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[Review] Payday : The Heist

Payday: The Heist is a very unusual game, placed in a market practically dominated by platformers. The PSN is home to few downloadable, exclusive first person shooters. To be honest, this is the first game of the genre I’ve seen there, but there must be another one. Most aspects of the game might raise similar questions, which eventually made me feel in doubt too. It certainly has aspects that are interesting and fun, on the other hand, some of them are lacking in quality and functionality.

Conceptually the game intends to put players behind different heists, all well worthy of a movie script… in theory. I was expecting some interesting game mechanics that would allow me to approach situations differently, or at least in a smart manner, but most of the time you’re just shooting your way through a bunch of cops and security personal to get where you want to go. You might not think this is a big problem, after all, the game is a shooter, but so is Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I’m not comparing both, but I have high expectations and standards, so sue me if you must.

The story development is basic, but it works just fine for the premises established. Each of the six levels has a voiced introduction to the mission; the same guy will be guiding your way through the heist. You’ll do a little of everything here, rob banks, diamonds and even break a prisoner out of a police convoy. The setting is usually interesting and makes for a decent change of pace between missions, it’s a shame that there’s so much shooting involved, otherwise this would be a completely different (and better) game in my opinion. All the shooting sometimes gets in the way of strategizing, which also play an important role here, especially when playing online and makes the game a much more pleasant experience.

However, if you’re more interested in solo play, prepare to be underwhelmed. The friendly AI is so bad you’re more than likely to think you’d be better off without them. During the heists you’ll be setting up some gadgets to help you make your way through the areas, however that means waiting 200 seconds for the thing to actually work, let alone the fact you’re usually dealing with about 4 of those at a time, if that wasn’t already overly boring, the timer for said gadgets might eventually freeze, meaning you’ll have to manually reset it. Basically you’ll be babysitting some idiotic power tool while handling various assaults of the SWAT team. Not such a huge problem online, if you’re offline though, your buddies don’t seem to think that’s part of their job, so you’ll be left with the task to do that all on your own while they sit back and have a cold one. I realize this was conceived as a multiplayer game, but anyway, it feels really awkward. Enemies aren’t much smarter unfortunately.

Playing online really makes the game shine though, communication is key to easy and faster success. No need to worry about all the gadgets at the same time, nor do you need to constantly check you six for cops, because your buddies will have your back, at least that’s what they should do. Your co-op partners will be of great help, they’ll have their own special gear (unlocked as you level up) and are able to perform some human exclusive assignments. It is remarkable how well it works when you’re playing online, I only wish it was easier to connect. It took my dozens of tries to get into a match, all other rooms were already filled. I don’t know if it’s because the game is fairly new, or if it’s just because I’m playing on a different region, but it is very disappointing when you have to wait 20 minutes to play a game.

The game looks decent, considering it’s a PSN title, and runs smoothly with no slow down problems. Textures and models are a bit too simple, sometimes feeling like an older title. Partially that problem comes from the fact the game is a shooter, one of the busiest markets today, making comparisons inevitable. Each of the levels presents different environments, but you’re bound to encounter some things over and over again, especially policeman, apparently Senator Palpatine is planning another Clone War. Jokes a part, the looks are compatible with the price and scope of the game, but some might find it lacking one way or another.
Sound design is ok, but doesn’t stand out. Voices are a bit cartoonish and stereotyped but portrayed the crooks well. Gun noises lack some impact and never feel heavy enough. The screaming on the background is actually very good, and serves as a decent setting to your robberies. It’s unfortunate that when you’re most enjoying the game, most of these aspects will be ignored while communicating with your crew, sometimes making you miss some audio cue said by your character.

The game is very easily controlled, however, feels a bit sluggish at times, sometimes I couldn’t help to feel like I was hitting enemies way too easily, maybe I’m just getting better at aiming with my Dualshock. There are 120 levels for you character to unlock, each will come with different guns, accessories and abilities, making for a great deal of customization that eventually makes all the difference. Some mechanics are very well designed, for example, you can cuff civilians in order to make them hostages, in case one of your team mates die or get cuffed himself you can use those hostages to bargain his release and get him right back in the action. This was a very surprising system that I’d love to see implemented in other games.

Overall Payday: The Heist is decent, but can be great when played online with friends. It lacks some polish seen on bigger titles, but offers enough content for a reasonable price. This is a game that incites players to replay levels over and over, trying to achieve better results and does a good job at it. Just don’t expect too much if you’ll be playing this by yourself, this is not intended to you.

[review pros=”Great cooperative action
Different from most PSN titles
Interesting mechanics
Lots of replay value if you like the game” cons=”Overall lack of polish
Dumb AI is most of the time annoying
Looses its charm when playing solo offline” score=80]

This review is based on a retail copy of the PS3 version of Payday : The Heist provided by Overkill Software.