It’s incredible that Starbreeze Studios managed to squeeze 10 years of content out of Payday 2 despite its flaws and aging gameplay, but over a decade the heist simulator garnered a staunch community that revelled in robbing banks, fixing drills, and killing cops. With Payday 3, the challenge was always going to be keeping the momentum going, and while Payday 3 is a step above its predecessor in all facets, Starbreeze Studios has largely followed the same blueprint that has served them well over the past decade. It’s a decision that sounds good on paper, but one that doesn’t quite pay off as first hoped.
This time the Payday gang has traded Washington for New York, coming out of retirement for an encore for reasons that we discover through still-image cutscenes. All you need to know is that the narrative in Payday 3 is like the points in Whose Line Is It Anyway? – it doesn’t matter.
Just an average day’s work
But what Payday has always lacked in narrative it has made up in fun factor, with the co-op shooter providing me with some of my best gaming sessions with mates, and in this regards Payday 3 delivers the goods. However, despite the gameplay loop generating some good times, the fact that it hasn’t changed much in the 10 years since Payday 2 does make it feel dated in some areas.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the shooting mechanics, which even with minor improvements, lacks the heft that other shooters have. Payday’s gunplay has never stood out in the genre, but it’s disappointing that Starbreeze didn’t use Payday 3 as an opportunity to bring the mechanics up to modern standards, because this is a first-person shooter that wants you to take out waves upon waves of cops – a loop that should have you feeling like a badarse should you pull it off. Instead, weapons are clunky and take forever to reload, and taking out hordes of cops doesn’t feel as satisfying as it should.
When things get really heated, players can call for an Overkill weapon that dishes out extreme damage once they charge up the Overkill meter by killing enemies and completing challenges. Currently there are two Overkill weapons – a grenade launcher and a sniper rifle (the latter which doesn’t unlock until level 40). Often though, the Overkill Weapon is more trouble than it’s worth, as you’ll need to backtrack outside to collect it and once you do pick it up you can’t switch to other weapons.
Coming in from above
There’s no doubt that Payday 2 players were well fed over the years, with more than 70 heists over the decade of support it received. So with Payday 3 launching with just eight missions, even if some of them are chunky, it feels a little thin, especially when most of them are locations we’ve seen before and you can play through all the content within 5–6 hours. Of course, Payday has always been well supported with post-launch content, and if you shelled out for the Gold Edition ($145.96 mind you) you’ll get four additional heists in the first 12 months, but even that feels a bit stingy for the price.
Level design in Payday has always been one of its strongest points, with multiple ways to approach missions giving players options on how they want to play. Stealth is highly encouraged and each heist can be completed without being detected, although it requires patience and teamwork, something you only get when playing with people you know. Heists such as Under the Surphaze (art gallery), Rock the Cradle (nightclub), and Gold & Sharke (bank) are the standouts, but more often than not (read: basically every time), heists descend into chaos as your cover is blown and every law enforcer in New York is called in to stop you. The longer you hold out and the more you steal, the harder the enemies become, and you’ll have to take down the annoying Cloaker and the dreaded Dozer (as well as everyone else) if you want to escape.
Despite the gameplay loop generating some good times, the fact that it hasn’t changed much in the 10 years since Payday 2 does make it feel dated in some areas
There have been some additions to the gameplay, as you can now slide and vault to higher areas, and you have limitless cable ties to take hostages, but you’re still extremely limited until you choose to mask up. Once the assault begins you’re able to trade hostages for time (which is virtually pointless) or resources, and you can also use them as a shield if you want. If you get caught in an area you shouldn’t be before you mask up you’ll be given the benefit of the doubt and escorted out or you’ll be arrested until your teammate frees you.
I do wish the game was a little more dynamic in how it encouraged players to play, as it feels quite shallow as progression is tied to challenges, which essentially forces you to the play a certain way. Progression was a huge slog in Payday 2, and although the system has been overhauled here, it doesn’t fare much better, with progression still a grind that can be frustrating, especially as your character and guns have their own level, with weapons all level-gated. Outside of that, players can choose what skills they want to focus on by ‘researching’ particular categories, which increases by completing objectives in that category.
There’s also a lack of quality-of-life options and intuitiveness across the board, especially in the menus. Things like being unable to unready if you’ve had a last-second change of mind with your loadout, being unable to buy favours in the ready menu, and the lack of primary and secondary weaponry identifiers when purchasing weapons, with the developers assuming you’ll apply game logic, are just some of the confusing and frustrating design choices.
Who knows if this is this primary or secondary weapon shopping
If you didn’t catch the Payday bug with the first two releases it’s unlikely you’ll feel the bite with Payday 3, with so much of the game relying on what worked last time around. But if you are a curious first-timer, then Payday 3 is worth at least checking out. Thankfully the game’s launch matchmaking kinks have been ironed out, because Payday’s core cooperative chaos is still a damn fun time with the right squad. But with only eight heists, frustrating progression and some dated gameplay, this heister can’t help but feel a little underwhelmed.
Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher
- Starbreeze Studios
- Deep Silver
- PS5 / Xbox Series X|S / PC
- September 21, 2023