Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in as the masked gang and I come out of heisting retirement for Payday 3. It’s been 10 years since the release of the last instalment of the FPS co-op heisting simulator and in that time Payday 2 has seen content after content. Whether it’s the ability to be the Baba Yaga himself – John Wick, or take on jobs from all over the US, the game has seen more support than England fans every World Cup.
So what is the need for a sequel? Why not just be ‘Payday 2 Til’ I Die’? Well, Payday 3 has left the archaic Diesel game engine in favour of Unreal Engine 4. Making the game visually and technically closer to a diamond than a dye pack. It’s been a long time since I’ve put on the mask and dashed with bags of cash, so the changes didn’t feel immediate upon initial playthrough. In the gaming landscape of the last few years, Payday 3 still feels like an older game, but there’s enough here to have one more go around the bank vault. Let’s get into it.
The Consequences Of My Actions
The infamous Dallas, Chains, Hoxton and Wolf have been ripped out of retirement due to a shady criminal organisation threatening their livelihood. Cut scenes are hand-drawn still frames with voiceovers from the characters that appear on the timeline along with the missions. They’re brief, generic and just overall filler to instil the ongoing story for the Payday Crew. Joy makes a return from Payday 2 DLC, but we also meet Pearl who is completely original for this instalment. Though neither character feels completely fleshed out.
One interesting detail is that they’re now in New York instead of Washington, DC, giving new types of locations to the game than we’ve seen before. Personally, I’ve never gone to Payday for the story, rather than to channel my inner Bodhi and rob establishments blind, and that is just what I did. You can play with up to three other players online, so I had some fellow Finger Gunners come help with my ill-gotten gains.
There are 8 levels in total that unlock one by one after you beat the level before it. Though our first night playing we mainly stuck with the first level at a small-scale bank in the city. This was partially due to our failures as a crime caper unit, but more so because of the depth Payday 3 has over its predecessors.
We Just Got Made
The series is known for its casing stage. This is the calm before the storm where you can freely walk around the area you’re about to heist to check exits, cameras or potential shortcuts to use before it inevitably becomes a shootout. However, this time around the casing stage is way more robust than before.
There are now a few different types of areas that have a level of security depending on where you are. Private areas will see you escorted out by guards if they find you and you comply, civilians will report suspicious behaviour that you commit, like cutting open a window or hacking a phone. The game doesn’t immediately go on alert in any of these instances like before. Instead, you’ll be in cuffs and taken out of play for the time being.
This may even create a good distraction for the rest of your squad to do a lot more in the stealth phase. Stealing keycards, hacking security and shutting off alarms make the planning stage a lot more robust and I welcome the more nuanced tactile approach, as opposed to “going loud” so much as you just look at security in the wrong way. Quality of life improvements like unlimited cable ties and the easier method of negotiating also add to a more nuanced experience. It’s a vast improvement for the series, but I can’t help but feel like games of a similar ilk have been doing this already.
I’ll See You Again, This Side Or The Other
The gunfights and overall controls for console still isn’t quite there yet. It’s been a minute since I robbed a bank with Chains and the boys, but there still is a slower churn to your movement as a whole. I could never find a sweet spot when changing the sensitivity of the camera movements. There’s a strange acceleration to your movements that you can’t change, and in a game that requires precision whether shooting or looting, I wish it felt more fluid.
Guns do have a good feel when firing despite my trouble with the camera. There’s a satisfying heft to the guns, but that satisfaction can turn out short-lived with the abysmal ammo you have in the early hours of the game. It’s a rough start, but it’s all because there’s a robust upgrade system for an impressive arsenal that you’ll unlock through levelling up. There is a very apparent grind as some of the unlocks can go into the hundreds. This pertains not just to the weapons that you earn XP for more attachments, but your loadouts in general like your body armour, special equipment and usable items.
Looking at the whole picture is a long road ahead for all of the items, however the incremental upgrades, outfits or masks drip feed a progression at a nice pace that might quell the fact you’ll be a long way from the gun you want. There’s also an okay amount of customisation options with your weapons, changing the colour, adding stickers and charms to personalise the weapons your way. You can also do this with the blank masks you can buy and everything is reasonably priced for how much money you make per level.
Crime Does Pay
When you’re not taking New York hostage, you can dive deep into your role in the heists. There is an impressive amount of classes, you can choose a few of them to gain XP and unlock perks for your character. Payday 3 does a great job of giving you the tools to play your way. Whether you want to be a stealthy tactician who leans into the quieter side of the job; taking out cameras and picking safes faster, or a tank that can also support your teammates in the heat of battle, there is so much diversity to tinker with.
With a range of 17 classes, all with their own skills that you can pick and upgrade instead of levelling up, there isn’t a better way in the series to have an edge on what you feel you do best. It’s still early days for the game, so figuring out what works best for me hasn’t quite hit, but the sheer amount of upgrades in skills you can choose from is impressive. Couple that with a squad of friends for you to talk strategy on your skills and planned routes, you can be an unstoppable force.
The replayability is also in the different difficulty. From Normal to Overkill, each level comes with its own set of challenges. The higher you set it, the more enemies you’ll be facing and with returning and reworked enemy types like the Dozer – who can now charge at you, the Cloaker, who will beat you down behind your back, or new types, like the Naders that can throw gas grenades to disperse your team, it’s all incredibly intense and requires exact coordination for a good outcome. It’s tough, but very fair and criminally rewarding if you succeed.
We Run This City
Thankfully, the levels are addictively replayable. There may be a lacklustre amount at launch if you’re a Payday 2 veteran, but they’re some of the most exciting and comprehensive in design for the series. The levels are cavernous with multiple ways of executing the same plan, feeling closer to the recent Hitman series. The heists have a decent variety with some feeling more like an action set piece akin to the third act of Heat.
Although the game is now in Unreal Engine 4, the aesthetics of the levels could be more desirable. This may be due to the fact that the game should look the same on consoles as it would on a high-end PC, but the game would go a long way with a little bit more dynamic lighting or thorough details in environments. One level is a nightclub and I couldn’t help but think this was straight from a Sims title, with NPCs dancing awkwardly to a 30-second loop of music.
This may be in the nitpicking territory as Payday 3 isn’t a full-priced title if you pick up the base game at launch. However, in a world where other heist titles have a stronger visual design for a similar style of game, a little bit more polish would have gone a long way. Nevertheless, the environments do react to damage like explosions, creating a cool sense of chaos during the action. Music is a downer as it’d be extremely forgettable if it wasn’t so monotonous.
Payday 3 will be a welcome sequel to newcomers and potentially veterans too, due to the plethora of quality-of-life improvements. As well as that, you have the more nuanced detection systems that make the planning and stealth portion of the gameplay more engrossing. Couple that with more extensive level designs that facilitate such improvements. With reworked enemy types, a more robust upgrade system, on top of an impressive skill table, it all leads to a more succinct Payday experience.
However, the game is already aged in terms of its gameplay, visuals and general jank, so it may be off-putting to anyone not privy to the series. The co-op AI on your own is fine, but the magic is when you’re in a group of four ready to take on the world. There’s not a whole lot of game just yet, but with time and improvements, this’ll be the definitive way to play Payday.
The foundations of the definitive way to play Payday are as crystal clear as the protective glass you’ll inevitably smash during a heist. The quality of life improvements and the more confidently designed levels are a welcome addition to the series, though it is slim pickings at launch. Give it time for the gold to melt and Payday 3 will be quite the payout.
Payday 3 is available 21st September for PlayStation 5 (review platform), PS4, Xbox Series X|S and PC via Steam.
Developer: Starbreeze Studio, Overkill Software
Publisher: Deep Silver, Plaion, Prime Matter
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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