Payday could have been worse, it could have tried to copy Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. Payday: The Heist, the first game from newly-formed dev studio Overkill Software, is a cooperative, scenario-driven FPS that places four players in control of a group of criminals attempting to pull off various high-profile heists. With this general premise in mind, gamers might picture Payday as a mash-up between Left 4 Dead and the Grand Theft Auto series, but sadly, anyone hoping for something remotely close to either of the two will be disappointed. Payday is not very fun as a single- player game, but that is to be expected from its obvious focus on co-op play. However, hopping online to play with random groups of players, or even close friends, hardly enhances the experience, as gameplay remains just as dull as in the multiplayer mode; perhaps Payday is fun with a room full of friends, rather than in an online lobby, but it completely lacks split-screen.
Payday features six missions, but each one boils down to one of two basic types, either break-ins or escorts. Break-ins require finding and using tools to reach the loot, and escorts, obviously, involve pushing a horribly slow and unarmed NPC through a long level. The break-in missions force players to wait around for a few minutes as the tools do their jobs, all while fighting off waves of police and SWAT members, who easily lose sight of the player and run away if players hide long enough. Escort missions involve a little more run-and-gun, but it is still best for players to totally ignore the invincible escort NPC and hide until the SWAT team grows bored and heads home. The law enforcers are not particularly dangerous, but ammo is so hard to come by that it is simply best to ignore the waves of cops and SWAT that seem to rush the players every five minutes. Gamers familiar with first-person shooters will easily be able to finish missions in around twenty minutes, and could easily clear them faster if the damned tools and escort NPCs did not take over five minutes to complete their tasks.
The upgrade tree, while supposedly full of abilities and guns, seems to hardly affect the game. Completing each of Payday’s missions once does not give the player enough EXP to unlock a new weapon, or even a power-up more useful than an ammo restoring gym bag. Every player starts with a lame SMG and pistol, and every player will be stuck with them for a long time. Luckily enough, the law enforcers are only slightly more varied in their weapons. Normal police officers have pistols, while SWAT members carry rifles, shotguns, riot shields, and the pathetically easy-to-avoid taser. For players that want to constantly grind through levels to get guns, there will be a lot of replay value here, but anyone not willing to invest multiple runs into every level will likely never see a new gun.
As mentioned earlier, the law enforcers are so dumb that players can simply hide until they run off, and at times, cops will even shoot innocent civilians. Cops hardly pursue players, almost as if they were glued to their spawn points. While they are accurate enough to gun down a player out in the open, the cops’ health are so pathetically low compared to the player’s that it is possible for players to stand out in the open soaking up bullets as they gun down the police officers. Payday, surprisingly, does not feature health regeneration like many modern shooters, and there are absolutely no health packs throughout levels, which would actually make the game much harder were it not possible to rescue a dying teammate and instantly restore his health by a large amount, similar to Left 4 Dead’s bleed-out and revival system.
Payday at least deserves a round of applause for keeping itself somewhat mature. There is no undue violence or gore, players are encouraged to let the civilians live, and players will actually receive penalties for shooting innocents. The party of crooks players can control do use some strong language, but each crook is of a different nationality and keep themselves from falling into stereotypes.
Payday is definitely not able to stand up against other sixty dollar triple-A titles, and given that Team Fortress 2 is free-to-play, it is not even able to compare with other low-cost FPS titles. One could argue that Payday should not be compared to competitiv natured titles like Call of Duty or the amazing Team Fortress 2, since Payday is a cooperative shooter. However, Left4Dead and Borderlands are also cooperative FPS games, and are much cheaper and of a much higher quality. Of course, Payday is Overkill’s first foray into the gaming world, and definitely shows that they have a lot of room to grow, but hardcore FPS fans should not expect to find the next genre-defining experience in Payday.
Full disclosure: the author was provided with a free copy of the game for review purposes.