There aren’t many game franchises out there that specifically seek to emulate the “cops and robbers” fantasy like PAYDAY does. There are countless games-within-games by way of user-generated content and custom modes out there, but nothing quite like the heisting experience that Overkill Software has delivered over the last decade.
PAYDAY 2 has grown exponentially in the years since launch, expanded with new content, quality-of-life updates, and even guest characters. Where PAYDAY 2 came to us a brief two years after the launch of PAYDAY: The Heist, PAYDAY 3 is coming after a comparatively staggering ten years. After some hands-on time with a couple of PAYDAY 3’s heists, it’s clear that this is a modernised take on the formula that also brings quite the technical leap, making for an experience that’s more iterative than innovative.
While narrative details were sparse across my short play session, it’s the setup for PAYDAY 3 that seems most intriguing. Following the ending of PAYDAY 2, the gang has an attempt made on their lives. With most members unaccounted for and offshore accounts emptied, Dallas, Chains, Hoxton, and Wolf seek to uncover the forces that conspire against them. Begrudgingly forced out of retirement, the team takes to New York for new heisting opportunities. It’s a novel setup, especially for players who’ve been with the core four since the beginning and have become swept up in their escapades.
Unsurprisingly, PAYDAY 3 can be played solo but is best experienced in cooperative play with three other heist-ers. It largely follows the same structure as the first two games, but greatly expands on the mask-off phase of heists and NPC interactions. While both of my heists went loud, each is doable in full stealth and offered unique heisting experiences.
The first was a fairly typical PAYDAY-style heist in a branch of the Secure Capital Bank. An unusually large amount of cash housed in its vault means buffed up security presence on-site. This was where we saw most of the expanded mask-off options in play. For starters, the introduction of private areas allows players to more freely explore without going loud. These zones are off-limits to the public with the silver lining that authority will escort you out if caught. It seems like an insignificant change, but lets players gather more intel before putting together a plan.
Once we inevitably went loud, it was time to engage in combat proper. Conserving ammunition is the name of the game here, incentivising pinpoint accuracy and effective use of grenades. One thing I noticed about PAYDAY 3’s gunplay, was how much better it felt in comparison to its predecessors. Pulling the trigger immediately feels more tactile than before, and I quickly found myself snapping to targets when the action got heavy. It was also during this phase of the heist that we got to see negotiation, a new mechanic where you can trade hostages for extra time and resources, a cool addition that expands player choice and adds another dynamic to think about.
As the heist progressed, explosive ordnance also showcased the environmental destruction afforded by better technology, culminating in a bombastic entry into the bank’s vault. After relieving the branch of its riches, we quickly fled the site, cops giving chase in a rampant rush to the finish line. The gradual ramp in chaos is well and truly present within PAYDAY 3, with its most exhilarating moments coming at the tail-end of a heist.
The second heist we undertook was drastically different in setting and objective. Set in the modern SURPHAZE Art Gallery against the backdrop of night, this heist feels truly unique in the broader scope of the franchise. You’ll tip-toe through halls decorated with abstract art as you seek to plunder expensive paintings, moving from gallery to gallery as you attempt to locate specific pieces.
Much like the Secure Capital Bank branch, this heist can also be completed in full stealth. It also presents plenty of options, from sneaking into the manager’s office to find out where specific art is being displayed, to using high-tech devices make sure you’re taking the authentic article. It’s the kind of heist that you want to run again to get better at, whether that be through maintaining stealth or bringing home bigger winnings.
Of course, all of these heists feed into PAYDAY 3’s core progression systems of cosmetic customisation and player loadouts. While I didn’t get time to properly dive into this aspect of PAYDAY 3, there were a lot of options present in the build for player expression both through playstyle and the appearance of their heist-er. This is all before the promise of post-launch content with new playable characters, weapons, and heists.
The other thing we didn’t get to play around with which seems to add a lot to PAYDAY 3’s replay value is through its difficulty system. Each one adds new private security firms to heists that has an effect on the map. Things like indestructible security cameras, hack resets, and more will shake up and add difficulty to already tense heists.
My one major concern with PAYDAY 3 from a gameplay perspective comes from how it’s going to handle new players. While it’s undeniably made for long-time fans, there’s a lot going on with the PAYDAY formula here that might seem opaque without external help. There are a lot of moving parts to executing a successful heist in PAYDAY 3, which can be overwhelming for a new player.
The game looked and ran great in action, but did present some technical issues not uncommon in early builds. Between a few crashes, UI issues, and inconsistent matchmaking, there were a few unfinished elements that hampered my experience with this build of the game. Hopefully the team at Overkill is able to iron these issues out by the time PAYDAY 3 launches.
Despite some technical concerns, I’ve come away from my time with PAYDAY 3 sure of the fact that it will please series veterans. While it plays it relatively safe in terms of improving on a tried formula, it adds some new wrinkles that further flesh out options within heists and their numerous phases. The SURPHAZE Art Gallery is also a promising look into the types of locations we can expect in PAYDAY 3’s heists, and I have no doubt that challenging difficulty modifiers will bring a lot of replay value to the table when the game launches.