If it weren’t for the whole “spending the rest of your life in prison” thing, and a high death rate, living a life in the high-class crime world would appear to be exhilarating. Think about movies such as Point Break and Ocean’s 11; those guys are having the times of their lives but unfortunately, many of them end up paying the ultimate price. If only there was a way to experience something like that without fear or worry of hurting yourself or others. Thanks to Overkill software, there is and it is called Payday: The Heist.
Payday is something like a criminal version of the Left 4 Dead series. You and three buddies will team up and attempt to pull off one of 6 different heists. In this world though, it isn’t giant swarms of zombies that you have to worry about but instead it is wave after wave of bank guards, drug runners, police and SWAT members as well as the occasional turncoat. Things are also a little bit more structured in this world as well. You and your crew will be given a series of objectives to complete to accomplish one main goal and if you manage to pull it off, you will all walk away a couple of hundred thousand dollars richer (in the game world that is).
There are a total of 6 missions included in the game which run the gamut from a simple bank robbery to extracting a safe room from a drug house and hijacking a huge shipment of gold. Each one varies drastically from the other which results in an exhilarating experience regardless of the mission chosen. Thankfully, things within each of the heists are switched up a little bit each time you play as well; things won’t always play out the way that they did during your previous experience. The next time that you launch the bank robbery, the bank manager, who is a key component to your plan, may be in a completely different area of the bank. Those gas cans that you need during the Heat Street mission to smoke out a traitor are disbursed to different areas each round. This variation works to keep you on your toes during subsequent play-throughs and breaths a bit of fresh into the experience each time you play.
Make no doubt about it though, the name of the game here is cooperative play. You and your team will need to work together like a fine tuned machine to complete your objectives. You do have the option of playing through the missions alone but you won’t want to as the AI of your computer controlled teammates is practically nonexistent. When the AI controls a member of you team, it is no different and a mobile sentry turret that will spray bullets at your enemies. They will never (EVER) lift a finger to help you accomplish one of the numerous objectives required to pull off a given heist.
You know those cans of thermite that you need to burn through the floor in the bank to get to the vault? You had better plan on making multiple trips to and from their drop off point because you will have to move them all yourself. Don’t expect any help restarting a given drill or saw on a job, that is your sole responsibility. It would have made a ton more sense if the developers had included some sort of way for players to give orders and commands to the AI controlled partners in order to alleviate the pressure of carrying the workload by yourself, but they didn’t. For that reason, playing alone serves no real purpose other than giving you a chance to learn the maps and general order of operations for a given heist. If you really want to experience a job, you need to team up with real life players.
Playing a game with 3 other users is when the true charm and thrill of the Payday experience comes to life. Things are much easier when you have competent partners who are more than willing to carry their share of the criminal load. Unfortunately, putting together such a team becomes an experience of trial and error above all else, unless you have friends ready and willing to play. This is because the matchmaking service of the game is filled with problems. First off, rarely will the game search tool return more than a single result at a time. Occasionally you may find your search screen filled with 2-3 available games, but those instances are truly few and far in between. It wasn’t until I sent a couple of friend requests to gamers I ran into during my occasional online matched that the true joy of the game became apparent.
Getting a game together can be a chore, as I have said, but once you get your crew together and actual launch your heist; there is a ton of fun to be had. Payday’s two biggest strengths are its addictive gameplay and overall fun factor. Playing the game with your friends is, without a doubt, one of the most enjoyable gameplay experiences available online today. There is a ton for you to do in order to complete your objectives and that is why it is important to bring along a couple of competent friends. You will need to do more than just mow down your attackers with a variety of guns; you need to take and control hostages, manage a variety of materials and tools required to reach your ultimate goal, and be mindful of the legal onslaught that is constantly headed your way.
The game definitely keeps you on your toes and moving at a hectic pace. Most of the missions give you a bit of time to get your bearings and get situation before you initiate the heist and everything “hits the fan’. This is usually a good time to scout out your environment and get yourselves into position to get things done quickly and effectively. Doing so also becomes easier the more that you play the game as you will increase your character’s ‘reputation”. The reputation is Payday’s version of leveling your player and the higher your rep becomes the more tools and weapons you will be given to complete your objectives. Things start off relatively simple, with your characters armed with nothing more than a pistol, a machine gun, and a couple of wire ties for taking hostages. As things progress though, your weapons become exponentially more powerful and you will earn additional assets such as deployable ammo bags, health kits, armor, and plenty more. Considering that there are well over 100 levels of reputation to earn, there is always season to play just one more match.
In addition to increasing your reputation by simply taking out enemies and completing objectives, the game also presents you with a wide variety of challenges to complete which make the progression even quicker (and more enjoyable). Challenges can range from taking out a set number of enemies with a given weapon or performing certain tasks adequately. Just like your arsenal, the variety available to you grows over time as you progress through the ranks, once again spurring you to continue driving forward and to play more and more.
As fun as Payday is when things come together, its biggest downfall is the game’s lack of polish. Just about everything in the game is “rough around the edges”. This includes bland textures and graphics to “loose” gunplay mechanics. The actual gunplay in the game just isn’t as refined as the major shooters in the industry and things feel a bit “loose” most of the time. It gets the job done though and ultimately that is what matters. The game also expects you to know how a lot of the game’s functions work without explanation. It’s a great thing when you obtain a new rank in your reputation, and the game throws all of the bells and whistles of telling you that you have done so and that you have unlocked new features, but nowhere in the game world does it explain to you where you need to go to equip or make use of said features. You are just sort of left to find things out for yourself. It is pretty easy to do once you find the equipment and load out screen, but until you find out it will feel as if all of your work was for nothing.
The game also fails to tell you what is going on in many occasions during the actual heists. Some of your objectives can take quite a bit of time, such as burning through the floor of a bank or smoking out a hostage that you need out of a car; you are given little to know indication as to how long you need to wait and you often find yourself questioning if you are even doing things correctly. At these [points in time, the game becomes a waiting game where you simply need to hold the fort until it tells you that you can proceed. The problem is, you aren’t made aware of this at any point until you are given the go ahead to move on.
While some of these complaints may come across as game-breaking issues to some players, the truth is that they are anything but when you take the entire package into consideration. Payday is one of those games where the complete package combines to be better than any one of the individual parts. There are many parts of the game which are rough around the edges such as loose gunplay mechanics and a severely troublesome matchmaking system. When everything comes together, in an actual game with 3 of your friends, it becomes true gaming bliss. There is a ton of fun to be had here, as long as you aren’t turned away by the problems you will undoubtedly experience along the way.