PAYDAY3 is a four player co-op first person heist shooter. You start a heist, case the joint, then either steal everything sneaky-like or rain hellfire, getting the entire country’s police force called in on you. Each heist has its own theme and difficulties that the crew must overcome in order to get out and reap the subsequent payday. After the explosive finale of PAYDAY2, the third game promised to continue the story and improve and change several mechanics to be up to more modern standards. For context, PAYDAY2 released 10 years ago; you could definitely see some weird design choices.
The gameplay is much improved over its predecessors. Good gunplay has always been a PAYDAY staple and it it doesn’t disappoint here. Shots feel good and weighty and the placement of your shots is important, especially against the more dangerous special cops, like the new Nader, who will blow up if you shoot his grenade belt.
Cops are more scary but fewer in number and ammo is more scarce, leading to more tactical combat. Civilian functions are expanded as well, be it using them as human shields or trading them for more time between assault waves or for resources. You can also unlock an "Overkill Weapon", which drops a limited ammo weapon into the map for anyone to pick up and unleash hell.
Stealth has received the biggest overhaul with the advent of "social stealth", expanding the number of actions you can do while your mask is off. There’s different areas where guards will react differently; public areas where you can roam free, private areas where guards will escort you out if spotted, and secure areas where you will be instantly handcuffed if caught.
Many skills also interact with stealth, like being able to lockpick your way out of handcuffs. Overall, the stealth in PAYDAY3 is harder but more fun than previously.
The heists are also varied and interesting, with different paths and objectives for loud and stealth approaches, and no two are the same. The game also prods you towards more optional tasks for better loot or an easier heist.
A big portion of the hype around the game was moving away from the often maligned Diesel engine, an engine more known for driving games shoved into an FPS. Unreal Engine definitely delivers, with large crowds looking better than ever, as well as the animations looking far more fluid than before.
Skills are a bit different in this game. The skill system is based around three buffs which you can have, with skills granting you ways of getting the buff, refreshing the buff, or doing cool things while the buff is on, like becoming invisible to cameras or sprinting into doors to smash them down. Some skills do feel underwhelming though, so a skill revamp would be nice.
Finally, there’s actually a thought-out story pinning all the heists together, with small videos of the gang discussing their moves and even a peek at the shadowy people trying to entrap them. I’m interested to see where this leads.
Unfortunately, for all the good it does, PAYDAY3 is held back by two baffling design decisions.
First off, the game is always online, requiring a connection to a server before you can do anything. On its own, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But PAYDAY3 has not implemented this well at all.
For the first two weeks, you could barely play the game, as each time you got hit with a "network error". Halfway through a heist you finally managed to get going? Better hope you don’t lose connection and all your progress. Want to experience lag in a solo game? Of course you don’t, but you’re getting it anyway. Have you ever had to queue for over a minute before playing a solo game? No? Me neither, until now. This seems to have been fixed after some maintenance, but I still get dropouts, and having your entire mission wiped is such a downer.
Even more egregious than the always online requirement though is the game’s flawed progression system. PAYDAY3 requires you to get experience to level up to get more weapons and skills. The massive problem with this is how you get experience. You can only obtain it by completing challenges; in-game achievements that require you to kill a certain enemy or do a certain thing X times. Sounds fine, but remember: this is the only way to do it. You can complete a heist on the hardest difficulty and not get any level ups for your trouble.
It leads to a vicious negative cycle where you need to level up your stuff so you play more recklessly to secure kills, competing with fellow players who are trying to tick the same box. The progression system actively harms the gameplay and teamplay. It desperately needs a fix.
The icing on the top of this cake: annoying crashes meant I couldn’t finish some heists; a sound bug cropped up for me; and the heist preplanning phase, which is stripped down and feels less impactful than even the earliest heists in PAYDAY2. Like the rest of the game, it’s rushed and soulless.
The simple fact is I just wasn’t having fun. The gameplay just wasn’t enough to overcome the crashes, the network dropouts, the lack of preplanning, and the ultimate lack of progress.
PAYDAY2 always had its ups and downs — but it would always bounce back, strong and resilient. I can only hope PAYDAY3 will yet show the same spirit.
By Michael Robertson