Taking a cue from popular heist movies like Heat and Ocean’s 11, Payday: The Heist seeks to give players that experience with friends and recreate those thrilling sequences in gameplay form for people to live out vicariously through gaming, and though it succeeds for the most part, it is missing a bit of spark and can feel a bit underwhelming at times.

The basic premise is that you play as one of four ne’er do wells intent on being a part of some high stakes robberies in the hopes of striking it rich. Of the different robberies you have a night time diamond heist with a focus on stealth, a gold convoy ambush, a prisoner extraction, a meth lab panic room take down, a shoot-out in the streets, and of course, a classic bank robbery. Each level feels very different and offers changes in goals and layout, which adds a lot of variety and forces you to reevaluate your play style and role in each of them. A nice little twist is the addition of a system similar to Left 4 Dead’s Director AI, which changes up the levels and makes each one different on replays. Though not quite as game changing, the effect can drastically alter how certain heists play out and forces on the fly teamwork.


Though you have the option to choose which of the four characters you’d like to be, they all play exactly the same with the only difference mainly being an aesthetic choice. In fact, the characters may have some distinctions in personality but none of it ever shows, which is in sharp contrast to a game like Left 4 Dead where each character is much more clearly defined. Though nobody plays a game like Payday for deep characterization, it does seem a bit too easy to confuse some of the characters until you can get accustomed to the changes in accents, and even then it’s not a big deal.


The weaponry and leveling is what will keep players going through these heists in order to get the cash necessary to unlock the next big upgrade. Though there isn’t a very big selection of weaponry, the game offers a modest arsenal which is complimented by a variety of upgrades. Though some start to run together after a while (with various upgrades being improved versions of previous upgrades), they keep the game fresh and dangle the carrot in front of players, giving them the motivation to keep playing to unlock a new shotgun or some improved armor.

Within the leveling system is the class system, which determines what you unlock. Split between Assault, Sharpshooter and Support, each offering different upgrades to fit your play style. Though it’s a nice way to give a little freedom in what you want, the game neglects to mention just how to pick which class you want (choose by holding TAB and pressing 1, 2 or 3). It’s a rather large oversight considering how much the class system affect unlocks.


The combat and gunplay work very well and are even on the level of full on retail games. The weapons have an appropriate feel to them and though they aren’t drastically changed from other first person shooters, it works well. The AI is more of a mixed bag, with your allies being helpful but almost useless for teamwork and planning (similar to Left 4 Dead’s AI allies), so it is best to play with some friends if you want the best experience. The enemy AI is much savvier, attempting to flank the player, roll out of the way of incoming fire, giving themselves up when held at gunpoint and working with special units to take down the player. Even then though, the game substitutes numbers for genuine intelligence at times, with many enemies often grouped out in the open like sitting ducks to be sniped at by the player.

That’s not to say the game isn’t intense. The heists convey a feeling of intensity and even when you aren’t timed you get a sense that you need to be quick with your actions. The way the heists work generally, is that you will need to perform some time consuming action (such as placing and watching a drill or a saw on a door or room), and you’ll need to do this until the next objective comes along all the while fending off waves of police that prevent in custody players from respawning and constantly come from all sides. It’s a bit overwhelming and can be incredibly satisfying to survive a tough wave where you’ve lost an ally and had to repeatedly unjam a saw while under heavy fire.


The game is rather difficult for the most part, with many heists not even being available on the easier difficulties. This really stresses the need to use teamwork and plan out your heists, which gives it a nice cinematic flair when you happen to be coordinating a well-planned assault. The game even gives you the freedom and assets to do so, with certain multitask focused objectives and the ability to shoot out cameras, set up traps and tie up hostages to prevent casualties and use for an exchange.

Overall, the game has a unique style and focus many players can appreciate, with co-op gameplay that stands up to close scrutiny. Though it’s not without its flaws and issues in polish and a lack of content, the $20 price point makes it all well worth it.