PAYDAY™ The Heist
Considering how much fun it is to be the bad guy, it’s surprising that there are not more games that allow players to tap into their dark side. One game that can definitely be added to the list is Payday: The Heist, from OVERKILL Software. Payday is a first person shooter where players can step into the shoes of Dallas, Hoxton, Wolf, and Chains, four career criminals who have no qualms about taking lives along with the loot.
Although Payday can be played with AI controlled team mates, the ideal way to experience what the game has to offer is by teaming up with real friends. The AI has seen some improvements since the game was first launched, but nothing comes close to pulling off a successful heist with friends. Unfortunately, it might take a while before you get to experience the satisfaction of victory as Payday is also a very unforgiving game, especially when you first start playing. The game offers six very diverse heists, where you must work together as a team to complete objectives while taking down the police and hopefully escaping with the loot. Most missions have a “Plan A” where you can do everything by the book and keep police intervention, as well as casualties, to a minimum. However, more often than not, something will go wrong or someone will slip up, which will require you to shift to “Plan B.” Doing so tends to decrease your chances of success and drastically increase the amount of bloodshed that will be required to make it out in one piece.
Despite there being four playable characters on offer, your choice tends to be purely for cosmetic reasons. However, the game does have three separate skill trees, and progressing your character through these will make them infinitely more useful to your team. Character progression is not tied to characters either, so you are free to choose whoever you want for each heist, while still maintaining your progress. The three classes on offer include Assault, Sharpshooter, and Support. While each member of your team is free to pick whatever class they want, it is usually better if these duties are divided by team members. If not, you might end up with a team of three sharpshooters, but nobody who can offer support. You are not bound to a progression tree either, so you can jump between them at will depending on what new skill or perk you wan to unlock. Some of the best stuff is obviously saved for last, so sticking with a particular class will allow you to reap better rewards. Increasing your level in specific classes also unlocks team bonuses, but the catch is that while these bonuses can imbue your team members with bonus stats, you don’t get to share in the fun. Instead, you have to wait until one of your other team members share theirs. Class bonuses can be selected before the start of each heist and you don’t have to do anything to trigger them as they immediately take effect. Whether it is improving accuracy or increasing the amount of time it takes for you to bleed out, these bonuses can be a real boon to the team.
Even though you are playing as a group of hardened criminals, they definitely know how to pick their missions. The game originally launched with six different missions, but a seventh was added for free in a later update. Each heist feels like something straight from an action and they take about 30 minutes each to complete, provided you do everything correctly. We love the variety on offer in Payday as you will be doing something new in every mission. For example, in First World Bank you have to stroll into a bank, locate the bank manager, relieve him of his key-card, use it to pick up a drill and thermite that was stashed by an inside, then drill through a door, erase some security camera footage, and then break into the vault. After looting the vault, you will then have to blow a hole through a wall and make your escape through a neighboring building. Of course, the police won’t let you get away with all of this without putting up a fight, so you will be required to take on scores of enemies each step of the way. The other missions range from a chase through crowded city streets in pursuit of someone who double crossed you, to shooting your way through a drug den in order to tow away a panic room full of money after attaching it to a helicopter. Then there’s the bridge mission where you get to break out a prisoner being transported by an armored convoy and a stealthy diamond heist in a high-rise building. The final mission involved taking down a motorcade in order to steal some gold bars, but a later update to the game also added the Mercy Hospital from the Left 4 Dead series.
While these missions might not sound like a lot, it takes a while before they can be executed flawlessly and even then there are five different difficulty settings to try out. Each mission also features a few random elements that can shake things up, so you never quite know what is waiting for you when you start your heist. Each mission also has a couple of “bonus” challenges that you can attempt if you are feeling particularly daring. For example, during the diamond heist mission you’ll spot sapphires in special cases dotted around the building. If you manage to evade the guards you can try and collect all of them, but as soon as you are spotted and the alarm sounds these cases will slam shut and become inaccessible. All of this adds a lot of replay value to the game and ensures that players can lose hours perfecting the missions.
One thing about Payday is that it is not exactly subtle with the amount of enemies it throws at you. In addition to a constant stream of enemies trying to perforate you with bullets, the game also throws “assaults” at you, which is basically just law enforcement streaming into the level from every available opening. Police literally start dropping out of the ceiling and crawling through vents like something out of a horror movie. The initially security guards and cops will also quickly be replaced with SWAT, FBI agents, and snipers as they try harder to take you down. Then there are the special enemies, such as tasers that can electrocute you from a distance, bulldozers who charge in with thick armor to wreak havoc and cloakers who can sneak up on you and down you in an instant. They can also pull of sneak tactics, like turning off the power if you are inside a dark building or throw smoke bombs at you to obscure your vision. In addition to the law, most levels also have a bunch of innocent civilians standing around. You can take civilians hostage, provided you have cable ties on you, and then trade them to the police to recover any of your team members who were captured. Just be careful as shooting innocent civilians incurs a time penalty for these trades. This is easier said than done as the civilians are morons who will run directly into the line of fire unless you constantly shout at them to stay down. You can also take the police hostage by ordering them to cuff themselves with their own handcuffs, but this is a lot more risky and there is no guarantee of success.
Visually, Payday still looks decent, but it is really starting to show its age when it comes to textures and animations. We noticed a lot of odd clipping when there is a lot of action on-screen and a few other rough edges. The game does allow you to pick your resolution and adjust things like anti-alias settings, texture quality, anisotropic filtering, and even color grading, but nobody is going to mistake it for a recent game. However, we do appreciate the fact that it allows you to adjust your field of view as well as your aiming field of view. The animations of enemies have been improved over the original release, which means they can now do things like dash and slide, but overall we have seen better. The audio is decent and the fact that the music is dynamic is also a nice touch. The sound effects are passable and there’s also plenty of voice clips, although these are mostly the characters swearing at hostages or shouting out the position of dangerous enemies if you press “F” while facing them. The controls are standard first person shooter fare and we didn’t have any issue with them apart from the way your character constantly flinches when hit with bullets, which makes aiming quite hard.
If you have at least two other friends to join you in Payday: The Heist, then it is still very much worth it. The game does have online lobbies, but playing with strangers is not quite as much fun, especially at this late stage. The game can also be played offline with bots, but if this is your only option, then we would suggest giving it a miss as it is not nearly as much fun. Not everyone is going to enjoy the zombie-like enemies in this game as they are not particularly bright, but it does make for very tense showdowns. The class trees also ensures that no matter how many times you attempt a mission, you always have something to aim for or something new that you can unlock, be it a new weapon or an upgraded skill. Since you can only take three weapons with you on a mission and bullets are limited, it means that getting out alive involves more strategy than what you might expect. So, while Payday: The Heist is not the most polished or sophisticated shooter available, it does offer a hell of a co-op experience, which is still surprisingly rare on PC. Our advice is to grab a few friends, pick your favorite character and strap in for some non-stop action.
- OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7
- Processor: P4 3 GHz or Athlon 3400+
- Memory: 1 GB Ram
- Video Card: NVIDIA 7800GTX or ATI x1900
- OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7
- Processor: Core 2 Duo or Athlon x2
- Memory: 2 GB Ram
- Video Card: NVIDIA 260 or ATI 4850