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Payday: The Heist

Payday: The Heist cribs from highly influential heist films without caution, marrying its clear-cut cinematic allusions to the structural formula of the hugely successful Left 4 Dead videogames. What results is a product that very nearly achieves the intended effect in evoking the quintessential bank heist film, but lifeless presentation and vacant online lobbies limit whatever potential it might’ve otherwise had.

The opening heist presents Payday at its absolute best. Your posse of four robbers begins the level standing outside the First World Bank. Music reminiscent of that classic scene from Heat swells in the background and there’s a real tension about the mission as your team approaches the front entrance, readying themselves to don their ironic thug masks and let loose on the surrounding guards with their high powered weaponry. It’s a fine way of beginning a heist-related game and does well to sell the concept upfront. The five remaining missions have familiar cinematic moments, but none are as powerful as the introductory segment.

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Teamwork is essential for success. Players must work in tandem and keep together in a tight pack if they hope to make it out of each scenario with their take from the heist. Each segment must be done in a single go, lasting about thirty minutes each, and consisting of around a dozen objectives per area. What keeps each scenario from growing stale is the way Payday’s systems are randomized – specific elements will be shifted around the environments, and each attempt feels like a slightly unique, different experience from the last. This makes the game’s AI inherently less predictable as they’ll use different entry points and while this ensures some level of replay value, it never feels quite as dynamic or good as Left 4 Dead’s AI Director. Unlike Valve’s finely tuned systems, the randomization here often leaves the action feeling imbalanced, doing more harm than good.

Developer Overkill Software have done a fine job of presenting a steady stream of unlocks. There’s three classes of characters and a wide range of unlocks made available through performing well and increasing your player reputation (which can be done 145 times over). Needless to say there’s a robust amount of content here and enough upgrade paths to keep you busy for a while. The only drawback is the way they’re presented, often celebrating the accomplishment of leveling up amidst a firefight, taking up at least half the screen for a moment.

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Although it looks about right for a downloadable shooter, there’s a kind of generic blandness about Payday that’s slightly off-putting. While the music’s often on-cue, borrowing from all the right places, the gunplay is weak and there are some missing elements, like the lack of animation when interacting with objectives. When filling a bag with money, or inserting a drill into a locked door, for example, there’s a progress bar, but having some kind of animation would be more beneficial. As it stands, it looks odd when the player’s standing over an objective and it’s hard to tell if a teammate’s actually triggering the objective, or are just standing there looking at it.

Enjoyment of Payday will likely be predicated on whether you’ll be able to round up a group of four like-minded armchair thieves for a heist. It’s honestly more trouble than it’s worth trying to wrangle up a group from the dire community playing the game on PSN. Payday is unfortunately dead on arrival, its online lobbies emptied less than a week from release, and its menus for joining games cumbersome and time consuming to get through.

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Payday delivers the kind of multiplayer co-op shooter that’s been absent on PSN, although its appeal is undercut slightly by weak presentation values and an absent online community. It’s certainly worth looking into for fans of mainstream heist films and is a nice, if by-the-numbers diversion, but also one that requires a group of like-minded players to enjoy fully.

5 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @Calvin_Kemph.

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