Maybe You Should Leave the Mask On

So I was real !!! about A Merry Payday Christmas and I decided to watch the Payday web series, which I had known was a thing but had never bothered with before. This is a series of short episodes that elaborate on the Payday story, such as it is. Or maybe it’s some sort of alternate reality thing, which is my sincere hope and what I’m going to blissfully assume.

‘Cause frankly, the web series sucks.

I mean, I was with them through the first episode. A film version of a First World Bank heist, it was a little weird in that obviously Hoxton is not the Hoxton who’s actually present for that heist and Dallas is a lot more handsome than the Super-Mario-in-a-bad-suit that he was in Payday: The Heist, but I was mmhmming along with the show. The hand-to-hand fighting was a little too choreographed for the bunch of thugs that the crew are, which gave it a kind of amateur hour LOOK HOW COOL THIS IS feel to the thing. And there was that whole righteous scene about how they’re taking money the bank “stole from the American people” that I rolled my eyes at. Dallas looked like Clyde Barrow trying to imitate John Dillinger. Overall, though, I was enjoying it. Basic heist operation type of scene where everyone’s following a plan, but then things go awry. Much like the game, suspenseful. It was fun.

But Episode 2 and on was just secondhand embarrassing.

I’ll spare you all the details because frankly, they mostly deal with the contacts for the jobs in the games and much like the game itself, the web series does nothing to make you give a fuck about these people. Suffice to say, from this point on, it’s mostly people having awkwardly-acted sooper serious conversations occasionally interrupted by scenes with people fighting just to show off their rad martial arts moves that it makes no sense for them to have. Would you have guessed that Hector, the leader of a cartel, was a goddamn ninja? Yeah, me neither.

Aside from Vlad, Hector, and The Elephant, we also have a few new characters that we’re given no reason to like or wish to see succeed. There’s Gage, the wheelchair-bound arms dealer and apparently sometimes assassin. You might recall him as the face of the Gage Pack DLC.

And Greta the assassin.

Greta is a shitty character. No other way about it. When we first see her, she’s pretending to be drunk and flirting with a security guard in order to kill him so she can use his balcony as a sniper perch. This scene is so badly acted that I was honestly hoping the security guard would call her on it. Re-greta-bly, he didn’t and he got a shank in the gut for his trouble. Later on, we see Greta playing uncomfortably erotic at Gage and offering to fuck him in exchange for correcting the calibration on her rifle, to which Gage stoically and very manily refuses, because she has a black heart or a cold heart or some other such cliché horseshit. Then he has a flashback to the war or something.

There’s also a blonde spitfire FBI agent who’s trying to hunt down the mysterious source of Crimenet, despite that not having anything to do with her caseload, and her partner who just wants to do the work they’re actually assigned. They’re, I think, supposed to be the protagonists? I don’t know, the perspective in this series is fucked.

Like, the narrator of this tale of confusion is Bain, except it’s not Bain. Bain in the game is a controller, an eye-in-the-sky who helpfully let’s you know when police assaults are about to commence and handles hostage negotiations. He’s a criminal, make no mistake, but he’s likable. When you fail, he assumes the blame, because you guys are the best and it’s clearly his fault he must of have made some mistake in his calculations, but don’t worry, he’ll have you out of jail in no time. (Though the original Hoxton might note that this promise’s reliability seems to be going the way of Bain’s iPads’ and drills’.) Basically, Bain is your friend and equal. He’s there to help you.

Bain in the web series, conversely, is some sort of Dr. Claw-esque super villain. Rather than being a more or less equal if invisible partner to the crew, he’s some sort of mysterious overlord of crime to whom other lesser criminals defer and whose name strikes fear into the hearts of those few privy to who it belongs to. And he’s not just helping the crew perform heists. He’s grooming them for some huge job that only he knows the details of.

Interestingly, the crew seems aware that they are being used as pawns in this plan. Some, namely Hoxton and seemingly Dallas, are not exactly comfortable in that position. As Chains sagely points out, though, they are getting paid and that’s what matters. Still, we get to see some crew drama as Dallas gets onto Hoxton for not giving quite as many fucks about their current employment situation as he thinks necessary. Dallas is also a dick to Chains in this scene and it made me embarrassed that Dallas is the guy I normally play as. The game depends on you working together and being a team. Dallas in this scene only seems to give a fuck about (new) Hoxton, who by the way is his brother. Yes. Really.

Basically, the one scene since the first episode that featured the people you’re supposed to like and are supposedly the heroes of the story made half the playable characters look like assholes and shit all over the whole WE ARE TEAM ALL FOR ONE, ONE FOR ALL feel of playing the game. I would totally love to see more characterization for the crew and to see them having interpersonal relationships. In fact, if there was one good thing about this shit scene, it was that it made me like Chains more because he showed a little personality in it.

But having this series expand upon their character does nothing for the game if it makes everyone in it, both friend and foe, look like an irredeemable asshole. There is nothing likeable about anyone in this production, not even the people we’re supposed to identify with. That’s right, not even the spunky FBI agent. She’s annoying in a Hermione Granger kind of way with none of the endearment to counterbalance it.

It’s like the whole thing was about how GRITTY and DARK the whole game is, but when you focus on that and only that, you take all the fun out of it. By only showing them at their most craven and corrupt, you make everyone in it (including your playable characters) completely unrelatable. If I don’t like Bain, why do I want to work with him? With, not for. And if I don’t like Dallas (or any of the crew), why do I care if he survives a heist? If I have no reason to like the guy I’m playing as, if there’s nothing making me want to see him succeed, then why should I play?

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May 2020