Despite some poorly explained mechanics, Payday: The Heist is pure and relentless fun.
What if a video game tried to emulate some of the most interesting parts of heist films like Heat or Point Break? That’s the idea behind Payday: The Heist, a rewarding and entertaining multiplayer-focused first-person shooter where the main objective is robbing banks (and other facilities) as fast and effectively as you can. The core action is simple enough: you complete a series of objectives in a specific order, including entering the bank, locating the manager to get a key, drilling the main gates, opening the vault, stealing the money and getting out of there as fast as you can. Everything sounds simple enough, but there are many things to take into account.
For starters, the police and SWAT teams will make things quite difficult for you. They attack in waves which means that you need to coordinate attacks with your friends (like Left 4 Dead, Payday can be played cooperatively with up to three other friends.) Make a mistake though and the entire team will pay the price. If a teammate “falls” in battle, for instance, you’ll need to revive him or her which not only takes time, but also prevents you from defending a given location. Additionally, you need to to pay close attention to your ammunition, since it’s very limited.
Additionally, multiplayer actions called “shouts” can be performed at almost any time. By pressing the “F” key, you can call out a teammate, order civilians to stay down, revive fallen friends, intimidate hostages, place saws, interrogate NPCs, tie down civilians and so on. Hostages are an important part of the heists. You can restrain civilians with cable ties and if one of your crew members is captured and sent to police custody, you can trade him back by exchanging him for a hostage. Alternatively, you can wait a few minutes for a crew member to respawn, but taking hostages is a faster and painless process.
There are also VIPs, a special type of character who must be escorted to a special location in order to progress. Escorting VIPs can be difficult because you constantly need to shout at them to keep them moving. Luckily, VIPs are invincible, so should you find in the middle of a shootout, you don’t have to worry about that character being harmed by the police or other players.
Finally, an important component of some levels are security cameras. Destroying the recording devices will make it harder for the police to find your team, so instead of deploying troops to your specific location, policemen have to spread out and look for you. It’s worth mentioning that not all maps have cameras, but the ones that do are extra entertaining because locating and destroying the cameras offers a nice change of pace.
As you can see, there are different types of heists and each of them takes place in a different map. Some of them involve robbing banks, releasing a dangerous convict from a van that’s transporting him to prison, stealing diamonds from a tower, retrieving a blood sample from a person infected with a zombie virus and so on. In terms of locations, there are banks, fortified buildings, bridges, skyscrapers and even a slaughterhouse. Maps are varied and while their objectives differ slightly, all of them are entertaining.
Payday: The Heist has a lot to offer in terms of character customization. Apart from completing individual mission objectives, you can also participate in challenges. These encourage you to defeat a specific number of enforcers, tie down civilians, revive teammates and so on. These challenges give you extra cash which works as experience points, so the more money you accrue through heists and challenges, the higher your level will be which determines the upgrades and weapons you have access to. Sadly, the way in which the upgrade system works is confusing to say the least.
Without a doubt, the upgrade system is the game’s most difficult aspect, since Payday: The Heist never overtly explains how it works. Basically, there are different upgrade trees and you can alternate between them at almost any point in the game (even during missions.) The upgrade trees include assault (read: firepower) sharpshooter (precision and range) support (self-explanatory) and technician (a combination of firepower and support.) Once you’ve selected an upgrade tree, you have to get enough money to start unlocking individual upgrades which represent new weapons, extra ammunition, cable ties, armor durability and so on. It’s worth mentioning that everything I know about this part of the game I learned through trial-and-error or guides I found online, since the game offers little to know information about it.
Like in Left 4 Dead (and most cooperative games for that matter,) teamwork is paramount in Payday. Constantly communicating, coordinating attacks, working together and assuming different roles on the fly is a must if you want to be part of a successful heist. In other words, there’s no room for lone-wolves in this game. Unfortunately, if you don’t have three other friends to play with, Payday: The Heist can be a harsh and unpleasant experience. To be fair, you can always fill empty slots with bots, but at no point do they behave like humans. They waste time, leave you behind when you most need them, refuse to follow basic instructions and so on. In other words, the artificial intelligence is laughably bad.
In the end, Payday: The Heist is an excellent game negatively affected by some poorly explained aspects. Its premise is inviting, but not all the game’s ideas translate well to its gameplay. But when it comes down to it, Payday: The Heist is pure and relentless fun.