Face it, the undead are passé. Everyone and their brother are creating a zombie apocalypse game, whether on a resort island or on your lawn. Well, for those of you bored of doing speed-runs on Left 4 Dead, Overkill Software is bringing a fresh concept to the table: being criminal masterminds in Payday: The Heist.
Something suspicious about a guy bringing a loaded semi-automatic into a bank?
Payday is a game in which you have to successfully carry out a caper such as a jail breakout or hijacking an armored car. Your gang numbers four, and unmanned men are controlled by the AI, just as they are in Left 4 Dead. Before each heist, players outfit themselves with various tools, from weaponry to gadgetry.
One of the biggest thrills is that unlike Left 4 Dead and other like-minded games, you don't have to jump into the action right away, and you don't even have to play with guns ablazing. In the bank heist we tried at E3, you entered the banks with weapons hidden to case the joint, looking for the bank manager, who owns the security pass card to the vault. You have to be careful, though - wander too close to a guard and they'll see your hidden weaponry and react with force.
One of the biggest strengths of the game is that you can be as stealthy as possible - a task even harder than a straight-up robbery, and you can decide to be completely non-lethal as well. When you finally approach the bank manager, you can try to mug him quietly, without the guards noticing, handcuff him and take his card off him. Or you can just plug him in the head. It's your choice.
He's over there!
If you try to be stealthy, you have to eliminate such things as security cameras. Even if you've been made, removing the cameras is paramount, because they give away your position to the police. Once you've given yourself away, the tension mounts as the police start pouring into the bank, guns drawn. As the heist progresses, more and more police come, getting more and more heavily armed and armored, so eventually you have SWAT members with bulletproof shields coming.
Meanwhile, in the bank heist, there were multiple objectives, such as hacking the computer, melting the floor with a explosive compound, gathering the money and getting out. All the while, you have screaming civilians whom you can take hostage; it's useful, because if the police capture one of your men, you can exchange the hostage for him.
The game also has a Call of Duty-style leveling system, in which you gain access to better equipment as you progress. They didn't say, but it's probably gamers will be able to ramp up the difficulty once they find capers too easy to pull off. Even in the vanilla bank heist, however, the game is challenging, but not frustrating, so you'll have that "Dammit, just one more try!" when you fail.
Money, money, money!
Even with the short sessions we had with Payday: The Heist, it was incredibly addictive, and it was only in pre-alpha. PC and PlayStation 3 users should keep an eye out for this game from Sony Online Entertainment. It looks like a real steal.
About Jonah A. Falcon
Gaming since 1977, Jonah burned out on videogames several times, but fortunately is back in the manic phase of his hobby.