Review by LeQuack147

Reviewed: 08/20/12

Robberies, Assaults, and Co-op Action, what's not to love?

Everyone likes a chance to play the bad guy. That's why games like Grand Theft Auto always sell well, they give players the chase to do something they never could/should do in real life. Payday takes the premise and runs
with it, while also packing the mechanics of an intense first person shooter, and the co-op feel of Left 4 Dead. The results are amazing.

Story- "Alright, we've got a go from our insider. He hid the drill and the thermite in the server room- but he bailed. The bank manager's got the key card to get in there. Let's get it on."

The basic premise is thus: You've got four criminals, engaging in the most daring heists imaginable. No, I don't mean an "Ocean's Eleven" style con job, I'm talking walking into a bank in broad daylight, melting your way into the vault, then blasting into a neighboring building to make your escape. The kind of plans that would be called absolutely insane by any rational person. Half the fun comes from proving those people wrong. Beyond that, there is no overarching story. Just a crew trying to get the biggest scores possible. Honestly, it's enough.

The characters that ARE involved are surprisingly well characterized, though I think not putting their bios within the game itself was a misstep on the part of the developers. Not counting the playable characters, we also have the mission-control guy "Bain," who is respectful to the crew to a fault, even assuming the blame for failed heists... but he'll do whatever it takes to get the team closer to their goal. He provides the instructions and background information for the heists, also providing handy warnings such as when the police are going to attempt another assault.

Graphics- "I found the C4!"

The textures are good, but the animations are downright beautiful. Approaching officers will sprint, roll and slide into cover, jump over obstacles, and drop down from ledges above you, all while firing countless bullets. They'll even dive to the side if they're caught in the open during a fire-fight. If their main strategy wasn't overwhelming you with sheer numbers, I'd think I was fighting actual people. While the attacking officers have a minimal number of unique faces, the designs are otherwise quite good, especially for the elite units. It reminds me of Team Fortress 2, as each unit is distinctive, allowing you to identify it from a distance. The Bulldozer has a slow, but confident walk, which matches his heavy armor and powerful shotgun. It's something you'd expect to see from a T-1000. Meanwhile, shield-users will walk along until they see an opening, then charge into close range, especially if it blocks off a major walkway.

Better yet, you can mark such units for the rest of your team. Marked enemies, and other items of importance, are given a glowing outline that can be seen through walls and other obstacles. The basic system is the same as that in Left 4 Dead, but it works, and Overkill's additions are a welcome upgrade.

The heist locales are all urban areas, but there's still good variety. Some locations, such as the skyscraper in Diamond Heist, are enclosed, putting an emphasis on close combat, but are spread out enough that there's always room to get around and attack from another angle. Others, like Heat Street having you advancing along a mostly linear path, pushing through mobs of officers with minimal cover. One of my concerns is that it's mostly geared towards close combat. The newly added "No Mercy" heist does nothing to fix this, putting you into even closer quarters with officers, while limiting your avenues of approach. The DLC gives another two heists, which put a little more emphasis on long range, but it's optional content, and you may not feel it's worth purchasing (I did, but that's not the point). Another complaint is that the map selection is quite small: there were only six heists available at the game's release. More frustratingly, the latter ones are difficulty locked: you can only play the first 2 heists on easy, and until a patch, the last 2 heists could only be played on hard difficulty. Understandably, this locks some of the more casual players out of the later levels, and when you've only got six levels to begin with, this is a bad policy. Still, the few heists that are available have been very-well designed, so I can only complain so much.

Sound/Music- "That blew the dust off the shelves even where I'm sitting!"

The guns are loud, and they are many. It's odd, I've played plenty of shooter games, and none of the guns from those had the same feeling of power that I get from Payday. Maybe it's because the shotguns actually feel like shotguns, and not glorified air-zookas. On top of this, you've got dialogue between the payday crew and between the cops trying to bring them down. There's a number of audio cues, making sure you listen for an important call-out, such as "Let the shield through!" or "The drill's stuck again! Someone's gotta fix it," or my personal favorite, the sound of your armor regenerating, your cue to get back in there and start shooting. The shouts are only heard within a realistic range though, and they aren't used enough to become obnoxious. There's also shattering glass, explosives being used to create entrances (for the player OR the police), and hostages screaming like banshees as the air around them is saturated with bullets. These audio effects all point to some important event, the added intensity is just a bonus.

The music is another strong point. It's got fast pace which suits the action perfectly: It's not overly dramatic during quiet periods, or too mellow during a major attack. And like everything else, it hits a chaotic peak during the assault sequences. I really can't find a bad track among Overkill's songs. Even the "heist complete" tune is well-crafted masterpiece, designed to boost your ego even further after succeeding against all odds. Simon Viklund, on the off-chance you're reading this, you did an amazing job.

Gameplay- "The police scanner is buzzing like crazy! They're definitely preparing for an assault. Party starts in 30 seconds."

The overall goal is always the same: Get the loot and go home, but it's never so simple in practice. There's always a safe that needs breaking, civilians that need to be kept in check, and police officers trying to stop you.

Every so often, the police will launch an assault, which results in a deluge of enemies that would make a modern military shooter cry itself to sleep. Thrown into the mix are special units, elite officers with unique abilities, be they a taser which stuns you in place, or just having enough health to take 3 bullets to the face and keep attacking.

The health system is an interesting change of pace. Instead of health that regenerates in a few seconds, health can only be raised in a limited number of ways. Normally this would result in having to forfeit after taking a good hit, but players also get a Halo-style regenerating shield on top of that. This is sufficient for short skirmishes, but will quickly fail against sustained fire. It combines the best of both systems: Players can quickly jump back into the fight, while still working to manage their health. Cover is still vital, though, as you'll need time to heal, revive teammates, and complete objectives, on top of the usual shooter reasons for ducking behind whatever obstructions you find. I'm also incredibly grateful that the game doesn't obscure the player's screen when they have low health or armor, but still informs them of when they're taking health damage.

I've heard a number of people trying to explain it as "Left 4 Dead with cops." While it may share certain mechanics with Valve's co-op zombie survival game, the comparison doesn't do Payday justice. While the L4D is an excellent game, I believe Payday is in it's own league in terms of chaotic combat. It also does a better job of encouraging teamwork, as officers will quickly gun down players that try to rush for the exit at the expense of their comrades.

As a player completes objectives, they go through a rough leveling system. Each level-up grants the player an upgrade from one of three lists, as well as completely replenishing their health and ammunition. The lists come from 3 specializations, Assault, Sharpshooter, and Support. Each grants new guns, equipments, and special power-ups for the player himself and their crew. These "crew bonuses" are a good concept: It's a special buff that only affects a player's teammates, and the buffs don't stack if multiple players choose the same one. In other words, it pays to diversify. It is a little counter-intuitive though, as the bonus you should choose is therefore the one you can do the best without (e.g.- If you like firing from a distance, don't use the accuracy boost bonus). While the system is mostly good, it's a bit frustrating that the unlocks are simple lists instead of trees or something. Maybe I don't WANT the revolver just yet, maybe I'm taking the support tree to get access to the shotgun. And putting increased health in the Sharpshooter (see- guy who stays a safe distance away from the enemy) list seems counter-productive.

The weapons are less numerous than in other shooters, but the balance between them is spot-on, and they cover all the major groups. Better yet, the player is allowed to carry 3 of them: a primary, secondary, and sidearm. This, plus the limited ammo supplies, encourages specialization. For example, you can take a shotgun primary for close combat, while having a secondary or sidearm better suited for long-range, such as the silenced pistol. Speaking of ammo, it is generally difficult to replenish. A player can start with a larger ammo supply and higher capacity by taking the right personal bonus, but it's easy to run out. Downed officers will drop ammo pickups that will only add 1-5 bullets for each weapon the player is carrying. This set-up is perfect. Powerful weapons such as the shotgun get only a single shell from each pick-up, while spray-and-pray weapons like the mark 11 SMG get more. Since each pick-up replenishes ammo for every weapon, it pays to rotate between them over the course of the mission. If a player really can't stomach this system, they can always carry an ammo bag to restock mid-heist.

They've added an ability to join games in progress, which is a welcome addition. However, players jumping in will often fail to check their teammate's choice of equipment, so you'll occasionally be left with sticky situations such as everyone carrying ammo bags when no one has any health left.

Replay Value- "Congratulations guys, we're set for life! But I know the action is the juice for some of you... I've got more heists for you to sink your teeth into. Meet me at the safehouse, I'll show you the plans."

While the main structure of the level always stays the same, certain variables will change between heists. Some are minor details, such as certain doors in "Panic Room" remaining locked, with minimal impact on the gameplay. Others, such as whether the vault codes work on "Diamond Heist," result in a drastically revised set of objectives. In fact, Diamond Heist is probably the crown jewel of this game's missions. Ideally, you can sneak into a skyscraper, deactivate the security systems, pillage the vault of it's precious stones, and head back out just as the police are alerted. Or, you could end up adding kidnapping and other things to the your rapsheet if the vault codes don't work. There's a real moment of tension as you reach the vault, thinking "Please work this time."

That said, even after playing the game to the maximum level, just the pure action of the combat sequences is enough to keep me coming back.

Final Recommendation- I'm out of appropriate quotes... Just play the game, man!

I don't think I could recommend this game highly enough. If you derive any enjoyment from first-person shooters or cooperative gameplay, give Payday: The Heist a look. For anyone with a PS3, there's a demo that lets you play, but stops you from going past level 10, if you want to give it a try first.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Payday: The Heist (US, 10/20/11)

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