Wot I Think: Payday: The Heist

By Dan Grill on November 14th, 2011 at 10:45 am.

Robbing banks is so 20th century. In the 21st century they rob you.
The heist genre seems to have been arrested before it even got going: Subversion is serving a ten-year stretch as the new Prison Tycoon; Monaco’s team is keeping its head down and hoping for an early release. Only Payday: The Heist is at large, having stolen the nascent heist genre blueprints from under their noses. Here’s Wot I Think.

It’s possibly the most slick independently developed game I’ve happened across. It really does want to be Heat, with Val Kilmer chewing on the scenery, and the team screaming at each other as everything falls apart. It also wants to be Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Oceans Eleven and The Italian Job and that crap one with Gene Hackman and Layercake and every other heist movie ever. It’s four-player co-op where every character is effortlessly cool and moody, where you stroll into heavily-defended banks and slums in business suits, where the team’s idea of protection is clown masks.


There are only six levels currently, but they’re so varied and so tough that this is really plenty to be going on with. It combines solid FPS team combat with something akin to an adventure game; you’re always sprinting from one spot to another, frantically trying to reset alarms, hack computers, interrogate civilians or plant C4. It has that breathless relentlessness, like a Hollywood action sequence, conveyed through a classic FPS interface; you don’t even qu estion why you can always see your partners’ outlines through the buildings, it’s become so normalised.

Those six levels are gems, with nothing wasted; they make the game. Every level looks perfect, is cleverly laid out and never feels like you’re limited. Thinking back, the pressure to achieve the goals with your teammates and the ease with which the cops kill an isolated team member, keeps you from wandering to try the world’s limits.


Those levels are: A simple bank heist, where you start in civilian clothes and have to burn your way into the vault. A blown-up bridge, where you’re breaking a prisoner out of a security van, before dispatching from the top of a partially-constructed building and rapelling away for an underwater escape. A drug den, where you’re trying to steal an entire safe room by helicopter (very much like the theft of the safe in the first level of Saints Row: The Third, bizarrely, which also shares the blown up bridge.) A betrayal, where you’re chasing a traitor through the streets of Downtown LA before burning him out of the van he’s crashed.

The last two levels are outrageously tough, and can only be played on the harder difficulty levels; a stealthy diamond heist from the 22nd floor of an office block, which rapidly degenerates into something like Rainbow Six, and an attack on an armoured convoy that goes horribly wrong, pitching a bullion truck into a slaughterhouse full of curiously heavily-armed mercenaries. (I’ve never lasted more than ten minutes in that one).


Though the levels are open-world, the track through them is often more linear than we were expecting; there is some variance but, like its spiritual twin Left4Dead, it’s minor stuff; the biplane might miss the pick-up of the escaped prisoner from the tower’s top or the helicopter might drop the C4 in the alley instead of on the roof.

Despite this linearity, you can never relax because of the Assaults. These are the equivalent of the L4D tank moments which get more serious the longer you spend in a level. These consist of hundreds of cops, SWATS and specialists pouring into wherever you’re currently holed up, through windows, lift-shifts, and doors, fanning out to fill all the empty space that you’ve just cleared and generally surrounding you while you blaze away. If one of you goes down during these, typically the heist falls apart as others rush to get him up before he bleeds out and are taken down in turn.

The enemies never get any easier either; they range from the poor schlub security guards and street cops, to SWAT, tough Bulldozers, tricksy shield users. On the tougher levels and difficulties, the enemies are also much better equipped and are often better avoided than engaged with. You can shout at the big guys to warn your pals that they’re around, as taking them down is a team effort.


The levelling up process does mean that your first few games are about learning the level layouts and how the gameplay works; you really don’t have any equipment options until you’ve hit level five. Similarly, there isn’t exactly a tutorial, so players don’t always know that holding Tab down (at any point) lets you change your upgrade path – there are only three,but it’s worth switching between them to unlock new weapons, items and upgrades. For us, spoilt by the relentless generosity and pandering of Modern Warfare’s multiplayer or a social game, it feels a little restrained early on, though the more you play and succeed, the quicker you unlock upgrades.

Given that, unlike many of these games, the team’s loadout really does matter, that’s problematic. Ammunition is always short, so if no-one takes an ammo bag, you’re screwed, eventually. Similarly, a doctor’s bag or extra cable-ties (for taking hostages, who you can swap for captured cronies) are essential. A team of noobs is certainly going to fail a few times, and it’s worth taking an AI crook or two with you when you start.

The reason for that is that the allied AI is pretty damn good; whilst their sense of self-preservation isn’t great, they tend to be better at surviving than most humans I’ve come across – and they’re certainly more lethal on the easier levels. Often, I’ve preferred having at least one AI in a team, because he’s always the one who helps you up if you get downed, he’s normally still standing when everyone else is downed or in custody, he sticks with the team and he obeys orders.

I’ve played maybe twenty games of Payday so far, each of them only lasting half an hour and they’re always a white-knuckle ride. We’ve succeeded maybe twice, once with myself as the lone (loaded) survivor. Who’d be a bank robber?

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31 Comments »

  1. Squishpoke says:

    Reply fail

  2. Juan Carlo says:

    I bought this game on release and really like it. My biggest problem with it (which is big enough that I’m surprised it wasn’t mentioned in the review) was just the poor enemy AI. The cops are really, really, stupid. They all just come charging at you at once guns a blazing. The game is hard because it makes up for how stupid the cops are by dumping hundreds of them on you at once, but still I sometimes wish the enemies were a bit smarter (or even just the hostages, who often run screaming in the line of fire as if they are suicidal, or something). Plus, it really doesn’t have much re-playability once you’ve beaten all the heists on the hardest difficulty and unlocked all the skills (which should only really take like 20 hours total, not a bad amount of time for the price, but it doesn’t speak well to the games longevity and ability to maintain a playerbase). I’m surprised that the game didn’t have a competitive team vs team mode from the start, like most multiplayer games do. I think the re-playability factor would increase 100 fold if the developers were to add a L4D style VS mode to the game.

    Still, it’s a pretty fun game over all. And the developers are incredibly active on the steam forums when it comes to addressing questions and taking feed back–more active than I think I’ve seen any other developers be, which is nice.

    • The Pink Ninja says:

      I haven’t played it but it did seem like that to me.

      There should be two kinds of response. The first from masses of regular cops overed by snipers who slowly lock down the area by adnvacing forward until you’re totally pinned and the elite swats who should be able to rappel from random windows or blow through random bits of wall, throwing smoke and flash, so you never know where they’re coming from.

      I also know it has bull proof shield cops but more like that would be good, and something like the Modern Warfare Juggernaught.

    • Cooper says:

      The problem with more advanced AI, is that there ends up being more options to exploit it. In multiplayer games like this, any cracks in the AI are wrenched apart and soon become part of normal public play. Complicated AI tends to allow for more cracks to be pulled at.

    • Rinox says:

      The cops are really, really, stupid.

      Well…

  3. Sheng-ji says:

    I’ve been hoping you’d do a wot we think, I’ve been so close to buying this – it’s a done deal now!

    • WoundedBum says:

      Yeah, I think I could be swayed too…

    • Ruffian says:

      Buy it! Bought this one second or third day and I had a ton of fun in single player, but there weren’t many servers up. It’s definitely worth the price tag if the heist idea appeals to you in the slightest, it’s got a great sort of arcade shootery feel, and the enemies never stop coming. Very fun and fast paced.

  4. Shadowcat says:

    I found the trailers for this to be more obscene than most games I’ve seen. Perhaps it’s no worse than other games which revolve around killing things, but I think I just didn’t like the idea of playing the character of a modern-day psychopath merrily murdering police officers. So although the essential gameplay sounds okay, I really don’t have any inclination to play this.

    • Gundrea says:

      You should watch the shootout scene from Heat. One long continuous take wherein a group of heavily armed bank robbers merrily murder numerous police officers and are in turn gunned down while civilians and cars get caught in the crossfire.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqT1lCqQyh0

    • Sheng-ji says:

      I didn’t think the trailer on steam was that bad – I think what’s different is the context – you’re not preventing terrorists or nazi’s from committing mass murder, you’re the baddies and you’re gunning down the good guys! Also the clown masks and the general presentation of the game reinforces that you are not guys who are trying to make ends meet, you are guys who enjoy the work and couldn’t care less about innocents.

      Totally understand your point of view though and mean no criticism of it!

    • downgrade says:

      - “Have you killed anyone?”

      -”A few cops.”

      -”No real people?”

    • DarthBenedict says:

      It seems to me portraying violence as something horrible is less obscene than the usual heroic portrayals.

    • skyturnedred says:

      @Gundrea

      Great scene, but not really a “long continuous take.”

    • Dom_01 says:

      I don’t understand why people have such a problem with this game in regard to killing cops. Have you never played an RPG and killed a city guard? Have you never played a military game and killed a soldier? Have you never played any of the Grand Theft Auto games?

      I’d understand if it was a gritty shooter where you could see suffering, where a policeman had a family. But really, in this game, you’re pitted against hundreds of faceless cops with no personality so to speak. Hell, what police department would send in a hundred cops to their slaughter? “Well, they already killed the 120 cops we sent in on the last wave, but the next 50 should definitely take them down.”

      Just enjoy it for what it is, a fun co-op FPS that emphasizes fun over realism.

    • wengart says:

      I think the issue is that the ai is stupid. It would be different gunning down cops you intelligently took cover and used tactics, but something seems a little off when you mow down hoards of them essentially running straight at you.

  5. Radiant says:

    Awesome. I was hoping this was good.

  6. MiniMatt says:

    That does sound quite promising. Only 15 squid too, though I confess it’s probably something I’ll wait for sales and pick up a couple of copies at half price.

    where the team’s idea of protection is clown masks

    I’ve found wearing a clown mask 24/7 to provide 100% protection from all known STDs and unplanned pregnancies, so I can well believe them to be bulletproof too.

  7. roryok says:

    Nice. I hadnt heard anything about it, I assumed it was pants

  8. airtekh says:

    Thanks for the WIT Dan, thought RPS wasn’t going to cover this one.

  9. The Pink Ninja says:

    What I worry about is how long will I play it?

    What it may need, what made L4D2 my second most played game ever, was versus mode (That and 10vs10 servers).

    Having a human player to either be a cop or to command and direct them could be cool.

  10. Player1 says:

    It’s brilliant. It’s not perfect, but the devs will release more heists soon as it seems and if they learn from what was not spot on in the ones released this could be my favourite game of the year.

  11. Adekan says:

    Have been playing this game since launch, whilst the game is fairly fun the community around it is your standard FPS kiddie. Trying to enter a game and aren’t within 5 levels of the host? Enjoy the kick/ban.

    Hosting your own game has better results, but most people won’t even attempt the more difficult maps: Green Bridge, Diamond Heist and Slaughterhouse. So finding random people to do those with is very hard, and the bot players are not near good enough to do those maps. The most fun I’ve had with this game is with a group of friends.

    There is no L4D2-like versus mode, which is an unfortunate oversight given the extreme similarity. There are plenty of “Special” cops which the player could easily take control of.

    Being highly leveled makes a huge, glaring difference in this game. As the reviewer mentions, certain maps are only playable on hard difficulty and are nigh unbeatable without a group of all highly leveled people, who know the map like the back of their hands.

  12. stupid_mcgee says:

    Honestly, I’ve had some very different experiences than many other players.

    You WILL be kicked if you’re a low level and trying to do a mission on Hard. I’ve done Hard missions where the others were in the 100s and I was only around 50 or so. It’s because of the perks you get. Do you really want a guy who can’t drop ammo or health bags and has no accuracy or damage upgrades helping you out on Overkill? No, I didn’t think so.

    As for the harder maps, I haven’t had a problem finding games for Bridge, Slaughter, or Heist. Granted, it has been a few weeks since I played last. (concentrating on finishing Ballad of Gay Tony right now) It might be a bit more difficult with a lot of players being torn away from Payday by other interests (*cough*Skyrim*cough*), but I still see 600-800 players playing pretty regularly and it was peaking before around 2,500+ on a regular basis before.

    I agree that the bots are horrible, but they do serve some purposes. Primarily, laying down fire. Bots have unlimited ammo and, as far as I can tell, unlimited health as well. Yes, if they take too much damage in a short time, they will go down, but if they can escape for a bit and then let their armor heal back up, they tend to last forever.

    As for easy missions to do with the AI, I highly recommend Panic Room. First World Bank can certainly be done on Easy and gets a bit harder on Normal, but I find Panic Room to be really easy in SP.

    Also, blind-rushing to help teammates, while noble, isn’t usually the best thing to do. It’s very easy to get taken out, or worse; tased, while trying to help your bud up. Make sure you have backup if you’re going to rescue someone. If it was some nitwit that martyred themselves into a horde of cops, then just let them die and then exchange a hostage. I think it’s primarily because of L4D that people’s first instinct is to help the other player up rather than wait, but often just waiting it out a bit in a safe area and then swapping for hostages is the safer route.

    • stupid_mcgee says:

      One last thing: for some reason a LOT of people miss this: Your health works like in Halo. You have a permanent health bar that can only be boosted via med bags, being resuscitated, and gaining a level, but you also have an armor vest (shown in the form of a solid white outline around your character’s icon) that will heal back up once you stop taking damage for a little bit.

      So, yeah. Make sure to manage your armor level while popping in and out of cover so you take minimal damage to your health.

  13. celozzip says:

    i quite like the game, haven’t played much though, it reminds me of brink – good idea but problems in the execution.

    i’m really hoping the devs will add a zombie master mode. if you havent played zombie master – it’s a hl2 zombie mod where 1 player controls all the zombies in an rts-style system while everyone else plays as the human survivors. that would be the best way to compensate for the crappy ai, i think.

  14. TailSwallower says:

    Have they patched in some actual graphics options? Played it at a friend’s place and the console FOV made me sick after about 10 minutes, and the graphical options in the game were very lacking, and there were no obvious ini files to manipulate.

    If they’ve fixed this issue I’ll probably buy it once my backlog is a bit thinner.

  15. BlitzThose says:

    Dan if you have only survived a full game twice I think you have been playing with some truly terrible players, If you would like to see how the game is really played feel free to join us for a game sometime :)

    http://steamcommunity.com/groups/breachlan

    p.s mumble is a must :)

  16. gamejohn00x says:

    I had problems running payday heist at first, but luckily these payday heist crash fixes helped me.

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