Sometimes a game has premise so terrific you wonder why it hasn’t really been done before. In the case of Overkill Software’s PAYDAY: The Heist you are presented with classic crime scenarios based off of movies like Heat, The Inside Man, and The Fugitive and you try to complete the goals as a team. This could have been spectacular but uneven gameplay, a lack of direction, and very spotty AI make this a game that fails on many levels.
There is no real coherent story in PAYDAY: The Heist, instead you are presented with six heists that you can choose in any order. The heists range from a multi-stage bank robbery to rescuing a fugitive from prison vans on a destroyed bridge. The game begins with you selecting your character out of four fairly generic options and then you are literally dropped into the action. There is almost no direction aside from an arrow pointing you to your goal.
The gameplay is your typical Left 4 Dead style shooter. You can equip two weapons, plus grenades, a few handcuffs, and a special tool (ammo or health bag as examples). The levels typically all work in the same manner:
- Head towards your goal
- Things go wrong
- Cops show up and attack
- You need to attach a drill or timed device to progress
- Tougher cops show up and attack
- You need to wait for another timed device to progress
- Even tougher cops show up and attack
- You accomplish your goal and need to escape
- More cops (and helicopters at times) show up to try and stop you.
By and large this is how every level plays out, with obvious differences based on the scenarios. In the Bank Heist for example you need a drill to open a gate; in another scenario you need to set explosives to blow out a roof; and in another you need to set a lock breaker on prison vans. These timed sequences are really what makes this game unappealing to me. It isn’t that you needed tools to get the job done; it’s that you needed to constantly babysit them over and over again to finish the task. The drills and locks overheat, the explosives have to be set just so, and in between you are swarmed by police. These are artificial roadblocks which don’t challenge the player, instead they just frustrate them.
The shooting in the game (and there is a lot of it) is passable. The mechanics are solid, but if any game needed a cover mechanic that truly worked it is this game. Unfortunately cover is spotty at best and tracking where you are being shot from is very difficult at times due to enemies who can seem to hit you from anywhere. The guns are all well done and as you level up and chose better weapons there are some nice options.
This game is labeled as both single- and multi-player with AI controlled players filling the ranks when you are alone, but solo is nigh useless due to the dumb AI. Teammates never reset the tools, rarely take hostages (which distract the police) and generally only follow you providing cover fire and occasional revivals. Playing online is not much better unfortunately. There really is no matchmaking service so unless you have friends playing the game (none of mine have it), you are stuck with strangers who are often dumber then the AI players. This lack of great partners really hampers the progression system as well. Much of the interesting perks and gear is unlocked in later levels you are forced to plow through with dud partners (online and AI) which makes the whole process tedious.
Graphically the game is solid if very generic. The set pieces look good, but the cops, hostages, and characters are all fairly plain and nothing really stands out. What does work is the layout and design of the scenarios. The gameplay may feel tagged onto these great scenarios, but they really are well done and show a great deal of potential, it is just a shame that PAYDAY: The Heist never capitalizes on it.
This game could have been really great, with a bigger budget perhaps, or with some further thought into a cohesive experience. Instead of an inventive and fun heist game with interesting objectives we are left with a generic (and repetitive shooter) bogged down with micro management and partners who are just short of useless.
PAYDAY: The Heist is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Strong Language. This game can also be found on: PC.