E3 2011: Hands-On With PAYDAY: The Heist

By Colin Tan on June 14, 2011, 4:22AM EDT

Taking a step towards the entrance of the bank, palms sweating underneath the cover of latex gloves, one hand on the hilt of my firearm and eyes darting left, right and centre. Where is that bank manager? Screw it, let's just wing it. Firearms drawn, security guard shot, yelling at hostages to get down, found the bank manager, tied his hands with cable-ties. We're set, time to get the drill.

What the heck am I talking about, you may ask? A heist, good sir! PAYDAY: The Heist is a PSN/PC first person shooter that was only recently announced prior to E3 last week. Developed by the boys at Overkill and published by Sony Online Entertainment, I managed to sit down and get some hands-on time with the co-operative shooter. Let's just say that I walked away quite impressed with what Overkill has in store for fans of the FPS genre later in the year.

The gist of the game is quite simple. You play as a group of bank robbers attempting to pull off a heist "” well, six heists, if things go according to plan, but when does it ever? Initial impressions based on screenshots released reeked of co-operative games like Rainbow Six and Left 4 Dead, but getting into the game exposed PAYDAY for what it really is: a brutal, strategic battle to earn your keep.

PAYDAY: The Heist - Hostage situation

Depending on how you initiate the heist, things can go incredibly well or flung out the window like dung on fire. Finding the bank manager first and bending him to your will usually eases the pain, but if things go awry "” like getting too close to a security guard "” or if you just get too impatient, you can always whip out your weapons and yell at the innocent, hardworking civilians to do as they're told. It's the simplicity of how it's handled that makes this game surprisingly addicting.

The "F-button," as Overkill likes to call it, keeps things simple by doing everything: from yelling at hostages to get down, to tying them up and issuing squad commands. It's all context-sensitive and depending on who you're looking at, commands will vary. I'm not joking when I say I can fire off a warning shot at a security guard, hit the F-button to order him to put his weapon down, then hit it again to get him to cuff himself. Isn't that neat?

Things can go awry ludicrously quickly. Pull your weapon out too quickly or alert the guards to your presence and the police will be on your arse quicker than you can say, "oh snap!" Once the heist is on, it's pretty much a battle for survival against waves of police officers, all the while claiming objectives like drilling into the bank vault and securing your escape route. If you're not good at multitasking, or at the very least teamwork, be prepared to be slaughtered.

PAYDAY: The Heist - In the vault

What's worse, in a very good way, is that your makeshift drill will jam partway through the drilling process! It's all random, and not just the drill: placement of where the bank manager is within the bank and where the police will assault from will vary from game to game, keeping things incredibly dynamic and players on their toes.

Speaking of the cops, each wave will get progressively difficult. First up are the boys in blue. They're equipped with standard-issue pistols and maybe a rifle or two. Survive them and you buy yourself some time to get that drill working again, if it hasn't already drilled into the vault. Take too long and the cops will throw SWAT at you next. These boys are tough. They won't hold back, placing charges on any and all entryways, tossing in smoke grenades and repelling down from the sunroofs to catch you by surprise. They'll flank you. They'll bring in riot shields. They'll bring in armoured troopers. Whatever it takes to take you out.

If that isn't enough, how about topping it up with the FBI? These guys come in large numbers, equipped with assault rifles, bulletproof vests, tasers, nightsticks and whatnot. That doesn't sound nearly as bad right? Wrong, these guys are ninjas. They'll flank you when you least expect it. Overkill has good reason to call one of the types "Spookers." They'll nail you in the back, knocking you out for good. As for the "Tasers," well, you can figure out what happens if you're engaged by one. However, Overkill isn't leaving it at just getting electrified. You'll lose control of your body, shooting away uncontrollably, making you a liability. You can accidentally hit one of your buddies "“ or, if you're lucky enough, hit the Taser in the face, freeing yourself from his unfriendly grip.

PAYDAY: The Heist - Level up!

The gameplay itself is quite solid. If you've played Left 4 Dead, it's exactly like that. What sets PAYDAY apart is the unrelenting, unforgiving artificial intelligence. As noted in the previous few paragraphs, the police aren't just hordes of zombies, they'll flank you if you give them the chance. There are some interesting game mechanics in play as well. If one of your teammates gets captured by the police, you can negotiate a hostage exchange to get him back. Again, this is all done by a simple sequence of pressing and holding the F-button. You can also focus your entire team's fire on one target by doing the same, hitting that F-button! It's quite handy, especially when the big, armoured buffoons come charging.

Overkill also showed us a glimpse of the game's levelling system. The further you progress, the more weapons and equipment you can unlock. Things like extra armour and ammo will come in handy, giving each player a specific role to fulfill. Did I mention this is four-player, drop-in-drop-out co-op? At the moment, there are only six heists planned for the game's launch, but Overkill have their eyes set on releasing post-launch DLC that adds two additional heists on top of that "” for free.

All in all, I was very surprised by how fun PAYDAY was, and I even lost that heist. Set for release on the PS3 through PlayStation Network, as well as PC through Steam, PAYDAY: The Heist is definitely a game to look out for. Overkill couldn't talk about price, but they assured me that it won't cost the same as a full retail title, considering it's a downloadable game. With that said, it certainly looks to offer a lot more fun than many shooters on the market today, something the team of twenty at Overkill are focused on delivering.

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