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Payday: The Heist

Do you like Left 4 Dead? Do you like heist movies? What if I told you there’s a game that combines the two? No no, not a heist with zombies; I’m talking about a heist game with a Left 4 Dead-style framework, that pays tribute to films like HeatPoint BreakPanic RoomLock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, and more.

It sounds like the perfect plan. What could possibly go wrong?

Possibly the most disappointing aspect of Payday: The Heist is that it isn’t really a heist game with shooter elements, as much as it is a shooter with some heist elements.

The essence of a perfect heist is that nobody even notices the money is gone until you’ve already gotten away. But Payday doesn’t even let you attempt at this outcome, requiring you to fight your way through around a hundred cops sometimes before you’ve even had a chance to grab the goods. Even “Diamond Heist,” the one mission that lets you start out stealthy, forces you into a shootout by the end. While no heist goes as far south as it did for the poor schlub in Dog Day Afternoon, you can sometimes feel like your luck is about as bad as the guys in Reservoir Dogs, only you’re much better armed (and have the benefit of limited regenerating health).

You might say that I should judge a game based on what it is, not by what I expected it to be, but I’d argue that the title wouldn’t have been as deceptive if they’d instead named it Payday: Heists Gone Bad.

I did start to enjoy the game a little more once I got over the fact that it wasn’t really a heist game. Instead, Payday is essentially Left 4 Dead with all the zombies replaced with cops, including police versions of the “special infected.” And while Left 4 Dead didn’t have regenerating health, the zombies also didn’t have guns.

But I have to warn you: this is a game you must play online. Like Brink before it was patched, the friendly AI in this game are programmed to not help you with a single objective. They do an alright job of shooting at cops, but not only will they not help you with any of the “hold button to activate” objectives, they won’t even help carry the loot. There are always four duffle bags, and each character can only carry one. Will they help you out and grab a bag? No. They just stand around, waiting for you to do it all yourself.

On top of that, only the first two missions half an Easy, Normal, and Hard mode. The second two missions only have Normal and harder, and the final two missions only have Hard (and Overkill, the harder-than-hard mode). When there are only six missions in the first place, limiting the difficulty levels of the later ones is basically giving the middle finger to all the gamers out there who don’t have the mindset of harder-is-better. Not to mention that it renders the last two missions impossible in solo mode, with the useless friendly AI.

But unless you can convince four of your friends to also buy the game, you’re going to have an uphill battle at first dealing with the online matchmaking—or as I like to call it, Payday‘s Rejection Simulator. I recommend investing in a mic if you want to play, not because it’s necessary to play (though missions do go a little more smoothly when everyone can communicate), but because you will be kicked from some lobbies if you don’t have one.

And even if you do have a mic, you’ll be kicked from most lobbies if your level is too low. Payday has a leveling system that allows you to unlock new weapons, upgrades, and helpful items, effectively making the game easier as you get more experienced at the game, and that much harder when you’re just starting out and trying to get the hang of things. It also means that you won’t realize that there can be enjoyable strategy to the perks (“you take an ammo bag, I’ll take a med bag”) until you’ve leveled up enough to discover these items. But leveling up can initially be a bit of a slog, because your level also relays to other players how experienced you are, and if you’re under level 20, expect to be kicked from lobbies. A lot. Your options are to either create your own lobby and wait for other inexperienced players to hopefully show up eventually, or keep replaying the four missions that are beatable solo with the useless friendly AI.

But all this negativity aside, I have to say: once you do manage to get leveled up and know what you’re doing, and get into a match with three other decent players who know what they’re doing, this game is at least as fun as Brink. And I like Brink, so that isn’t a knock against Payday. But in the end, it has fewer levels than Brink, fewer options than Brink, and friendly AI that’s much more useless than Brink, all for the same $20 price that you can currently find Brink.

Payday: The Heist is a game with a great deal of untapped potential, but needs a few more patches before I could really recommend it.

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