Packing in all of the post-launch content added to the PC game over the past 12 months, Payday 2: Crimewave edition on PS4 and Xbox One has the potential to be the definitive version of the game. From a visual perspective, Overkill Software promise native 1080p resolution alongside upgraded graphics and higher frame-rates - the latter presumably in comparison to the existing 360 and PS3 ports. With that said, how does the Crimewave Edition of Payday 2 stack up against the PC game? Are we looking at any clear graphical improvements specific to these latest console ports, or simply a straight up conversion that delivers a nice upgrade over the existing console editions? More to the point, in an age where broken online games routinely hit the market, does Payday 2 present a robust, playable experience? Spoilers: Xbox One has severe problems right now.
However, in rendering terms at least, Overkill has delivered. Both console versions deliver a native 1080p framebuffer with all the benefits this brings over the game running on last-gen hardware. Image quality matches up exactly with the PC version, appearing fairly crisp, though quite unrefined - stair-stepping artefacts are clearly visible across long edges, and there are plenty of jaggies that frequently shimmer across the scene. A high level of post-processing softens smoothens over the presentation to a degree, with depth of field and chromatic aberration key in emphasising this effect. Initially a closer look at edges on a pixel level suggestions that some kind of rudimentary post-process anti-aliasing technique is in play. However, the PC game lacks anti-aliasing options in the video settings menu, and makes no mention of any edge smoothing modes in the game's render_settings.xml file, suggesting that any coverage we are seeing across all three platforms is perhaps just a side effect of the heavy post-processing in play.
Talk of graphical upgrades over the previous editions of Payday 2 sound rather enticing, with higher resolution textures and improved frame-rates touted as one of the main selling points of the new Crimewave Edition. However, are you've probably guessed, that's judged on last-gen console terms. As things stand, the PS4 and Xbox One releases look very similar indeed to the PC game running at its highest preset: the same core assets are deployed across all three formats, with texture quality, shadow resolution, reflections, and alpha effects all matching up nicely, though there are a several differences in the way some of these elements are handled across between platforms.
Texture resolution is reasonably high across all platforms, but the lack of anisotropic filtering lets the PS4 game down (trilinear filtering is used instead), resulting in a clear loss of fine details across flat surfaces a few feet away from the camera. By comparison, both Xbox One and PC operate with 16x AF enabled, allowing for more detail to present further into the scene and at oblique angles. In other areas, the PC game gains an advantage over the consoles in terms of level of detail (LOD) streaming, which is a touch faster, leading to shadows fully resolving more quickly - these elements feature a thicker more refined appearance from a distance compared to console. Meanwhile, alpha-based elements transition from low to high quality assets slightly more slowly on the Xbox One, where objects such as metal fences and railings take longer to appear at full detail than the other versions.
From a more general graphical perspective, clunky character animation, blocky interiors, and plain alpha-based effects for smoke and fire show Payday 2'a lineage as a last-generation game. However, environments benefit from the high contest nature of the lighting model, adding depth to each scene, while the inclusion of chip damage and mildly destructible scenery in the form of windows and cars spruce up the stylised but sterile locations on offer. Overkill's combined use of various effects in combination with the game's vibrant and colourful art style actually works quite well in recreating 80s-style aesthetic influences while also providing uncluttered environments that are suited for online play.
Performance-wise, Overkill Software held out from promising to deliver a 60fps experience on PS4 and Xbox One, instead opting to lock down the final frame-rate towards the end of development. The end result is that Payday 2 is capped at 30fps on both PS4 and Xbox One, with the developers forgoing the choice of an unlocked frame-rate in favour of maintaining a stable level of performance. While the lack of a potential 60fps experience is a little disappointing for an online-centric action title, frame-rates is generally solid across both platforms with the game solidly sustaining the desired 30fps in more action-packed scenes. Shootouts between cops and more heavily armed SWAT decisions go by smoothly, with explosions and alpha effects having no impact on performance. This level of stability leads to gameplay sessions where controller response and smoothness are mostly consistent, and are only interrupted by occasional pauses in the action that appear to be netcode related.
Thankfully, these brief interruptions are rare enough not to prove distracting and tend to occur at random rather than when the engine is under load. They also appear isolated to the PS4. However, it's worth bearing in mind that the servers on the Xbox One were not operating properly at the time of testing, and as a result all of our matches on that platform were effectively offline games - while we were playing using the online Crime.net mode, we were unable to join existing games and other players could never connect to our session either. As such, it's possible that the pauses experienced on PS4 could appear on the Xbox One when the online service for Crime.net is back up and running properly.
Indeed, the state of affairs surrounding the Xbox One version's status as an online game is currently shaky. Setting up and connecting to games often ends in an error message restricting heists to local offline play, and if you are lucky enough to get in on some online action, avoiding unwanted disconnections is pot luck. So far the issues seem to be limited to Microsoft's console, and doesn't extend to the PS4 game, but it's not a great start for a release that only comes alive when teaming up with other human players. Payday 2 can be played offline, but the inconsistent AI sometimes makes pulling off certain heists impossible, often leaving the CPU-controlled team mates standing around while you attempt to drill into several vaults at once in addition to fending off waves of the police. So, will online be fixed soon? We asked 505 for comment, and things are looking promising: "We're aware that a number of players may experience issues with the Xbox One version of Payday 2 Crimewave Edition. The cause has been identified and we're working on an Xbox One console update to rectify it. The latest update I have is that the update is in submission with first."
Despite these issues Payday 2 operates nicely at 30fps on consoles, but the fluidity and responsiveness of the gameplay is bumped up several notches on the PC, where it is possible to achieve far higher frame-rates. An i5 and GTX 780 will easily hit a solid 60fps with no further disruptions to the level of smoothness on offer beyond the game temporarily pausing when new players join a match. Certainly based on tests produced elsewhere, this title looks very light on both GPU and CPU. Aiming feels much lighter than on consoles and as a result quickly taking down approaching police offers and armoured up SWAT troops becomes much easier. On top of that, the netcode currently feels more stable, with fewer connection and overall stability issues - the PS4 experience in this regard felt pretty similar, but the Xbox One game remains broken for many in it's pre-patched state.
Payday 2: Crimewave Edition - the Digital Foundry verdict
Overkill hands in a solid, if unremarkable conversion of Payday 2 on current-gen consoles, with the game holding up well against the PC release - the same assets are shared across all three platforms while image quality is also a match, though we can't help but feel that 60fps performance should have been the target.
All of the Payday 2 DLC is also included for free with the Crimewave Edition, which is a nice bonus for existing owners wanting to double dip and upgrade from the Xbox 360 and PS3 ports. In terms of the two console releases, the Xbox One version's use of anisotropic filtering gives it the visual edge over the PS4 code, however, the broken state of the netcode makes it impossible to recommend at this point. A patch is inevitable, but to be honest, we're shocked that the game should launch in this state - from our perspective, it seems that every online-orientated title should be stress-tested with the public at this point. Payday 2 is designed be played online, and currently this aspect of the game functions far more reliably on the PS4, so by default it is the only sane choice right now.
As is often the case the PC version provides the best possible gameplay experience for those that have the hardware capable of running the game at 60fps. The experience is superior than the console versions, although this comes at the expense raw value for money: the standard Payday 2 game available on Steam lacks all of the extra DLC that comes packed with the Crimewave Edition on the PS4 and Xbox One, some of which has to be paid for separately, therefore representing a trade-off between out of the box content and performance.