Ever since I watched Point Break as a tender, impressionable teen, I’ve had a bit of a fascination with the notion of the romanticised thief. Real world elements don’t really enter into it either. This is on a similar level to the golden age of piracy, the old West, Viking Britain. We’re not looking at hoodlums robbing the good folk of the world, we’re looking at mysterious professionals in terrifying masks robbing the rich and sticking it to the man. Payday 3 allows us to continue living out that fantasy, just as its predecessors did, in a world where cops are faceless obstacles and innocent bystanders occupy the same space in our minds as tipped-over market stalls or bulletproof vests.
If you played much of Payday 2, you’ll be right at home here. There’s very little difference, although Payday 3 does add a handful of new mechanics to bring the franchise up to speed a little. Fair warning though: this is pretty barebones, as indeed was Payday 2 at launch. There are just 8 heists to enact, no solo mode at all, and fewer weapons and items right off the bat. More will likely be added, but it’s worth knowing that Starbreeze has rolled an awful lot back.
What’s been added doesn’t fully make up for it either, if we’re dead honest. While you can now move faster while crouching and even slide to avoid lines of sight and close distances quicker, the bigger additions include things like the ability to hack cameras and use hostages as shields when you make your escape. The shooting is considerably tighter, but still feels just a little bit sluggish compared to a full-blown FPS.
The gameplay itself, though, is largely untouched. Any opportunity to make the heists grander and really up the spectacle has been ignored. In fact the one mission that really deviates from formula almost feels like a step back, presenting a fairly straightforward action setpiece that doesn’t require a lot of thinking and doesn’t really deliver the bombast like it certainly could.
Ultimately, you’re still stealthing in, breaking a vault, taking hostages, and then chucking the loot into the back of a van as quickly and as quietly as possible, until it inevitably goes wrong and devolves into a shootout and daring escape. Played with people you know, this becomes one of the most tense and exciting experiences you can have – and provides no shortage of laughs either when someone accidentally thumbs the grenade button or decides a hostage is looking at them funny. Played with strangers, it’s okay if everyone knows what they’re doing. If not, prepare to swear. You can’t play solo with bots, though, which is probably not a bad thing considering how careful you have to be at all times.
A lack of modes means playing through all the content won’t take long, and then you’re into the grind of unlocking cosmetics, weapons, masks, etc. At present, unless you’re really into this specific gameplay loop, there’s not much incentive to play over and over again. What passes for a story is very slight, featuring some semi-static cutscenes with bored-sounding voice over that offers context in the form of the old crew coming out of retirement for one last heist. It’s as uninspired as it sounds and elevates nothing.
I’m also not overly impressed with how Payday 3 looks. Environments aren’t particularly highly detailed, NPCs share faces, a lot, and there’s something about it that feels too “clean”. Maybe it’s coming into this off the back of a first person game like Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, in a which case the comparison is hardly fair, but Payday 3 definitely doesn’t do an awful lot to capture the imagination with its visuals.
In fact, that’s kind of the theme throughout. What could have been a big, explosive threequel is really quite a safe, almost relaxed third instalment. It’s designed around those emergent moments that can only come from playing with friends, when you’re dealing with the fallout of a botched robbery and trying desperately to keep everything under control – or better, when it’s all going so well that you stealth around the bank and out again like Clooney on his best day, without a hiccup to speak of. More content will undoubtedly come, and there’s definitely enough here at launch for returning fans to enjoy, but all in all Payday 3 is quite a safe release.
More stealth options
Some strong missions
Relatively short at launch
Shooting still feels a little off
No solo content