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PAYDAY: The Heist
Graphics: 7.5
Gameplay: 7.8
Sound: 7.4
Control: 7.6
Replay Value: 8
Rating: 7.7

There’s honor among thieves. But that doesn't necessarily mean they're nice people; in fact, they can be extraordinarly dangerous individuals.  In PAYDAY: The Heist, you will play with three comrades (they’re bots in the single-player mode and human allies in multiplayer) and tackle a variety of insane objectives. Unsurprisingly, all jobs end up messy, as you have to shoot your way clear, taking down countless SWAT members in the process.

As I’ve said before, downloadable games are looking better and better with every passing month. This one won’t be mistaken for a full Blu-Ray release, but it’s not that far off. The animations are solid, the overall detail is good (great for a digital title), and the environments can be surprisingly large, especially when you’re out in the streets. There’s also a fair amount of diversity, as you’re not always running around banks. The special effects are a little bland, though, and some landscape set pieces are less impressive upon closer inspection.

The sound is in much the same boat, as it’s a consistent audio presentation with decent voices and crisp, high-impact effects. On the other hand, the soundtrack doesn’t really smack us upside the head with potent, hard-hitting music, even if we’re often more focused on the gameplay effects. Things can get a tad repetitive, as the weapon effects aren’t quite distinct enough (assault rifles and shotguns sound too similar, for example). But overall, we’re looking at an effective, relatively accomplished technical presentation.

Believe it or not, PAYDAY has a good amount of depth that spices up the straightforward shooting mechanic. Any time you gain a new reputation level, you unlock something new; it could be a weapon or a bonus from your experience tree. There are three total trees available and if you aren’t careful, you won’t be aware they even exist. Thing is, the game never really tells you about this character advancement and customization system; I played for a while before I stumbled upon it. That was irritating and pleasing at the same time.

It was annoying because this major element of the gameplay is way too easy to overlook, but I’m glad I found it. Even after finding it, however, I’m still not a fan of the menus in this game, as the print is ridiculously small and there’s virtually nothing in the way of tutorials. Normally, I actually encourage less handholding but you know, we don’t even get an instruction manual with downloadable titles. Too many players might miss a huge strategic aspect, which would be very, very unfortunate.

Get More:, PayDay: The Heist - First World Bank Trailer, PC Games, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

That strategy lets you set up your heist in multiple ways. You can have one ally supply you with ammo, or one who just runs around tying up hostages. Of course, you may not care as much because you – like many others – will play this bad boy for the invigorating multiplayer. And if you work together efficiently, you can work your way through the perfectly executed job. You can coordinate objectives by having two keep the cops at bay and the other two hit up the vault, for instance.

This is where the game really hits its stride. There are plenty of different heists to attempt, and the combination of strategy and hardcore action offers white-knuckle entertainment. The control is good, the hit detection is reliable, and it’s easy to switch between weapons and items. Therefore, it’s both accessible and strategic at the same time; the latter takes center-stage during multiplayer fun. There’s just a general lack of polish and refinement that tends to pervade the entire production.

Remember how I had difficulty locating those experience trees? Well, the game doesn’t really tell you much about anything else, either. Sometimes, it’ll give you an objective but it won’t tell you where to go or how to go about nabbing the necessary item. On top of which, there are times when the continuous swarm of enemies gets irritating. Progressing is often challenging because you’re not a superhero, and unsurprisingly, your foes are crack shots, even over long distances. Lastly, the AI is just plain dumb; maybe that’s the necessary next step in downloadable FPSs.

PAYDAY: The Heist is a worthwhile multiplayer-oriented shooter that is diverse, intense, and offers plenty of depth…provided you can find it. The endless streams of foes, the stark presentation and lack of instruction, and the mediocre AI brings it down a notch, but the fun factor remains relatively high. It’s a blast with friends and while the campaign doesn’t have the same punch and can be repetitive, being a borderline suicidal criminal has never been so appealing. Yes, it made me think of “Heat.”

The Good: Solid depth, customization, and strategy. Reliable, accurate control and hit detection. Various environments. Multiplayer is a big highlight. Intensity almost never lags.

The Bad: Little instruction or explanation. AI isn’t bright. Campaign feels bland and repetitive.

The Ugly: “Yes, I know I need it…where is it?”

10/19/2011   Ben Dutka