Heat. Dog Day Afternoon. The Town. The Score. Set it Off. Movies have given us plenty of heist stories. But games haven’t really tapped the high-octane thrill of robbing a bank with your buddies. That scenario was nothing more than a component in a larger game (Grand Theft Auto IV and Kane & Lynch for example).

Now, however, we have a game that not only puts the focus on various heist scenarios but also manages to be extremely fun in doing so.

That game is Payday: The Heist.

Gameplay: 9.5/10

Payday is a hell of a lot of fun.

Each heist has a set of objectives you have to fulfill in order to get your score. The objectives are varied and add tension as you’re usually waiting for something to happen: to get into a Bank Vault, for instance, you have to use thermite to burn through the ground. In another heist, you’re trying to catch a traitor who ran off with your money, and you have to start a fire near his locked getaway van and wait for the oxygen to run out, which causes him to exit the van. While you’re waiting, cops swarm and pin your group down; any fan of heist movies will be in heaven in these sections. You have to fight off several waves of law enforcement. They aren’t very smart, but that’s ok: there are plenty of special units like snipers and armored swat to keep you on your toes. I can see some of this getting repetitive for folks, but it was a blast over and over again for me and whatever group I happened to be in.

Like Left 4 Dead, if you want to play solo, the computer will control your allies. They were surprisingly competent during the few single player heists I tried. They actually saved me a few times when I was bleeding out on the ground.

But really, the fun is in playing with other people. It’s great to assign tasks so that every possible hiccup in your plan is taken care of. If you’re trying to drill into a restricted area of a bank, but you were caught on security cameras, you can send two guys to wipe the footage while two other guys stay behind and make sure to restart the drill if it stalls.

Graphics: 7/10

Payday isn’t going to win any awards for its graphics engine. However, it conveys the game world well enough for you to have fun. The character models aren’t the most detailed, but they’re detailed enough to not become an eyesore. The masks that you character and your teammates wear are nicely detailed, and the framerate on my modest computer didn’t hiccup at all.

It’s a solid engine, but Skyrim this ain’t.

If there’s a negative, it’s that the animations for some of the characters are a bit jerky. The citizens and cops sometimes move jerkily, especially when jumping over obstacles or running for cover. I’m not sure if it’s a result of their AI routines, but it was a bit distracting.
Otherwise, the graphics are serviceable.

Sound: 8/10

The music isn’t bad in Payday, but it is completely overshadowed by the action going on around you. It’s honestly hard to appreciate the music when there are S.W.A.T. teams trying to blow you away.

The voice-overs, especially the guide who tells you what you need to do and where you need to go, are well done. One of the ways you can negotiate with cops if you’re “caught” in the game is to use hostages. When the police begin to free the hostages you tied up, there’s always a voice telling you to control your hostages. He also warns you if a police assault force is coming, which usually brings out the big guns. These audio cues really help your team to coordinate and designate tasks, especially in the heat of a firefight.

Story: N/A

I’m reluctant to grade the story because this isn’t the type of game wherein narrative is important. It’s a team-based multiplayer game, and what matters is how much fun you have.

Each of Payday’s heist does have its own mini-plot to keep you moving forward, and it does a good job of motivating you to do so. There’s a real sense of urgency conveyed through your characters. You ARE trying to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars, so motivation to succeed is never an issue.

Overall: 8/10

I had a great time playing Payday: The Heist. I’m a huge fan of working together with other people in games to accomplish a goal, and in Payday, you absolutely have to coordinate with your teammates in order to succeed. There’s no room for Rambos here.

I would definitely recommend Payday to anyone who’s looking to fulfill that little fantasy of robbing a bank and fighting your way to freedom. Actually, I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a good, cooperative multiplayer experience.

Plus, Payday is only $19.99 on Steam. At that price, I feel like I’m robbing Overkill Software and Sony Online Entertainment . . .