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PAYDAY: The Heist
Score: 83%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Developer: Overkill Software
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 - 4 (Online)
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Action

Graphics & Sound:
I think I'm more in love with the concept of multiplayer than the actual form it usually takes. I like the idea of working with other players to accomplish a common goal, which is apparently a foreign concept to a majority of players I run into whenever I play online.

PAYDAY: The Heist immediately grabbed my attention at E3 2011 because it emphasizes co-operative play over the run-and-gun Rambo tactics of other multiplayer shooters on the show floor. The idea is a cross between Left 4 Dead and The Dark Knight's opening sequence or Heat (or, as I embarrassingly compared it to then -- Point Break). It's a cool concept and one I hope catches on.

PAYDAY's visuals tend to flip-flop between good and not-so-good. The overall image looks great, especially amid the chaos of a massive heist. The air is thick with dust and other debris kicked up as the cops and robbers trade gunfire, yet the actual movements during the fight are stiff and somewhat clunky. Then again, each environment looks really cool and showcases its own distinct look, yet some feel more like game levels than actual environments. I'm not knocking a level for looking like a level, but considering the game's premise, I didn't like the feeling of being reminded, "Hey, this is a game."

PAYDAY is a co-op game, and if you're playing it right, you probably won't notice much of the noise in the background. The music fits the setting perfectly, offering a slick, seedy soundtrack for your heists and the voicework is pretty good. Still, once the cops break out the big guns and start assaulting you from all sides, much of the ambience will be lost on gunfire and frantic yelling of commands between players.

PAYDAY: The Heist is built purely for co-op. There's a single-player experience if you want to try it out, but it exists just to exist and lacks any of the excitement you'll encounter playing with friends. The A.I. is pretty bad and you miss out on the previously mentioned frantic shouts between teammates. This sort of inter-team drama is a huge part of the overall experience, especially since beyond the introductory premise, there isn't much of an embedded narrative to keep your head in the game. So, if the concept of a bank heist is appealing, but you aren't into online play, you're simply out of luck.

Gameplay is scattered across six scenarios, each completely independent of the other. It's exactly like Left 4 Dead, only replacing the undead with law enforcement. Missions are built on a series of mission objectives, such as cutting alarms, locating and drilling into safes or locating key personnel. The types of missions are varied. There's the bank heist, but you'll also attempt to rescue someone from a prison convoy or secure safety deposit boxes from a skyscraper.

Each scenario plays out in a similar fashion. You are handed an objective while waves of cops, SWAT troops and FBI agents attempt to keep you from completing your goal. Each wave is stronger than the last and will come at you from different angles. For example, in the First World Bank mission, cops begin by coming through the front door, but as you get deeper into the heist, they start to crash through other bank entrances.

Although the game could be rightfully accused of cribbing scenarios and gameplay from movies, I really didn't mind the subtle, and not-so-subtle references. The scenarios represent some of the best and most memorable heists to hit the screen, so as a fan of these types of movies, the opportunity to play through them is a fantastic rush.

I had fun going through missions, though I did encounter a couple of occasional errors, such as the game failing to realize a mission goal had been completed. I also encountered a couple of errors while trying to get into a game. I was lucky enough I had a group of friends to play with, but trying to jump into a game was, at times, rough. Though I'm not entirely convinced my aging home network wasn't the cause of some connection problems, I sometimes had a hard time connecting to lobbies. The playerbase is also rather small at this point, causing additional problems when trying to find a game. On the plus side, the few community members I did interact with "got" what the game was about, so I had fun.

PAYDAY: The Heist is built for multiplayer and, as such, it is prone to the same difficulty issues as other co-op experiences. If everyone is in the game and working together, you have a reasonably good chance of making it through to the end of the scenario. If not, it only takes one or two mental breakdowns or moments of heroics to completely screw up a mission.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of balance issues that will throw off even the tightest of teams. There's a certain climb in the resistance you'll face, though some waves randomly shoot up like a rocket. Even when you're reasonably sure you're in a good spot, the game will suddenly overwhelm you with a line of SWAT officers with riot shields, shot guns or tazers. There's a definite random element involved with waves, which keeps the pressure on, though there should be some build up.

Game Mechanics:
One really cool feature in PAYDAY: The Heist is the leveling system. The system is tied to one of three classes - Assault, Sharpshooter or Support - each with their own set of in-game perks. There are a couple of really weird aspects of the system that won't immediately make sense. For example, classes are selected during missions rather than before. It runs opposite to nearly every other game on the market, but makes a lot of sense within the context of the game. Rather than limiting you to one role the entire time, you can swap out based on the situation. Additionally, the difference between classes isn't apparent until you start ranking up and earning class-specific perks.

It's an odd system, but it is pretty solid despite some issues. For one, unlocks are a bit confusing and the system is never really explained, which hurts the system since you likely won't get much out of it otherwise. You can level up to 145 times, though unlocks never seem to come fast enough, and when they do, it is with little fanfare or explanation. Unlocks are also a bit infrequent, especially when it comes to unlocking new guns.

The actual shooting mechanics behind PAYDAY aren't the best, and probably the weakest element of the entire package. Unfortunately, shooting is also the game's most important mechanic. Aiming feels stiff while shooting feels a bit too float-y. It's an odd combination that sometimes works, but there are times where you will lose out in a fight because you couldn't target someone quick enough or your gun wasn't responsive. Ammo, or rather the lack of ammo, also causes a few problems. Certain classes can drop ammo, but you're never given enough to counter-balance the inaccurate shooting mechanic.

While PAYDAY: The Heist has its issues, none are particularly game breaking. The only major drawback thus far is actually finding people to play with since the single-player experience is rather bland and not much fun. With the right people, PAYDAY is something you'll constantly come back to and enjoy, and a great example of the what multiplayer can be.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker