Different forms of media have glorified bank heists and other high-stakes robberies, but now, thanks to Overkill Software, we have a game built entirely around this premise. The game is Payday: The Heist and it aims to put players behind one of 4 masks (Dallas, Hoxton, Wolf and Chains) while working on the opposite side of the law. With the inclusion of several unique mechanics and 4-player online co-op, can Payday: The Heist be the standout downloadable title this year amongst so many huge releases?
Let’s take a look at what’s HOT and what’s NOT.
Planning and executing criminal plans has never been so fun. Payday: The Heist makes each job intense and entertaining. Missions range from your typical bank robbery to releasing prisoners during a shootout on a bridge. All of these play out depending on your play style and the adaptive enemy AI. The AI is intelligent (for the most part) and will use different routes depending on their current intel on you, hostage placement and your location. During the first bank robbery, enemies poured in the front doors, but they gained intel on the group through the cameras on the walls. This is one of the first mechanics you’ll be introduced to. By shooting out cameras, you will effectively eliminate your opposition’s view of you, thus preventing them from knowing which areas are tactically advantageous.
Next, you have your R2 button or, as most will label it, the universal button. This button is crucial to completing each mission. It can spot enemies, yell at people to get down on the floor, interact with objects/hostages and command teammates. All of these options open up various gameplay mechanics. For example, using R2 to tell a person to get down and then using a cable tie to make that person an official hostage will add to the hostage counter at the bottom of the screen. If you can keep officers from freeing them, hostages can be used to trade for any members of your group that can be taken into custody. This is only the tip, however. The uses of R2 will come in handy for every situation.
The more standard aspects of FPS games are present as well. Guns aim down the sights and fire in line with what you’d expect from this genre. Combine these into ever-changing missions (of which there are 6), thanks to adaptive AI, and you have some addicting gameplay.
Payday was made for multiplayer. With a similar feel to Left4Dead, it’s no surprise that the game feels infinitely better when the computer AI partners are replaced by humans. Issuing commands and having friends take certain positions while completing objectives holds a special sense of strategy and satisfaction. The true heist feel comes alive when you and three friends work together to overcome the overwhelming forces of the police department, SWAT, drug dealers or whatever the game has decided to throw at you. These are enemies that adapt to your play style, so it’s only fair that all four players be controlled by someone with enough intelligence to adapt as well. This isn’t to say that the singe player AI is terrible, it just has some flaws that aren’t present when you have a living, breathing person behind each mask.
Payday: The Heist includes a ranking system, which they call Reputation, and along with that are challenges to complete and upgrades to unlock. Challenges work just like the ones you find in other well-known shooters. By getting so many kills with specific weapons or finishing missions while adhering to certain parameters, these accomplishments will reward the player with cash and, in some cases, a trophy as well. The upgrade system is very similar to a skill tree. There are 3 “branches” to progress through: Assault, Sharpshooter and Support. The player may switch between these three at any time during the game by holding SELECT and pressing X, Square or Triangle to highlight a new one. Each one awards different weapons, items and bonuses. Assault gets the ammo bag and can obtain extra cable ties. Sharpshooter can upgrade Thick Skin (extra health) and has access to trip mines. Finally, Support gains extra ammo and body armor from the start and can work toward a Doctor Bag, which deploys and works like the Ammo Bag. These upgrades allow for players to really get into their respective roles and choose a play style that they find fitting to them.
As I previously mentioned, the AI will change its approach based on available intel and player actions. This leads each mission to play out differently regardless of how many times its been played. Yes, the routes and objectives may stay the same, but you can bet that the placement of law enforcement will change. This can drastically alter your tactics. During one playthrough, you may find that most enemies didn’t prove too much of a threat. However, on a subsequent run they may utilize a different route to close the distance which may result in you learning that tasers aren’t fun at close range. Trying a different combination of players/roles to fill your remaining player slots can also add to just how different these jobs are completed. $20 rarely provides this type of lengthy entertainment.
The animations aren’t the prettiest aspect of the game. They can be a little stiff at times in certain areas. When civilians transition from being on their knees to hitting the floor the animation is less than visually pleasing. Same goes for the animation that plays once reloading takes place, especially when it comes to the pistol. Visually, this is the only point in the game that isn’t pleasant.
Surprisingly, the game does very little hand-holding. You’ll be tossed into each job with minimal explanation on what needs to be done or what’s happening. In one instance, the objective marker continuously hovered over the bag with the C4 explosives and did not show the spots to place them. Upon closer inspection, lightly outlined/highlighted spots could be seen through the walls and floors, but the game didn’t clear up this confusion. In another case, the saws breaking through the walls and ceiling were jamming occasionally, but I went on about my business unaware. This wasn’t remedied until I heard one of the computer AI mention the saws. However, while playing with friends online with headsets, these directions/hints are easily overridden by the various voices. Also, Payday doesn’t bother telling players how to change classes initially. Most of the game requires players to figure out most of the mechanics and menus themselves.
Payday: The Heist provides gamers with the chance to pull off some truly epic heists with three other friends. The interesting gameplay mechanics, radiant AI and unlocks provide hours upon hours of game time, not to mention the insane replay value. The animations aren’t that appealing, but even worse, the game doesn’t guide the players much to aid them in becoming expert robbers. Everything will be learned through trial and error and, to some, that may be preferable. Overall, Payday packs a lot of content while only holding a $20 price tag, which is sure to please anyone looking for an FPS fix until the big titles hit in the coming weeks.
[Editor’s Note: PAYDAY: The Heist was reviewed on the PlayStation 3 hardware. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]Payday: The Heist Review,