Payday: The Heist Review

Back during the glory days for the N64, at the height of its popularity, Rare released Perfect Dark. Console shooters were hitting a high water mark they’d never known before, on the back of a stupendous multiplayer offering.

Among the coolest bits that made it into that game was a map in with rooms that mimicked the classic scene from The Matrix in which Trinity and Neo carry a buttload of weapons through metal detectors into a highly guarded building, then proceed to shoot up the lobby. You remember the one — with the pillars and the guards getting blown apart. PD brought us into that room and it was always a favorite among the multiplayer parties I had with my friends.

There’s just something awesome about being able to find yourself recreating a classic scene of asskicking from a film known for being bad-ass. Such is the premise behind Payday: The Heist — it’s filled with near-recreations of classic action movie moments, in which highly trained, morally ambiguous and extremely well-funded stickup men steal something huge and awesome and totally out of the realm of possibility from somebody else. Scrolling through Payday’s six large, objective-filled multiplayer maps, it’s easy to count their inspirations: Die Hard, Heat, SWAT, Ronin (maybe). And of course, what would a masked heist movie homage list be without Point Break.

Payday: The Heist
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3
Reviewed on PS3
Developer: Overkill Software
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Released: Oct. 18, 2011
MSRP: $19.99

Bodhi, this is your f–king wakeup call: Payday can be a pretty great time, with low commitment and a heavy emphasis on teamwork that comes from the same mindset as Left 4 Dead. In fact, Overkill Software, the developer behind Payday, has borrowed liberally from all the best concepts of Left 4 Dead in order to create a game in which working together is key. It’s not without its faults, but grab three buddies to jump into a heist with you, and Payday is definitely worth the $20 cost of admittance.

The downloadable title packs six maps that are littered with objectives. Usually, you’re trying to steal something, but as one might imagine, things never go according to plan. In the bank heist map, for example, you’ll need to secure a keycard to enter a room to find a drill to cut open a gate to get to the vault which you’ll have to melt your way into with thermite from above so you can steal the cash and then escape from the bank. And you’ll fight about a million cops along the way, as well as secure hostages for trade, should one of you get captured.

Some of these objectives are timers, some require multiple trips back and forth or the help of your fellow teammates to execute, and almost all must be completed under the threat of police incursion. In all the maps, be they indoors or out, you’ll face constant swarms of police busting in to try to take you out. Every so often, the cops will organize a big assault, where they’ll use smoke grenades and infrared goggles to blind you and then blast you. It’s a pain, and with numerous kinds of police ranging from the standard patrolman to fully outfitted juggernauts in bomb disposal gear, you’ll need to adjust tactics and work together to stay alive.

Luckily, there are a lot of things you can do to gain and keep an advantage. As you complete objectives and rack up kills, you increase your “reputation” level, which unlocks additional weapons and equipment. Before long, all players get the ability to pick a class during the match — like “assault” or “support” — which nets you different weapons and perks. They all have to be unlocked, but before long you can carry a deployable ammo bag or health kit for your teammates to use, and if anyone gets injured or captured, any teammate can rescue him.

Like Left 4 Dead, Payday works because there are lots of things to do and a lot of ways that players can work together. Choosing diversity in classes and loadouts means one player can lay down trip mines in sensitive areas should you need to hold a position, or throw down medkits if things are getting messy. With human teammates, you can also split up and take on multiple objectives, which lets players work different strategies.

In addition to the online four-player mode, there’s also a much less fun single-player mode with AI teammates. As you can imagine, Payday is meant to be played with a team, and it’s just not nearly as cool when the guys supporting you aren’t real people. That’s not to say it’s horrible, because it’s not, but it’s certainly not what the game is meant to be. And it can be a good way to learn the ropes and build some reputation until you can get into a game with your real friends.

It’s hard to say whether the slightly stupid enemy AI in Payday is a detriment to the game or not. On the one hand, cops don’t behave like cops — they behave like unthinking monsters bent on your destruction, and while they have a few cool “cover dive” animations, you’ll catch them out and unprotected lots of times, just eager to put bullets in your face. But on the other hand, because they’re so tenacious, they’re also very dangerous. Any single cop can put serious hurt on you, and SWAT cops will usually find their way behind you through another route to your location. Taser cops can render you unable to move with electricity, and you’ll need the assistance of another player before you’re shot to death while standing paralyzed. You’ll also inadvertently, and mostly ineffectually, fire your gun, costing you precious ammo.

It gets frustrating when cops seem to hit you from all over the place and you can’t escape, or just keep throwing themselves at a bottleneck as you keep dropping them, but more often than not, it works and keeps the tension high. The cops are an ever-present and very dangerous threat, and while you’ll mow down scores of them, they won’t go down easy. If we keep looking at the Left 4 Dead template, then the cops are one or two steps up from blindly charging at you, which is just about right.

Payday has some weakness in the graphical department. It’s not great-looking regardless, being only a $20 title, but at a distance enemies will move with a choppy, mechanical quality, as if they’re missing frames from their animations. I didn’t notice this often — only in the games with large outdoor maps — and it never hampered gameplay, but it was always ugly to behold. Similarly, there are a few audio glitches to be found, mostly consisting of teammates irritatingly reminding you to complete objectives you’ve already finished. Minor, sure, but an immersion breaker as well.

But at its bargain rate and with a few friends to join you, Payday makes up for its shortcomings with heaps of badassery. It very much nails what Left 4 Dead invented and perfected: four players against the world. The bonus is that I can pretend to be Patrick Swayze while you pretend to be Al Pacino, and the more you play, the more fun Payday becomes as you unlock additional weapons and items and can differentiate your play style. Friends are key to your enjoyment of Payday, but there’s a lot of unmitigated ass-kicking here regardless.


  • Fast-paced co-op gameplay
  • Fairly high difficulty keeps the game challenging
  • Great with a few friends who can use tactics and strategy
  • Action movie atmosphere is awesome
  • Great price
  • Tons of items, weapons and perks to unlock
  • Varied missions and objectives are often pretty clever


  • Some graphical and audio glitching
  • Enemy AI is unrealistic as well as frustrating at times
  • Easy to get lost in some maps
  • Single-player mode isn’t nearly as fun as playing online with friends
  • Not a lot of explanation of how leveling, classes work
    • Final Score: 80/100

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3 Comments on Payday: The Heist Review

The Owl

On October 20, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Great review.

On top of that, you get a gazillion bonus points for the Hot Fuzz reference in the sub-headline.


On October 24, 2011 at 3:11 am

I was looking forward to this a lot. I was sat there eagerly waiting to download it into the early hours of the morning only to realise it had been delayed. Not by a message from Sony to all pre-order customers, no, over the internet by looking for it myself. Then it was delayed again and now it’s out. But I’m in the UK, so not for me. It’s at the point now where I don’t really care anymore and I think the little missteps that my sheer anticipation would have eradicated for me will now stick out like a sore thumb.

Nontheless, enjoyed the review. Seems to have covered all the bases. I hope it’s not too much like Left 4 Dead, as I found it got boring rather quickly.


On October 31, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Of course, when the theme of this type of game moves from mowing down something purely fictional, like zombies, to mass killing of cops, who in real life will put themselves in mortal danger to save our sorry behinds, nobody bats an eye.

Sad and lame.