2011 was a great year for gaming. It was a year when the industry began to move away from the AAA blockbuster or bust model, and move towards publishing smaller, inexpensive titles while at the same time putting out some of the best titles of the decade. The first-person shooter was undergoing some growing pains as it transitioned away from an environment stuffed full of self-serious, overly-dramatic, grey-brown shooters and Overkill Software’s Payday: The Heistfelt like a breath of fresh air, at least to me.
Payday: The Heist is an online, multiplayer co-op shooter centering around a gang of criminals fending off increasingly large waves of cops as they attempt to steal shit, get away, and get paid. The 4-player co-op model was built off of previous successes such as Gears of War‘s Horde mode, and Valve’s Left 4 Dead franchise. What made Payday unique, at the time, was the way it committed to translating heist genre elements into gameplay. The game contained a large variety of scores, from stealth-focused diamond heists, to classic Heat-style bank robbers, to exciting smash and grabs. It was a modest success at the time, and the game has been mostly abandoned by the player base for Payday 2, so the question is: how does Payday: The Heist hold up after all those years?
Pretty well as it turns out.
During my time with the game I was easily able to slip into my old loadouts and play-styles, as well as strategies for the various heists (no doubt Overkill’s inclusion of original heists into Payday 2 helped out). The shooting feels as responsive as ever, and the game retains much of charm and high energy that it had six years ago. One thing in particular I noticed was how well the in-game UI aged. Allies, enemies and objectives are highlighted by having their outlines visible to the player at all times, which is useful when planning out your heist, keeping track of your allies during a firefight, and ensuring that your tools work properly. Many of the mechanics remained intact for the sequel, a testament to the quality and polish of the original design.
What has not aged well, however, is the menu design. Payday: The Heist’s main menu is ugly as sin. The text is barely legible against the blurry, action shot oriented background, and selecting menu options has no tangible feedback. Same goes for selecting guns, abilities, and maps. Everything blends together, and it is sometimes hard to tell what you’ve changed, or if you’ve changed anything in the lead up to a match. In addition the AI companions are useless, a not unexpected discovery. They don’t get in your way, but can’t really be counted on to do much of anything except act as bullet sponges.
My partner in crime for the evening had never played the game before, and as such I also got to see how the game played for someone new to game. Overall the game still appears approachable to new players, but it suffers from a lack of explanation on casing features and the escalation of assault waves at times feels random (though to be fair one would imagine that 20+ dead cops in two minutes would actually require a much more violent and swift response in reality). We also struggled with one of the games escort missions, when our target’s outline faded and we forgot to take him to an extraction point, though this did lead to one of those fun moments where my partner held off an assault wave by himself while I dragged the target uphill in gunfire.
Overall Payday: The Heist still holds up, even if it is rough around the edges. It is still as capable of creating those exciting, nail-biting moments now as in 2011, even if the games polish has faded over the years.
Payday: The Heist is rated M and costs $14.99 on Steam.