The Start of Something Special?
I have a soft spot for Payday: The Heist. When it came out it was a minor revolution in online cooperative gameplay. The question is, does it still have a place in your gaming when there’s Payday 2 also available?
Each heist is broken down into steps and objectives, rather than just having you burst in and clear a room. First you need to get into the building, then you might need to find a certain NPC that has a key. Next, you might need to disable some security systems or drill through a gate - only then do you actually get to loot and pull off your escape plan. I like the level of depth that's involved with successfully pulling off a heist, with the multiple objectives making it feel like a real job rather than the usual "gamified" efforts we get.
Of course, SWAT and police aren't going to stand idly by while you make off with other people's money or property. They'll attack in waves, which requires coordination between your team - and also means that you'll need to put thought into the weapon loadouts you take with you. Go in too light and you'll be overwhelmed. Go in too heavy and you'll be spotted far too early. Ammo is limited, meaning you can't just spray bullets around. You need to work on your aim, too. When a player's health is empty, they'll go into a downed state, from which they can be revived by a teammate. However, your teammates have to decide whether coming to your aid is worth potentially giving up a location.
There are a number of actions that you can carry out during a heist - whether it's ordering civilians to stay down, placing a trap or interrogating a hapless NPC.
One of the most important actions in Payday: The Heist is taking hostages. You can use hostages to bring a captured crew member back into the action, rather than waiting for them to respawn. This saves you minutes of being down a player and can be the difference between success and failure. It's a clever mechanic that's executed well. Losing a player for the whole game wouldn't be fun - neither for the team nor the player that just has to sit and watch the remaining gameplay - while not having a punishment would make being captured inconsequential and remove much of the complexity that the game has to offer. Allowing players to take a hostage and swap them for a captured player, essentially reducing the respawn time, is a good compromise. It rewards player skill and gives you incentive to keep going.
Single-Player – Don’t
If you don't have any friends, you can fill your squad with AI bots. Don't. They are useless. They get stuck in random places, they don't do what you tell them to, and they have a nasty habit of scarpering in the middle of a gunfight, leaving you on your own.
Payday: The Heist is really a game that needs to be played with other people. If you have friends, all the better. As it is a cooperative game and you're not playing against other people, the community is a little less abrasive than for other team-based games, like Dota2 or League of Legends. The AI for the computer-controlled team mates could have really done with a little more work - as they are they make the single-player experience a trudging and incredibly frustrating experience. Thankfully, there aren't that many trolls around in the online community for the game, so you'll rarely experience instances of a bad egg completely ruining it for the rest of the team for the fun of it. Continue Reading
Release Date: 20/10/2011
Available on: PS3, Windows, PC Download
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Keeping Things Fresh
Not every heist is the same - there's plenty of variety in the different missions available. Sometimes you'll have to escort VIPs to specified locations in order for the job to progress. While the VIPs are invincible, they do need to be reminded constantly to keep moving - which you'll need to balance against defending yourself from incoming gunfire. Overkill could have been mean here and allowed the NPC to die - even from friendly fire - to really crank up the difficulty. However, I could see this causing a lot of frustration and it would be open to trolling.
There are always different ways to approach a heist. You can go for a more direct approach, which may require you to take weapons with deeper ammo pools, or you can go for a stealthier one, which will give you more time heisting and less time fighting. Going the stealthy route will often require that you disable security cameras. In another well fleshed-out mechanic, destroying a camera increases the time it takes for police to locate your team - with the added bonus that it also forces them to split up.
There are plenty of maps included in the base game. Pleasingly, they're not all different takes on the same idea. On one level you'll be robbing a bank, while in another you'll be doing something completely different like breaking a prisoner out of a police van during transport. They're also not afraid to go a little eccentric, as there's a heist where you have to steal a blood sample from a zombie.
Any game that has a persistent online presence needs a sense of progression. A key part of that is character customisation, which Payday: The Heist doesn’t nail.
Additional challenges reward you with experience, which you can use to improve your character's skills and abilities, giving you access to new weapons and modifications. Sadly, this aspect of the game isn't well explained. Thankfully, the internet exists and you can read guides on how to set your character up. Basically, there are four skill trees to choose from - similar to what you'd find in an MMO or RPG - you're not limited to choosing one and sticking with it, although if you spread out too much your character will become diluted and ineffective. Each upgrade within a tree represents a new weapon, tool or buff, which you'll need cash to unlock. Disappointingly, there's little in the way of visual customisation. You can't change anything about your character's appearance, other than choosing from one of the four default models. This is an area that Payday really missed the boat with - but at least they fixed that in Payday 2.
Would I still recommend Payday: The Heist today? Well, most likely not. Payday 2 is a better game, with better graphics and character customisation. Most importantly, it has a heck of a lot more (paid) content. That being said, there are people still playing Payday: The Heist - almost 30,000 in the last two weeks - although the number of concurrent players is a little low. Bear in mind though, even if there are less than 200 people playing when you are, you only need three others to make a team. It was a good game, it's just been superseded - especially now that Payday 2's development is back on track.
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PAYDAY The Heist is developed by OVERKILL Software.