One of the delights of maintaining a healthy video game habit is the opportunity to do things, virtually, you’d never have the chance to do otherwise: pilot a futuristic fighter jet, for instance, or an interstellar spaceship. Or fight trolls in a Nordic fantasy world, or Redcoats in colonial Virginia, or just roam the post-apocalyptic ruins of Las Vegas.
Or – in the case of the first-person shooter “Payday” franchise – pull off a daring daylight bank robbery.
Such is the appeal of “Payday 2” (PC, PS3, X360; $39.99; rated M), the new and improved update to the 2011 downloadable game “Payday: The Heist.”
You play as part of a four-man crew with appropriate hard-guy code names like Chains, Dallas and Wolf. Working from your secret safe house, you’re contracted to pull off robberies around town by a crime lord named Bain.
Objectives change with the job. A stand-alone jewelry store robberies might require casing the joint and dodging security personnel, while more involved heists can be multiday affairs involving blueprints, security systems, meddling civilians and the arrival of lethal SWAT teams. Regardless of the mission, the game does a good job of communicating the next goal, and you usually have plenty of options in how to get there.
There’s not much story here, though: You pull off jobs, get paid, level up and purchase new weapons and equipment. As you progress, you can choose to specialize in one of four skill trees – Mastermind, Enforcer, Technician or Ghost. Depending on your specialty, you’ll get better at on-the-job duties such as cracking safes, setting explosive charges and jamming electronic transmissions.
Players who prefer stealth to shootouts will find “Payday 2” largely uncooperative, however. Only a few of the missions are overtly stealth-based, and sneaky solutions to other dilemmas rarely pan out. That’s largely because the game’s team artificial intelligence has a shoot-first-and-never-ask-questions philosophy. “Payday 2” is clearly designed for cooperative online play, first and foremost. As such, PC is the preferred platform, with its larger pool of co-op players fluent in text and voice chat protocol.
I liked the variety of missions in the game, and the random obstacle generators keep things interesting. When you replay a mission, the guards and security cameras may be in different places entirely, and the loot might not be where, or even what, you expected.
As you might anticipate, “Payday 2” is a very violent criminal enterprise indeed, with lots of guards, cops and innocent civilians gunned down as a matter of course. Parents with concerns in this area will want to stay far away from “Payday 2.”
“Phineas and Ferb: Quest for Cool Stuff”
Happily, I have a much gentler alternative. The back-to-basics platformer “Phineas and Ferb: Quest for Cool Stuff” (DS, 3DS, Wii, WiiU, X360; $29.99; rated E) should appeal to younger gamers, particularly those who are already fans of the agreeably goofy cartoon show.
“Cool Stuff” is a dead-simple platformer that requires the usual wall jumping and coin collecting (in this case, sprocket collecting). The fun is in the game’s playful sense of humor and kid-friendly storyline.
The gist: Stepbrothers Phineas Flynn and Ferb Fletcher are down to their last week of summer vacation. They embark on a mission to collect stuff for their Museum of Cool by exploring imaginative terrains in space, under the ocean and in the backyard.
Kids can also play as secret agent Perry the Platypus as he squares off with nemesis Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz. In any case, you can blow through the game in five or six hours, but younger kids will enjoy replaying the levels endlessly, in the same curious fashion that they enjoy watching the TV episodes endlessly. I speak from experience.
New This Week: Guitar heroics with “Rocksmith 2014 Edition,” Gotham crime-fighting with “Batman: Arkham Origins” and still more crime-fighting with “Lego: Marvel Super Heroes.”