had bought them separately and these would not be refunded. Remember the Completely Overkill Pack was sold for £20 and the existing drills cost £2.60 so you can imagine people felt pretty left ripped off. 
The volunteer steam form moderators tired of taking the brunt of the community anger for Overkill while understanding and in some cases agreeing with the community went on strike. 
All of this has finally gotten through to Overkill and they have issued a public apology with some explanations to some concerns. However it should be considered that Overkill have proven themselves untrustworthy to a degree so the community are seeing if they will actually take actions to back up their words as to many this just seems like a hollow Public Relations statement since nothing will be done about the micro-transactions..if you want more information I recommend keeping up to date with TuffCookies post on the issue.
It should also be mentioned that Overkill has been attempting to improve relations through some of the free heists and the new free character and perk deck, it seems they are listening to some of the community feedback but it maybe some time until we can determine if they are actually genuine about trying to make amends or if they are trying to repair their reputation just enough that it won't damage the release of their next title.


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