We forced Dan Gril to wear a clown mask, break into Sony's HQ, and hold everyone up until they gave us information on Overkill Software's heist-them-up, Payday. Read on to find out all about the life of crime that awaits.
The game is basically a cut-down multiplayer FPS heist sim, as the name implies. You and three companions have to use your wiles (and guns. Lots of guns) to steal tremendous amounts of money from capitalist running dogs. Since I saw it at E3, the team have introduced levelling to the game, allowing access to all new weaponry and tricks. As sound designer Simon Viklund tells me, “You're now, er... level 120.” I'm suitably impressed by my progress since E3, I have to admit - I must be good at this. Look at all these new weapons I get! I’d better not screw up. “You won't have anything to blame if you do, it's your own fault.”
I screw up.
Boy, do I screw up. A midget carpenter whose height and career make him perfectly suited to screwing upwards couldn't screw up more than me.
You see, the level I saw at E3 was fairly straightforward. We walked into a glossy bank lobby, nobbled the manager for the vault code, took a load of hostages, and flattened the guards. Then it was simply a matter of dealing with the level's plot, which cleverly diverges each time you play. This time our smuggled-in drill made it through the locked gates to the vault, but the codes the manager gave us for the strong-room door didn't work out, necessitating us fighting our way back out, past SWAT rappelling down the lift-shafts, and into a room above the vault, and burning our way in through the roof using thermite. Then it was a natural matter of stuffing all the money in our duffel bags, blasting a hole through a wall into an adjoining office block, and running for our bloody lives to the getaway truck.
This time, however, our team (consisting of myself, Viklund and two AI companions) were tasked with sneaking into the top floors of an office block. The four top floors consist of glass-sided offices in the classic Lord Rogers “steel and glass means modern” style, with a dock-off atrium at the front that cries out “steal all our money, we don't know how to spend it.” Which is our aim.
We're sneaking in, because the alarm system is off, meaning we'll be able to hack into the computer terminals to recover the vault code. I briefly toy with taking a dual shotgun set-up into the level with me, but realise this is meant to be sneaky! So I take a heavy machine gun, a silenced sub-machine gun and a revolver instead. I'll just not shoot anyone, I think. I also take an ammo bag, as I suspect we'll need it. Simon explains that we can tag guards with the F key, so we can all be aware of them.
Except, of course, I crawl around the first corner into the legs of an AI guard. I look up. He looks down. Gunfire erupts, the alarm goes off, and the terminals lock down.
As we're level 120 (which I know isn't the maximum level because I manage to level up during the firefight), we kill all the guards easily, but now the race is on to hack the locked terminals. “We failed miserably,” explains the other developer. “This mission turns really sour if you screw up early. It's still fun to do it, but it plays very differently. Now you'll get into a bad combat situation.” I try using the tag button on the horde of normal enemies, but it turns out that it's context sensitive and my character just starts shouting at them. Simon explains, “If it's a special enemy, the game knows that he won't give up. For normal enemies, you shout at them to make them drop their weapons. Sometimes it's successful, sometimes it's not.”
It's worth noting that though the game consists of these cut-down single locations, it absolutely nails both the locations and the quality of the gunfights. The guys from developer OverKill are all ex-GRIN, developers of Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, and they know how to polish up a game. The number of enemies, and the way they surge at you, is reminiscent of zombie games, but they're certainly a bit more clever than that, flanking you and advancing into areas you've vacated rather than just running straight at you, and tasering you rather than just shooting.
So, as we're fighting our way towards the office party (objectives are surrounded by yellow outlines on the HUD), to grab some hostages (who are basically extra lives. When tied up with your limited supply of cable ties they can be swapped for comrades who've been captured by the authorities), and to get the codes to the computers from the CEO, I level up. It's notable that I can just hold down Tab at any time to get to the pop-up menu that lets me choose my specialisation route. "If it's maxed out, then you have as much ammo in the magazines as you can, faster reload, and better accuracy,” explains Simon. As I'm trying to change my levelling route, I come under fire, but letting go of Tab drops me straight back in.
I focus on levelling up the heavy machine gun I'm schlepping around a bit more, which is great until it runs low on ammo because I screwed up and now all the police in the world are after us. I resort to using it as a blind-fire sniper rifle, and discover that high-calibre bullets are extremely effective if you only do head shots. As it is, the Heisters are not particularly fragile. Along the lines of Left 4 Dead, they can take a lot of hits, and the healing system is the classic Halo “hide for a bit and everything's okay”. Annoyingly, the enemies are using their tasers, meaning if we get isolated, we collapse and get butchered on the floor.
Eventually, after our two AI compadres (the English one is called Hoxton and the Swedish one Wolf) have been downed and swapped for hostages, we get the vault codes (I think from the CEO, but I spent so much time just frantically hiding behind desks and machine-gunning the horrible, horrible juggernaut-armour clad policemen that I lost track). We head down beneath the huge atrium, which is an amazing killing field. At which point we realise that the codes don't work and that we need to go beat up that CFO a bit more, dangling him out of the chopper. We get spread out, trying to deal with the various objectives and eventually just Simon is still standing. Surrounded by enemies.
Apparently, if we'd succeeded, we would have dangled first the CFO from a helicopter on the roof, to try to blackmail the company owner into opening the vault. The guys reassure me that I'm not totally crap at this. "This is the trickiest level of the six we have. The one with the slaughterhouse is also a bitch.”
Payday: The Heist is due out on the 4th October this year.