PC, PS5, Xbox Series X
September 21, 2023
Get ready to make bank with PAYDAY 3, promising a thrilling first-person shooter experience centred around high-stakes heists. Developed by Starbreeze Studios and published by Deep Silver, this cooperative robbery game takes players on a crime-filled journey of intense shootouts and multiplayer action. Coming back after 10 years since the last entry, the crew may be able to get out alive with some cash… but only just.
A rocky return for the gang
PAYDAY 3 transports players into the gritty criminal underbelly of the 2020s. Dallas, Chains, Wolf, Hoxton, and newcomers Joy and Pearl, have decided to return after the team’s actions have made influential and powerful enemies, tarnishing reputations and inciting intense animosity. For these adversaries, reputation holds a significance akin to, if not greater than, wealth. They reconvene in the sprawling backdrop of New York City. Something reignites their appetite for crime, leading to a series of audacious heists.
The game offers a nuanced portrayal of this era, exploring how evolving technology and the rise of cryptocurrency affect the dynamics of their criminal operations. PAYDAY 3 promises to immerse players in this vibrant but treacherous world.
The premise is intriguing, promising a compelling exploration of the consequences of the crew’s actions in PAYDAY 2. However, it never really pays off in the detail or way you’d hope it would. These criminals all just enter the world of heists once again and the story is told primarily through cutscenes and not taking advantage of any in-game mechanics or events to explore the plot. The critical factor here is execution and it’s underwhelming.
The not-so-perfect heist
PAYDAY 3 continues to deliver heated cooperative gaming that keeps players on the edge of their seats. Whether you’re meticulously planning with your crew, coordinating every move, or adapting to unexpected twists, the game consistently serves up intense moments. PAYDAY 3 provides a quick and straightforward four-stage tutorial that effectively eases newcomers and returning players into its mechanics, covering combat, social stealth, evasion, and civilian management.
You’re presented with eight distinct heists, all available to play from the start which removes any level-gating. Every heist comes with its unique ambience, aesthetic, and an array of intricate features. The security systems guarding your ill-gotten gains range from laser grids to motion sensors and retina scanners, ensuring that no two heists are alike. Your success hinges on your ability to experiment with your environment and skills, concocting the perfect routine for every job. Will you opt for covert infiltration or prefer to unleash chaos with guns blazing?
“PAYDAY 3 continues to shine as a cooperative thriller but shows signs of inconsistency…”
PAYDAY 3 introduces heist phases, adding a structured framework to what was previously more organic in the series. The journey begins in Stealth, where players can make undetected progress. As the situation escalates and the heist goes loud, the negotiation phase kicks in, involving hostages and alerting enemies. An anticipation phase adds suspense as you await the impending police assault, giving you the opportunity to trade hostages for more time before an assault. During the progression phase, you must complete objectives while under heavy fire. Finally, the no-return phase presents an unrelenting police pursuit. It’s the chaotic bank heist you envisioned.
However, beneath its surface allure, PAYDAY 3 reveals shortcomings. Repeatedly playing missions unveils a simplicity that can make the gameplay less remarkable. The AI behaviour, both among NPCs and the bot companions who replace your crew, can be maddeningly useless. Guards may inexplicably detect you with uncanny precision at times, while at others, they overlook glaring security breaches. You can be crouching around the desks of office workers in a private area and they won’t bat an eye until you start digging through files. Bots, when included in your team, offer little beyond being glorified cash carriers and prove to be a liability when it comes to tactics. It makes each mission feel like a stage set and removes any ounce of immersion.
In the company of newer or matchmaking players, the game often veers swiftly from stealth to all-out combat when the alarm is raised, prioritising action over subtlety. While the evolving mission structure adds variety, the combat itself remains basic. Enemies exhibit a penchant for absorbing bullets and charging headlong into rooms with reckless abandon, creating more of a chaotic brawl than a tactical showdown. This becomes particularly challenging on the Overkill difficulty setting, where even a hint of damage can spell disaster.
Another disappointment lies in the mission objectives. While some are creative and engaging, such as assembling a drill to crack open a vault and then making off with both a server and as much cash as possible, others feel uninspired and lacklustre. Tasks like standing in a designated circle for a few seconds, moving to another circle, and repeating the process in missions like “99 Boxes” and “Gold and Sharke” come off as uninspired and devoid of immersive reasoning. Lockpicking is a tedious endeavour, requiring no skill as it can’t be failed but just takes a little longer to do if you can’t time it right, and doesn’t help that the UI is a bland icon. In sum, PAYDAY 3 continues to shine as a cooperative thriller but shows signs of inconsistency in its gameplay and AI behaviour.
Mastering the art of crime
PAYDAY 3 introduces a progression system that builds on the foundation set by its predecessor. Earn experience points through successful heists and objectives, which in turn unlock a variety of rewards, including abilities, weapons, and cosmetics. This system, while initially rewarding, comes with a few caveats that may impact the overall enjoyment as the game progresses.
With over 100 skills available at launch, there’s a multitude of options to tailor their characters to their play style. The skill line system allows for both customisation and specialisation, giving the freedom to choose and enhance specific skills to create unique loadouts. Mastery nodes and the ability to ace skill lines allow you to truly focus on a playstyle with exclusive abilities.
The introduction of three new buff systems—Edge, Grit, and Rush—adds a layer of strategy to gameplay. These buffs, based on selected skills, influence damage, defence, and speed, offering the opportunity to maximise stats in loadouts. The restriction on the number of skill lines a player can use at once encourages smart decision-making, preventing characters from becoming overpowered. Creative synergies between skills further enrich the planning experience.
“Creative synergies between skills further enrich the planning experience.”
The progression system extends to cosmetics and weapons, which players can unlock based on their infamy level and in-game currency earned from missions. The always entertaining and imaginative customisable masks, suits, gloves, and weapons allow you to be an absolute clown or the creepiest bank robber in history, which is simply great fun and a decent drive to unlock more.
However, the introduction of the C-Stacks currency raises concerns. Allowing in-game money to be exchanged for specific cosmetics and weapon mods is a common practice, but it’s one that warrants scrutiny. The potential inclusion of real-money purchases for C-Stacks must be approached with caution, as it can impact the balance of in-game progression and fairness, potentially leading to a pay-to-win scenario.
The tie-in of infamy to completing the Challenge Book is a mixed bag. On one hand, it provides players with additional objectives to pursue, adding depth to the gameplay. However, it can become a tedious grind at later levels when challenges become more demanding and specific. This can potentially detract from the overall enjoyment as they become more like chores.
PAYDAY 3 presents visuals that, while reminiscent of its predecessor PAYDAY 2, falls short of modern standards. The game’s character models, while serviceable, don’t have the upgrade you’d expect from a game released in 2023. Special effects, such as grenade explosions, thermite burning through surfaces, and flashbangs, don’t dazzle either and look flat. They lack the wow factor that sets apart visually stunning games. Unfortunately, graphical glitches and occasional animation issues also don’t help the look.
While the game’s special effects fall short of expectations, the soundtrack is equally lacklustre. The action scores, at times, feel like uninspiring royalty-free music, failing to generate the necessary excitement to complement the on-screen chaos. Voice acting performances, while serviceable, don’t leave a lasting impression, and some characters may grate on players’ nerves, depending on their preferences. At least the guns sound good… but the mixing can be so busy at times with what sounds like hundreds of audio layers that it can often be hard to hear what’s happening around you properly.
Even when cranked up to the highest graphical settings, PAYDAY 3 doesn’t deliver a visual spectacular. However, it does offer a silver lining in terms of performance. The game runs smoothly on a decent PC, free from the hiccups, massive frame rate drops, or frequent crashes that often plague other titles, even during the most chaotic heist scenarios.
“…PAYDAY players will have a lot to say about the poorly designed UI and quality of life…”
The pre-heist lobby leaves much to be desired. Players are unable to unready, and loadout swaps sometimes fail to function. Moreover, once a player has readied up, they are unable to modify their loadout or favours, which can lead to frustrating situations. Unlike its predecessor, PAYDAY 2, where players could change their loadouts between attempts, PAYDAY 3 forces players to exit the match entirely for any loadout adjustments.
Another notable inconvenience is the absence of a simple restart option after failing a tutorial mission. Instead, players must return to the main menu, causing unnecessary disruptions. This is just the tip of the iceberg and I’m sure more seasoned PAYDAY players will have a lot to say about the poorly designed UI and quality of life features in this game. Although, PAYDAY 3 may follow a familiar path as its predecessor; released in a lukewarm state and improved as the years went on.
- Great multiplayer mindless fun
- Variety of heist scenarios and environments
- Robust progression system
- Customising masks is still good fun!
- Lots of quality of life concerns
- Terrible AI which makes solo play difficult
- Underwhelming story and audio/visual
- Lazy objectives
PAYDAY 3 offers action-packed cooperative gameplay with an array of heists and a progression system that has its merits. However, it’s not without its share of issues. AI inconsistencies, unremarkable objectives, and underwhelming audio-visual elements tarnish the experience. While it’s an imperfect addition to the series, it still offers a taste of the criminal underworld. Like any complex caper, it has its moments of brilliance, but also a few unexpected hiccups along the way.