This is still not a review but we might be getting close... or not. Anyway, Overkill/Starbreeze's PR sent out some review copies of the game to Gaming Blend's staff and we've taken the opportunity to play the game and enjoy some bits. One of the things that really stands out is the AI... yes, the AI.
I recently wrote about Warframe and one of the things I really liked about that game was the AI. We've come to a point in gaming where we should have better AI but it's usually sacrificed due to console memory limitations. Games ported to PC suffer the same problems that the console game does and then we're stuck in a circle-jerk of poor enemy AI.
Thankfully, Overkill learned from their mistakes with the first game, where the AI was just an excuse to work as a bullet sponge for the heisters. Never once did they feel challenging or as if they were adapting to your tactics. It was all basically the same thing over and over again and it was like being stuck in a Call of Duty mission where you just defended one area after another for a set period of time against AI who sponged up more and more bullets. The artificial difficulty conundrum.
Overkill overhauled the experience in the second game. The AI isn't just about artificially getting more difficult (i.e., sponging up more bullets and having better accuracy) instead the AI ratchets up the numbers and then uses that advantage tactically... yes, tactically.
First let's add a bit of context as to why the AI is done well: before anything “goes south” in Payday 2 you're usually dealing with mall cops, guards or bouncers. These low-levels aren't much of a threat if you deal with them quickly and efficiently. If you give them an inch to shoot at you or arrest you, they will. You can easily kill, suppress or intimidate the low-level opposition if you have the right skills, which is pretty cool.
Moving up the ladder, you have the patrol cops – these guys don't get intimidated quite as easily and they will try to put up a fight. The cool part about the patrol cops is that these guys can be suppressed if you have the right kind of gun. Shoot at them and keep them at a distance and you can buy yourself some time. They're unlikely to advance unless they attempt to flank you, but again so long as you keep them in your sights and fire their way, they're unlikely to move in on you.
The SWAT, rescue units, snipers and heavily armed police are a completely different story. These guys will mobilize on your arse and attempt to flank you. If you're not careful just one of these guys can take you down... yep, just one. Suppressing them is extremely difficult unless you have two people keeping them under fire and they're not afraid to toss down smoke or use gas and then rush you. What's more is that these guys will pull a Max Payne on you and dive out or roll out of the way before you can nail a headshot, making them both deadly on the sights and a pain to shoot. This is how AI should be done.
The tension factors of dealing with the higher-tier guys is off the charts, but Overkill actually made a bit of a chess game out of the higher-end police forces that changes their tactics: hostages.
As long as you have hostages and you keep them in your sights (and you don't accidentally kill them) it forces the police's hand. They can't necessarily rush you from all sides without risking injuring the hostages. Players also don't want the hostages injured lest they incur some steep penalties. The more hostages you have the more you force the police to use alternative methods for storming the gates.
Of course, while you're trying to attend to hostages and prevent the rescue units from recovering them, you run the very dangerous risk of holding up your teammates with completing their mission. It's a fine balancing act of risks versus rewards. As I mentioned, it turns into a tactical chess game where players have to think on the fly and use their wits and ironsights to their advantage.
I still haven't made it to the top-tier levels yet, so I can't comment on what the AI is like at that point, but so far the game has offered up the kind of challenge I was hoping Overkill Software would provide. For those of you who played the original Payday: The Heist and felt the AI needed to be rectified... well, it's been rectified.