PAYDAY: The Heist Review
Game: PAYDAY: The Heist
Developer: OVERKILL Entertainment
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Available on: PlayStation 3 & PC (Reviewed on PlayStation 3)
“My daddy was a bank robber, but he never hurt nobody” was Joe Strummer’s classic refrain back on The Clash’s 1980 hit “Bankrobber”, and indeed to some, stealing large amounts of money from financial behemoths, or carrying out co-ordinated, calculated, robberies of diamonds and gold have always been seen as something of a victimless, even glamorous crime. There are many memorable, iconic scenes from film history involving kleptomaniacal set-pieces, check out Point Break, Dead Presidents, Oceans Eleven and Heat for proof, yet to date this subject matter, which would lend itself well to the videogame medium, has not really been developed into a standalone game. Until now.
Unlike Strummer’s fictionalised version of his old man, with this gem of a game, you will hurt somebody. You will hurt a lot of bodies. With guns.
PAYDAY: The Heist puts you in control of one of four impressively suited, grotesquely masked criminals, who, over the course of six well designed FPS missions attempt to steal vast amounts of money and other valuables, whilst using members of the general public as bargaining chips, and amassing a police bodycount that makes Grand Theft Auto look like The Poddington Peas. PAYDAY is not particularly subtle, so don’t expect a slick caper led by a smiling, suave conman like George Clooney, but prepare for a series of breathless missions that provide an interesting spin on the co-op FPS genre.
Obvious counterparts are Left 4 Dead and even something like Gears Of War’s horde mode, as you are plunged into various scenarios that involve your team carrying out the elements of each robbery one by one, whilst your enemies, the police and to a lesser extent security guards, gradually increase in numbers and ferocity. You can play either alone with three bots, or with friends or online acquaintances with a simple to use lobby system. The structure of the game is pretty straightforward and easy to pick up.
For example, you start out the first mission on the steps of a large bank, enter the building, and kick off the heist by finding and subduing the bank manager to steal his key card. You then have to use this to enter a specific area, find the thermite that your insider has helpfully hidden inside a copying machine, drill your way into the vault area and then use the thermite to burn your way inside to the cash. All the while, wave after wave of increasingly more tooled up Old Bill pour into the building, leading to sections between the tasks you have to complete where the game enters “Assault” mode and the whole things breaks down into a firefight as you seek to earn a reprieve from in the police onslaught.
The odds are stacked distinctly against your criminal quartet, with limited ammo and a health system that sees you become increasingly weaker the more damage you take, and longer bleed out periods between each knockdown the more your overall health bar diminishes, once the “shield” bar is penetrated. Your partners in crime can revive you once you are knocked down, but if your overall health bar is low, you become extremely vulnerable and need to have your wits about you to avoid the whole heist going pear-shaped.
There are multiple different types of enemy depending on how hairy the situation gets. Initially there are easy to dispatch security guards but, as time progresses, the cops will bring in snipers, riot shields, SWAT members that drop through the skylights, and heavily armoured team mates with shotguns and special units with tasers that are able to immobilize you (in a brilliant, controller vibrating fashion) as their buddies empty lead into you. The A.I. is not brilliant, so don’t expect a tactical masterclass from your foes, but as we mentioned the game is not so much about finesse as a frantic, increasingly tense build-and-release situation with the cops more like the feral zombies of Left 4 Dead than an elite tactical response unit.
As well as completing the individual elements of each mission, there are other factors to consider. There are also security cameras dotted around that you can destroy, this, in the PAYDAY universe, buys you more time as the police are unable to track your progress. Being a crime played out in public, there are also civilians to deal with, they can be taken hostage, tied up or even killed, although there are penalties for doing so. You can use hostages as bargaining tools, they can be swapped between heists with the police to revive a team member who has been permanently taken out of the action, but be warned that when you take hostages expect increased measures by the police who will duly send in rescue squads. The whole civilians side of things was, for me, the most disappointing part of the game. In open play, the public always seem to have a knack for ending up in the line of fire, and there is nothing you can really do with the hostages in-play other than shout at them to maintain order; we would have liked to have seen this crucial part of a bloodthirsty robbery explored a little deeper.
There are six varied missions, and the way the action unfolds is pretty much entirely different each time you play, depending on how you approach the mission. Going gung-ho will lead to a near-immediate police assault that makes getting away very difficult, however maintaining a bit of decorum and using some stealth can buy you more time. Without wanting to give too much away, we particularly enjoyed the excellent Diamond Heist that is set atop a huge skyscraper. It is easily the best mission on offer, and is an ample reward for surviving the five that precede it. Depending on how well you do, you can upgrade your weapons load-out between missions, with the various guns available being improved based upon experience (i.e how many boys in blue you waste with it) and new weapons being unlocked along the way. You can also level up each of your four-man squad with different experience classes to spend your experience points on so, depending on how you decide to go, you can improve your team and have one chap who is proficient in weaponry, another who is a dab hand at tying up hostages, and a medic who can revive team mates more quickly. It is a surprisingly deep levelling system, and means that you will want to revisit the missions you have already completed to attain better scores and develop your elite squad of criminals to their full potential.
Whilst on the front end the sublimely creepy masks of your unit look brilliant, the in-game graphics are functional at best with a fair few glitches spotted along the way. The environments are crisp enough and some scenes, such as the inner city sections you have to run through in the second level, look cool. Don’t expect wonders in the visuals department, because there is a good amount of clipping and sub-par animation along the way. The under-developed graphics are offset by the excellent music and the way it is implemented. The tunes, which range from banging techno to well crafted pop, is designed to build and build into a cacophony the further you progress with each mission. In the same way a superb Lalo Schifrin score made movies like Dirty Harry all the more exciting, the way the sound interacts with the on-screen action here is highly memorable and adds to the already excellent atmosphere as you become overwhelmed by swarming enemies, desperate to get away with your criminal plans.
VERDICT: PAYDAY: The Heist is a highly original concept, shoehorned into a budget version of a more polished squad based shooter like Left 4 Dead. For the price, it offers enough originality and excellently paced thrills to warrant a purchase. I would be intrigued to see what developers Overkill could do if they were given more time and a bigger budget to work with, because with some more care and attention and a bit more finesse, you could be looking at a winning franchise.