When it comes to quality first person shooters, the PlayStation Network isn’t exactly the first port of call. Whilst there have been a number of memorable downloadable entries to the genre, none have reached landmark status; even with sequel fatigue starting to show we’d sooner take home big budget shooters over the likes of Section 8, CoD Classic, and The Punisher: No Mercy any day. To some, it may be a case of brand loyalty or lack of trust in the downloadable format but to us, the main downfall of PSN/XBL shooters is the failure to garner and maintain a strong enough fanbase to keep the games afloat.
Looking to buck the trend, PayDay: The Heist is offering an alternative approach, doing away with the throwaway online deathmatch model for something with a little more substance that only requires four players. Among the myriad of AAA epics on show at last year’s E3, The Heist was commonly cited as a hidden gem; Overkill’s debut trailer teasing a number of contextual gameplay mechanics and an original premise. The end product is a worthy distraction for FPS stalwarts but compared to to some of the expectations created at the game’s announcement there is still much to be desired.
PayDay offers very little in the way of narrative and is instead focused around a chronological chain of heists featuring the same four gunmen: Hoxton, Chains, Wolf, and Dallas. This quartet of robbers act more as avatars than as fully-fledged characters, none are particularly likeable, although they fill their intended roles perfectly. The group of thugs make their debut with the robbery of the First World Bank but don’t go thinking that PayDay is a full-on Point Break homage. The outlaws find themselves in a number of unrelated scenarios including slaughterhouse shoot-outs, a prison break and a diamond theft. Each mission has its own step-by-step design that is frequently punctuated with police ambushes and it will likely take at least a couple of playthroughs to get a solid understanding of how each scenario plays out and how to make off with the largest sum of cash.
Gunning down the law enforcement, as well as completing objectives and cumulative challenges, will reward players with experience points (referred to as Reputation.) What will surprise a lot of people is how in-depth Payday’s progression system actually is; the level cap currently stands at 145, each rank unlocking a stat bonuses, equipment, and new abilities. These perks are divided into three separate trees, each one replicating a defined role or playstyle including Assault (in the middle of the action,) the Marksman (on the periphery,) and the Support. Each class has its own advantages over the other two though none of them tip the balance, players who reach a Reputation level of 145 being able to max out all three skill trees.
After selecting your loadout, you and your AI/online comrades are dropped straight into the chosen scenario, each one made up of several interlinked objectives such as destroying fortifications, defending hotspots or sprinting for the finish line. One comparison that has often been made is Left 4 Dead, which is near enough on the money; players will always be able to track the outlines of their partners and call for help, the support mechanics also being very similar. Another aspect similar to Valve’s acclaimed zombie shooter is the inclusion of special enemies. During police raids, you will occasionally come face to face with particularly dangerous adversaries including the tank-link Bulldozers, defensive “Shields”, stealthy Cloakers and Tasers, who can both damage and incapacitate players over a short period of time.
PayDay should be immediately familiar in terms of controller layout, though the L2 button is strictly reserved for contextual actions such as hostage management and interaction with the environment. Gunplay is fairly loose and jagged at times, the feedback being a lot rougher and unfocused in comparison with Call of Duty, Battlefield etc. This isn’t helped either by the rugged character animations, enemies moving in unpredictable, irretable patterns which can often make fire-fights seem inorganic.
Visually, The Heist isn’t going to blow you away due to the limitations of the game engine, but there is definitely a good sense of diversity, especially in levels such as Green Bridge and Diamond Heist. Voice acting is also fit for purpose, though some will likely complain that the game’s soundtrack does begin to drag, each one on constant loop.
- Unique premise, isn’t just restricted to bank heists.
- A decent Left 4 Dead alternative for PlayStation fans.
- Comes with a comprehensive trophy list.
- Impressive all-round presentation considering the price.
- Rep incentives will keep that carrot dangling for hours on end.
- Partner AI isn’t up to scratch.
- Gunplay often feels janky.
- You are essentially replaying the same six missions.
If you have a small group of friends with whom you usually buddy up to play shooters, PayDay is definitely worth looking into. Despite only having six playable missions, there’s a ton of depth when you consider the titanic ranking system and numerous difficulty settings. On the flipside, if you’re the sort who likes to ruck up with AI partners then caution is advised; going solo is considerably more time-consuming and almost impossible if playing on Overkill difficulty. Either way, PlayStation fans will be glad to hear that PayDay is one of the few PSN games to launch with its own platinum trophy. Whether you’ll have the skill or patience to add it to your virtual cabinet is another matter entirely.