Payday: The Heist ReviewPublisher: Sony Online Entertainment
, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
UK Price (as reviewed): £14.99 (inc VAT)
US Price (as reviewed): $19.99 (ex tax)
In bank-robbing parlance they probably call it a gameplan or a pitch or something like that, but the basic concept of Payday: The Heist is that it's a four-player co-operative heist simulator. You and three buddies team up, don masks and casual suits and try to pull off the heist of the century, six times.
It's a great concept, especially when Payday: The Heist is so heavily stylised and modern in its presentation - it riffs off Michael Mann's Heat and Miami Vice very obviously, and it's about as far from The Sting!
However, while the idea and art direction imply an exciting amount of depth and tension, the actual game fails to deliver on these aspects. What you might expect is a fiercely tactical shooter with unpredictable AI, where every shot counts. Instead, however, you end up with an uninspired Left 4 Dead reskin that's been drastically dumbed down.
Click to enlarge
It's not merely the four-player co-op that makes Left 4 Dead such an obvious touchstone either - it's the way that Payday: The Heist only creates a challenge through mobs of brain-deprived enemies. The police and SWAT teams that swarm on your position are essentially zombies with guns, looking similarly uniform, attacking in hordes and apparently partial to just charging straight at you.
Overkill Software doesn't seem to know that the T in SWAT stands for 'tactical', in other words. They'll never seek cover when under fire, never flank as a team or even move sensibly through levels. Instead, once the heist starts, there's just a constant stream of cops bursting in through every window, skylight or door in the level as you run around completing objectives. It's not uncommon to walk into a room and find two or three foes who've clearly been waiting there for minutes.
While the idiocy of your opponents instantly removes any of the subtlety or intelligence from Payday: The Heist however, this doesn't instantly mean that combat itself is terrible. The sheer number of police opponents to defeat, usually around 100 per level, may be a brute-force approach to creating a challenge, but it still works.
Click to enlarge
In fact, Payday: The Heist is often too punishing, if anything. The police will rapidly become harder and harder to beat, with riot-shielded units and Taser-equipped variants proving particularly challenging, even if each is an obvious analogue to a Left 4 Dead mini-boss. Taser cops, for example, are capable of incapacitation with a single hit, just like Valve's Witch.
This lack of new ideas couples with the drought of sophistication to mean that Payday: The Heist feels like a banal and basic experience - a fact compounded by the constant fetch-quests that make up each of the six robberies in the campaign. The first and only actual bank assault in the game, for example, mainly involves constant errands back to a server room to wipe security footage and grab supplies hidden by an inside-man.
Admittedly, however, later levels do provide some variation, and it's refreshing to see that Overkill Software has populated Payday: The Heist with more than just identikit banks. Escapes, chases and attacks on drug dens all make a show in the mission selection menu - it's just a shame that the differences are thematic only, with each level proving to be incredibly linear on closer inspection.