Every fall, like clockwork, a handful of shooter games find themselves on store shelves for fans of the genre to gobble up. There’s usually three to four major titles, like your Halos, Call of Dutys, and the like, and then there are nonsensical games that try to take a slice of the pie. To be honest, it never makes sense because they all just seem like poorly done knock-offs, but a few catch my eye every once in awhile; Payday: The Heist is one of those games.
Under the premise of gathering with three friends and pulling off bank jobs, diamond heists, and escort missions, Payday is an ambitious title by Overkill Entertainment with the potential for a top-notch co-op experience. The game features three “unique” heists, an assortment of equipment, and is already set to deliver DLC with more content.
While this is meant to be an online experience, if no one you know is playing, and you don’t feel like socializing with the common folk, there is an offline single player option. Most of this review will encompass the latter portion of the game. When I tried to find an online game in the first few nights of the launch, no one was online so I spent those days playing single player.
Before I get too in-depth on the difference of single player and multiplayer, let me run over the mechanics, feel, and interface. The menus are easy to get through, with everything laid out in full view. You’ll choose between online or offline modes and then you’re choosing which heist, which difficulty, and who you prefer to play as. The latter is simply to distinguish you in multiplayer, I suppose, as it’s only a different mask and the game is set in first-person view.
One of the cool things about Payday is the upgrade system. There are three classes, but you don’t play that class, per say. You start with a standard assault rifle and pistol and, by leveling up, unlock a number of upgrades in whatever class you chose. By pressing the “select” button from the pause menus, or in the game setup menu, you can choose which upgrade you want next at the level up. While the upgrade trees are linear, the three trees are fairly different enough and offer a nice spread of upgrades. The only thing is, it is kind of tucked away and hard to find. I upgraded my assault tree three times before figuring out how to change my class. And, instead of XP, the usual metric for growth, cash is the golden ticket to leveling up here.
Each heist starts with a black screen, and a voice detailing the “mission”. there are essentially two types of missions, a “heist” and an “escort” job. I won’t detail every heist, but there are six in total, ranging from lifting cash from a drug house, breaking into vaults, escorting prisoners from point A to helicopter, and more.
While it seems like a nice variety, the mechanics that make up the heists all feel very much the same. For example, to lengthen the experience (who wants to just break into a bank and get out, right?) there are different timed events, like when a drill will have to sit there and do its job for 220+ seconds while you fend off police and tactical support. At some points, you have to leave that drill to do something, only for it to jam, so you have to run back. This is a prime example of why multiplayer is what this game is meant for. Because then, even if you didn’t want to split up individually, you could pair off and handle things much more efficiently. Sure, you can be Rambo with three escorts and do it. But it will take you longer, leave you more frustrated, and be a lot more of a hassle. You have the option to turn the AI allies off all together, but since they never actually hamper gameplay, I never found that to be a perk.
Your AI partners are useful to provide cover fire. Other than that, they don’t interact with the environments. You can bark out orders to innocent people, forcing them to the ground and giving you the opportunity to cable tie their hands together, or point out enemies by tapping a shoulder button but, again, you can’t direct your own AI team. The enemy AI is nothing fancy, it does the job fair enough by popping smoke, hiding behind cover, etc. I was never flanked or surprised, but they do come from unusual places and not just the front door. Towards the end of the first heist, special forces units came from the elevator shafts, which I found really cool.
The guns feel and shoot very much like a game straight out of the 90s. While accuracy varies based on movement and holding the trigger on your assault rifle, the guns just don’t have the weight of modern games to feel good, especially considering the top quality shooters on the verge of release. And this isn’t a “military” shooter, so you won’t be picking up rifles with red dots; only iron sights for you, my friend. And with random drops in framerate (offline, mind you) leaving the police skipping in the distance, it’s really a shame that there are only iron sights.
Gun selection is minimal but, with promised DLC, they can expand the selection. While each gun should feel unique or have perks over another (I only handled a few of them, and they do), adding guns will be easier than a competitive game since they don’t have to worry about breaking a “balance” system (wait, online shooters have those?). There’s a little bit for everyone, but you will have to work for it since you start with a standard assault rifle and pistol.
The big let down here is that the heists felt the same a second time. Sometimes a location for a task was changed, but I was under the impression that this game was going to be very dynamic and have lots of ways to interact with things. Shooting cameras hardly sounds like environmental interaction to me. There is no “grab the hostage at gun point and drag them around” or “jump in the get away car and leave your teammates for the police (I stole that idea from Chris Carboni, sorry)”. Instead, it’s go to point A, wait for timer, move to point B, wait for timer, move to point C, finish the level.
For $20, and released on the eve of one of the four big shooters of the season, it’s easy to see why when you search for a match online, only one or two exist and are usually full. I usually don’t feel the need to justify my score, but if you have some friends to play with, this could be a solid experience and one I know I will return to when things slow down. But it does have a platinum trophy and, for completionists, they will take time to wrap up.
Pros: good level up system, interesting flow of events the first few times, platinum
Cons: no one is playing, terrible partner AI, high price, lack of interaction options, repetitive formula