Giant Bomb Review

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Payday: The Heist Review

3
  • PS3N

Bank heists meet Left 4 Dead in this sometimes exciting shooter.

Payday: The Heist is probably the closest we'll ever get to Heat: The Game, and that's a bit depressing. To be more accurate, Payday is basically The Best Part of Heat: Done as a Game With Middling Results. Payday is about heists, often heists very similar to those seen in Michael Mann's Los Angeles crime classic. Four players get together, take down a bank, or a jewelry exchange, or a cash-flush meth lab, fending off waves of cops and rival criminals while achieving specific, randomly-generated objectives. It's a neat idea that could be amazing were it more rich in atmosphere, storytelling, and excitement. Sadly, Overkill Software's game is lacking in all of these things. There are moments of multiplayer thrill to be had here, but they're infrequent, and sometimes tough to get to.

Based solely on the concept, Payday: The Heist should be the best game ever made...

First and foremost, understand this about Payday: The Heist: this is a multiplayer game. Offline play exists, albeit in a form similar to Left 4 Dead's own single-player mode. It's there if you want it, but there's no conceivable reason why you'd want it. The accompanying A.I. is radically inferior to just about anyone you could possibly scrape together for an online match, and the total disconnection of the action from anything resembling a story means that there's no real progression here. There are six heist missions. You do them entirely independently of one another. The only constant is the characters, who are less characters, and more differently-accented voice actors who are solely there for player differentiation purposes.

With this in mind, also understand that it is not the easiest process in the world to get into a game of Payday: The Heist. A couple of days after its launch, only a handful of players seem to be online at any given time, and I found myself running into a variety of strange "this lobby has already been filled" errors, even for lobbies that only appeared to have a single player in them. Getting into a game proved far more of a chore than it arguably had any right to be, considering the meager number of players seemingly hitting the servers.

But let's presume that you do manage to navigate potential errors and a dearth of players, and find your way into an actual game of Payday, and let's also presume that the players you're in a game with are competent, collected individuals who know how to follow instructions and patiently follow the progression of a map. If all these various things prove to be true, you will have some fun with Payday: The Heist.

The missions are varied in style and objectives; some involve straight money-heisting, while others involve revenge plots, and even a prison break that plays like a weird reference to the opening scene of Grand Theft Auto III. All of this stuff seems referential in one way or another, though most of those references are directed toward the aforementioned Heat. From the bank job that uses a musical score almost identical to the one in Heat's iconic bank heist, to a mission literally called "Heat Street" where you run around shooting up cop cars, it seems that Overkill's crosshairs were aimed squarely at Mann's movie when developing this game. There's even a hacky reference to Tom Sizemore's "For me, the action is the juice" line shoved into one of the loading menus.

I wish I could say that any of Payday's content was anywhere near as compelling as Mann's film, but frankly, it's not even as compelling as most modern shooters. Overkill has liberally cribbed from Valve's Left 4 Dead methodology, building missions around a lengthy series of objectives--kill the alarms, set up saws and drills to break into various things, find a guy who has a key for something, and so on--that sometimes employ randomized locations to keep things fresh. There are even horde-like waves of SWAT cops and FBI agents that periodically show up to try and derail your mission in aggressive fashion. Again, pointing to that ideal scenario where everyone knows exactly what they're doing, these missions can be quite fun. Heists are lengthy and full of fast-paced combat and strategy that keeps you on your toes. If you and your cohorts can communicate, there's a good bit to like here.

...Unfortunately, the final product doesn't quite make good on all that potential.

If you can't, you're boned. All it really takes is one or two associates with a Waingro mentality to completely screw up a mission. You have to know what objectives each of you are taking on, and when to stick together. A heist can still be successful so long as one of you survives, but the waves of cops that Payday tosses at you are so hefty that it's damn difficult for anyone to survive if even one person decides to freelance. A tight challenge is a good thing, but the action itself is not necessarily thrilling enough to want you to keep coming back time and time again to try these missions should you end up with some regularly lousy players.

Part of that comes from the weirdly antiquated feel of Payday. It looks okay, but often feels like a game out of time, like something that should have popped out around the early 2000s, back when a game could sort of ride on controversy over gameplay. The shooting is fine, but there's something Counter-Strike-mod-feeling about the action that makes it feel kind of...fake. Like one of those fake video games some writer on Law & Order would have conceived for an episode in which real bank robbers used the game as a road map for a real robbery, and Jack McCoy is up in arms and wants to charge the developers as an accessory or something. Except Payday is real, and feels a few years past when it might have actually made some kind of impact.

Ultimately devoid of impact as it is, Payday is a game that does manage to offer a few hours of entertainment. Its spartan slate of features and atmospherically lackluster missions fail to give it the kind of addictive quality so important to a game like Left 4 Dead's lasting appeal, but for those who just feel like mowing down some cops, heisting some loot, and reminiscing about how damned good a movie Heat is, Payday is serviceable enough across the board.

Alex Navarro on Google+
45 Comments
Posted by cyraxible

So close to something great.

Posted by Nadafinga

Darn. Was hoping it would be better.

Posted by Firecreed17

At least its just a downloadable game. If it were full retail then it would be really disappointing.

Posted by benjaebe

It still seems like a pretty decent package for a downloadable title. Get some friends together and I can easily see it being worth the $15 or $20 it costs.

Posted by kortex

such a shame. i had high hopes, for some reason.

Posted by phantomzxro

I got it free so i may be a little biased but i feel like if you can get 4 buddies into the game then this will be a fun ride. But if you are trying to play this alone or with randoms then it may be best to pass on this because the system is a little rough to enjoy on your own.

Posted by Cyrisaurus

You are reviewing this like it's a full retail game. It's only $20

Posted by Alex

@Cyrisaurus: I would be hesitant to buy this game as it currently stands for $20.

Staff
Posted by kalmis

That was a shame.

Posted by Megadestructo

I almost insta-bought this on Steam today. I'm glad I didn't and waited. Excellent review and it touches on all the things that I was worried about prior to purchasing.

I still love the concept and will probably await a few patches before picking up.

Edited by dandead

This is a pretty fun game if you got people who know what they are doing. (PRO TIP: Don't shoot the hossies, it will raise your re-spawn time!)

Alex's score is about right, it's a fun game with some flaws. Nothing that some patches and/or DLC can't fix.

Posted by Tesla

Nice review Alex. I wish this game were better. Now I just want to watch Heat for the 20th time.

Posted by Vorbis

Even after everything this review says I'm still willing to give it a shot for three reasons.

  1. Heat was a great movie.
  2. It's only £10.
  3. Any co-op game is fun with 3 friends.
Posted by tourgen

this game seems very interesting for $20 on Steam.  I'm going to check in with some friends and see if we can get a team of 3 or 4 together who want to rob banks and shoot cops.  My guess is yes, yes we can.

Posted by ninjakiller
@cyraxible said:

So close to something great.

I got it for free as part of the buy 4 dl games get heist for free promotion on PSN.  I don't know if I feel ripped off yet or not.  
Posted by Chris2KLee

Was already looking rough from the screens and trailers. The tech and bland shooting are too much of a barrier for me, regardless of how much the game invokes Heat.

Posted by Ravenlight

Valve needs to make a licensed Heat game so other developers will stop making sub-par efforts.

Posted by iAmJohn

Alex, can you comment any on the PC version? Wondering if there's less connectivity issues there.

Posted by BigLemon

Let's not disregard the fact that this game is twenty US dollars. That's quite a steal for a game like this. If this game was a full $60 (or even $50), it would greatly depreciate its overall value.

Posted by ShinjiEx

The most important thing this game missed was a hit detection system that solid feeling of taking someone down
 
All you have to do is random fire from the hip and bodies drop

Posted by OneManX

It might be worth taking the dive nto, it's cheap. Not expecting a world beater

Posted by Juicebox

lol did anyone really have hopes for this?

Posted by thecosmicfly

You take the Fragile Alliance concept and map scenarios from Kane & Lynch. You fix the third person cover-based shooting mechanics with literally any other TPS out there (Uncharted, Gears of War etc.). You take these elements and put them in GTA IV, inside of an open-ended city, where you have it so the objectives and escape routes change upon multiple playthroughs. BAM. That is literally all of the key ingredients to make the perfect, enjoyable heist game, and it can just be an 4 player co-op multiplayer mode of the full game. All these different developers have the pieces for it, but none of them seem to place them together. Drives me insane.

To be honest, this read more along the lines of a two-star review. I guess the extra star has to do with it being a $20 download, so it isn't a terrible purchase. However, like Alex even notes, when I saw this game it truly looked like a basic mod of L4D or SWAT 4, when really this is the kind of premise that would thrive on more polished, cinematic gameplay sequences and less wave-based character level grinding. I don't even like how much this game is liberally referencing so many other better crime film/games, right down to the Heat/Point Break/The Dark Knight/The Town goofy ass masks. Come to think of it, can you even change/customise your masks in Payday: The Heist? If not, way to miss even that opportunity Overkill.

Posted by Branthog

Yeah, I pretty much said this would be lucky to be even this good . . . back when everyone was jizzing themselves at E3 (I think that's where it was rolled out first, right?) and calling it one of the most interesting games of the show. I just didn't get what all the excitement was. I just thought "or, I could just play Counter-Strike...?".

Posted by President_Barackbar

Man, I'm super bummed. I REALLY wanted this game to be good, but it just looks SO generic. The voice acting is also awful, some of the worst I've heard in a game this gen.

Posted by nintendoeats

Judging from the QL, there are some basic design decisions that they could have made to improve this. To start with, ditch the regenerating health and reduce the number of enemies. Further, those interactions like picking up money bags or placing C4 should have had animations (or even better, they should have been simple minigames). Most importantly, that game should have allowed you to purchase upgrades with stolen money. The fact that they didn't build it that way kind of defeats the purpose of the exercise.

Posted by HarlequinRiot

@Juicebox said:

lol did anyone really have hopes for this?

A good amount of people. When you hear "L4D with heists", it's natural to get excited. But every subsequent trailer just made it look more and more generic. It's a shame, there's not many games that offer this experience and no one can seem to get it right.

Posted by EgoCheck616

@Cyrisaurus said:

You are reviewing this like it's a full retail game. It's only $20

Still costs too much.

Posted by JimmyPancakes

You could have dropped the mic after you said "Waingro mentality"

Posted by HydraHam

@EgoCheck616 said:

@Cyrisaurus said:

You are reviewing this like it's a full retail game. It's only $20

Still costs too much.

How is $20 too much for this? please explain.

Posted by KarmaPolice

@BigLemon: @Cyrisaurus: If money were a criteria, all iPhone games would have five stars.

Posted by ZarakixKenpachi

Shoot, I was hoping this was going to be better. The previews for this seemed meh but the idea seemed great. If it goes on sale for $10 in the next couple months I'll consider getting it to play with family during the holidays.

Posted by LinusPauling

The idea that this game feels like a mod resonates very strongly with my first impressions.

Posted by MormonWarrior

I'm not sure how based on the concept this game could ever be the "best game ever made." Bank heists aren't the most interesting thing in the world necessarily. Even if they pulled off the concept really well it'd just be a good action game, not that special.

Posted by avidwriter

Kinda saw this coming. At least it got the 3. I'll buy it for $5. Seems like even solo playing through the 6 (at least out now) maps will be worth that price. There was mention of DLC on their steam page. (Free or pay?) That might add more life to it.

Posted by Ninja_Welshman
@thecosmicfly

You take the Fragile Alliance concept and map scenarios from Kane & Lynch. You fix the third person cover-based shooting mechanics with literally any other TPS out there (Uncharted, Gears of War etc.). You take these elements and put them in GTA IV, inside of an open-ended city, where you have it so the objectives and escape routes change upon multiple playthroughs. BAM. That is literally all of the key ingredients to make the perfect, enjoyable heist game, and it can just be an 4 player co-op multiplayer mode of the full game. All these different developers have the pieces for it, but none of them seem to place them together. Drives me insane.

To be honest, this read more along the lines of a two-star review. I guess the extra star has to do with it being a $20 download, so it isn't a terrible purchase. However, like Alex even notes, when I saw this game it truly looked like a basic mod of L4D or SWAT 4, when really this is the kind of premise that would thrive on more polished, cinematic gameplay sequences and less wave-based character level grinding. I don't even like how much this game is liberally referencing so many other better crime film/games, right down to the Heat/Point Break/The Dark Knight/The Town goofy ass masks. Come to think of it, can you even change/customise your masks in Payday: The Heist? If not, way to miss even that opportunity Overkill.

Pretty much agree with everything you said there dude. Now go make that game.
Posted by Carneous

Played this for a few hours today, managed to complete a few heists with a decent team of strangers. There's some fun to be had, and the premise certainly holds some weight for me personally, so it's a shame that the game devolves to waves of bland shooting, and unimaginative "hold button to complete" objectives.

With some more work put into the feel and audio elements of the shooting, or simply less shooting, with more varied and inventive objectives this could have been something worthwhile.

Posted by BlaineBlaine

y'know what? 3 stars gives me hope. I'll probably pick it up because I should be able to get a reliable crew together - the review presents that as the sure fire way to fun is an actual team. 
 
Most of the reviews I've read outline a game that is close to great with a handful of reasonable and achievable improvements. I'd love to see a sequel to see if they can put it all together.

Posted by darkjester74

I have to say, I enjoyed the L&O reference. =D

Posted by Brendan

I found it really odd that the guards in the bank were going full commando on your ass even as their buddies were being gunned down. It felt really unrealistic to me.

Posted by Runtime_error

Dissapointed. Even at 20 bucks. Demo tips me off that it's not my style. Download the demo and see. It might be worth 20 to people who want a few hours of fun, or get a bunch of buddies over and want a break from their LAN party games.

Posted by BisonHero

@Brendan said:

I found it really odd that the guards in the bank were going full commando on your ass even as their buddies were being gunned down. It felt really unrealistic to me.

Yeah, watching the Quick Look, the gameplay and AI looked way too arcadey for a heist game. When a heist goes so bad that SWAT teams are constantly assailing the criminals, the criminals should be boned. 4 random criminals taking down dozens of armoured SWAT dudes seem kind of ridiculous.

Posted by JojoTheSlayer

I think the reviewer would rather have seen a single player fps heist drama. Because thats what the movie Heat was, drama. That would however have sucked as a coop game. This format suits the game better since its a "get in, get out" type game play similar to L4D.

As for more advanced stuff. Some people mentioning Rainbow Six (first one) planing and stuff. (Just YouTube it.)

I would actually rather have a really tactical new coop Rainbow Six (before main stream shit titles) game where the Host did the planing before he hosted the game and people basically joined roles, but that kind of detail though would ruin a arcady action game like Payday, I think.

If you like the setting in Payday and played L4D to... death, you should check this one out.

Posted by Tekkor

This is one of those few times when I disagree with Alex a bit. His description of the multiplayer join is way off. I have zero problem ever getting into a multiplayer game in about 5 seconds if I want to. The thing is... full servers dont show. So new servers pop up and disappear quickly. It gives the illusion that nobody is playing when in fact there are tons of people playing. It almost gives the impression he played maybe 3-4 multiplayer rounds and then gave it a pass. He spends 2 paragraphs on being negative about multiplayer match joining when it is nowhere near as bad as he makes it seem.

Most his other points can be valid depending on where you are sitting. Yeah the graphics are not to the level of say....oh...BF3 that Im sure they are all playing. But its only $20 and not $60. The Ai could use a few tweaks etc.

The game could for sure use a bit more touches and a few patches to add some more elements to it but its a very solid game and a great start. Also...its something new. The whole military and zombie thing is getting played out to a degree...these guys deserve some credit for bringing out something new.

Posted by derpdotmp3

bullshit review, this game deserves better, its one of the most fun games i have ever played, you just dont see how much fun this game is