Payday: The Heist Review

By Scott Nichols - Posted Oct 25, 2011

Payday: The Heist is a new downloadable title from Overkill Software. With an emphasis on team-based gameplay, Payday delivers a really killer cooperative experience.

The Pros
  • Co-op requires actual cooperation and coordination.
  • Flexible class customization.
  • Diverse mission objectives.
The Cons
  • Some inconsistent connection issues.
  • Very little instruction could discourage new players.
  • Single-player isn't really an option thanks to poor AI teammates.

Payday: The Heist Review:

As the debut title from Overkill Software, Payday: The Heist has a lot to prove, and the studio certainly didn’t make things easy for itself. To the casual observer, Payday may look like it’s just repurposing the Left 4 Dead formula into a crime thriller; however, after countless hours spent online with the clown-faced criminals, it’s clear that swapping zombies for SWAT teams is more than just a cosmetic choice.

Ocean’s 4

Few games let you truly play as the bad guys. Sure, there are criminals, cutthroats, and antiheroes that take starring roles, but their morally questionable actions are often justified away by some greater goal. Payday does away with any such pretext. The four-man gang consists of professional criminals with no qualms over taking civilian hostages and killing literally hundreds of police officers per heist.

In fact, what little banter there is between characters shows that they revel in the slaughter. These are deplorable human beings and, at least from a narrative standpoint, it is rather refreshing. On the other hand, Payday could easily become the new poster child for games “training” criminal behavior, at times making Modern Warfare 2’s “No Russian” level seem downright tame.

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But for all of their unapologetically amoral nature, the team is intensely loyal. This is a co-op game to its core, requiring that players communicate and move as a unit to clear each heist’s objectives. Downed teammates can be revived if you reach them in time, otherwise they’re taken into police custody and must be traded for hostages in order to respawn.

Payday: The Heist

Go For The Gold

The real stars of Payday aren’t the criminal quartet, but the heists themselves. Though there are only six missions, they offer a ton of variety. Missions cover everything from an iconic bank heist to infiltrating a drug lord’s safe house, breaking someone from a prison convoy, and breaking into a swanky hotel for an elaborate diamond heist.

Of course, nothing ever goes as planned, putting players through objectives that shift constantly. In truth, the list of objectives and complications won’t change when you replay a mission, but the location of those objectives will always be different, encouraging players to experiment with new routes and strategies on the fly.

Payday: The Heist

To keep you from successfully pulling off each heist are a seemingly endless supply of cops and SWAT teams. This is the biggest difference between Payday and Valve’s zombie romp. Enemies in Payday are smart, taking cover, using smoke grenades, and flanking at every opportunity. They also use security cameras as part of their adaptive AI, so it’s important to pay attention to your surroundings at all times.

Special units will also be deployed regularly, including riot officers, tasers, and tank-like “bulldozers” wearing heavy armor more akin to a space suit. Most menacing though are the cloakers, who look almost identical to regular SWAT officers but carry a one-hit KO club instead of a gun. Thankfully, players can highlight special units with the press of a button, alerting teammates before it’s too late.

Payday: The Heist

A Smooth Criminal

Payday gives players quite a bit of freedom when it comes to character customization. As you complete heists and objectives you’ll earn cash, which acts as experience points to level up your character’s reputation. There are three character classes that players can swap between at any time: assault, sharpshooter, and support. The class selection doesn’t offer any benefit on its own, but instead dictates what new perk or weapon is earned when you level up. It’s nowhere near as robust as the customization options in a AAA Battlefield or Call of Duty game, but it offers a surprising amount of choice without forcing players to sift through menus for hours.

Payday: The Heist

Payday’s downside is its reliance on being a co-op multiplayer game. There is a single-player option, but it becomes nearly unplayable in later missions since the AI teammates will never act on any mission objectives, leaving you to do all of the dirty work solo. But once you manage to connect to a game (which took a few too many tries in my experience) it’s a hard game to put down. Ultimately, Payday will live or die by its online community; however, assuming there is a constant stream of players ready for the next big heist, Payday has hit pay dirt.