Payday 3 is the latest coop heist-based FPS and much-anticipated follow-up from Payday 2 (2013). After 10+ years of Payday 2 content and almost going bankrupt Starbreeze finally has brought us Payday 3, was it worth the wait? Payday 3 is available now on PS5, The Xbox Series consoles and PC.
A safe with a few cracks.
I’m incredibly happy to see Starbreeze pull through and deliver us a third instalment in the payday franchise. Payday 3, unfortunately, has the burden of surpassing its predecessor which boasts over ten years of support. Even with these odds, does Payday 3 manage to steal the show?
The gameplay in Payday 3 is absolutely what most people will be interested in, and I can confirm, that the game delivers. It has massively evolved from Payday 2 and on most fronts, feels like a step up.
Mask On, Mask Off
Stealth is the highlight here, with new systems and phases that make it more enjoyable, and considerably less annoying. For starters, you can now do more actions in casing mode, for example, lockpicking and picking up objects. Out of the 8 heists available at launch, with one of them being loud only, I managed to stealth three of them completely masked off.
Another extremely welcome change is while in casing mode, getting caught in a restricted area won’t immediately get players into trouble and end a stealth run. Instead, guards will escort you back to a public area, also giving you a chance to grab a keycard from them if they have one. If players are caught in a secure area, they will be arrested and have to either be freed by a teammate or free themselves with a perk.
Loud and proud
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you could opt to go completely loud and take the job by storm. The gunplay here feels solid and would feel considerably better if it wasn’t for the controller options being so lacking. Playing on the controller feels rough due to the lack of customization. Payday 3 on PS5 has aim acceleration that cannot be turned off, no customizable controls, and an extremely large dead zone that cannot be lowered. Because of this, I found myself having trouble with snipers and instead, aiming with my left stick to take them out.
Once you get caught, all is not lost, there is then a negotiation phase where you can trade hostages for more time without an assault wave, allowing you to get some early objectives out the way before the onslaught of cops arrive.
The enemy variety here is impressive and affects gameplay just the right amount. Returning specials from Payday 2 have some new tricks up their sleeve. The infamous cloaker is as terrifying as ever, though it’s nice to see that players don’t get immediately downed now, instead, you can be freed by a teammate killing him as he shouts obscenities to you.
The bulldozer has received a considerable buff since payday 2. Once a bulldozer spawns, you will have to have your whole team focus fire on him to destroy his armour plating and take him out due to his large health pool.
Headshots in Payday 3 are the name of the game due to almost every enemy type having a lot of body armour.
There are quite a few other special enemy types in Payday 3, all of them having a counter for you to learn and play around.
Going loud is an incredibly fun time, with objectives usually differing from that of going quiet, however with the poor implementation of the controller and no way to use a mouse at launch, I typically would opt for the quiet route.
Every one of Payday 3’s launch heists was thoroughly enjoyable, with only one being a little repetitive due to it not having much variety and being loud only.
After one or two playthroughs, I began to learn the map layouts and spawn positions for items. This was due to Payday 3’s impeccable map design, with many visual clues indicating where you need to go next, things like signs or subtle dialogue would direct me in the right direction.
In Payday 3, after restarting a heist, the spawn locations and door codes will stay the same. This means that you can completely skip certain actions after learning door codes. In the heist “Gold & Sharke” you typically have to learn the location of a keycard and then find a code, this can take upwards of 20 minutes. However, if you remember the code and location and get caught, you can restart and immediately enter the vault code to open it, cutting the time it takes to complete the heist in half.
A One-Man Job
Unfortunately, most of Payday 3’s heists are not that solo-friendly, AI teammates are mostly useless and only really serve as bullet sponges, they cannot revive each other or complete objectives. They can carry bags you throw on them, but will move extremely slow in stealth and are not able to throw them.
Some heists are completely impossible to get all the loot solo, an example being the first heist in the game “No Rest for the Wicked, where disabling all of the dye packs on the money is impossible while by yourself and at least requires two players.
Playing with randoms is also lacking in Payday 3 due to the lack of voice chat, and the chat wheel on consoles just doesn’t cut it.
The story in Payday 3 is extremely basic and even after finishing every heist and watching every cutscene, still feels like a prologue. That’s because, it mostly is one, only really serving as a way to get the gang back together after payday 2. I do appreciate the story going back to more grounded roots after Payday 2 though. 3 does away with superpowers, immortality, and needing to watch a four-hour story recap to get a basic understanding. The cutscenes are short, dialogue filled still images. While not fully animated, they do look nice.
Payday 3 has quite a different skill tree system from Payday 2, while Payday 2 had many different perks that all did unique things, the perks in Payday 3 mostly all play around three buffs, rush, edge, and grit. Skills seem to have a lot less of an impact on Payday 3. Instead, focus on small buffs that will give players helping hands. This isn’t a bad change, but I do believe it will result in quite a lot less build variety as time goes on.
A change I was not a fan of is player EXP being limited to challenges. Sometimes I would spend half an hour doing a heist only to get no player EXP. This felt incredibly disheartening.
Challenges will range from completing heists on certain difficulties to getting different weapon kills.
Some of these challenges are there for no reason other than to pad out your playtime, with some requiring upwards of 150 completions of a single heist for a tiny amount of EXP. This results in levelling being extremely tedious and slow.
Graphics & Audio
While Payday 3 isn’t a very impressive-looking game visually, some heists sport impressive lighting and overall the game looks fine, the graphics are not the draw here.
Voice performances can sometimes sound slightly off, but never so much that it lessened my enjoyment of the game. Most of the cast delivers some great performances even with the simple story and dialogue.
Music is a massive part of the payday franchise and Payday 3 continues that trend with music that would make me bop along while mowing down cops in the assault phase. Composer Gustavo Coutinho has achieved the goal the team set out for of “50% payday the heist, 20% payday 2, and 30% Gustavo” in their dev diary.
Bugs & Performance
Over my time with Payday 3, I had a significant amount of issues. On the PS5, the game accidentally launched into a beta state. Despite owning the gold edition of the game which included early access, I was not able to play until a day later, after a patch.
Some challenges I would complete on higher difficulties like overkill, which would count in the achievement page but not award me with any experience.
During a maskless attempt of a heist, after 20 minutes I found out that I couldn’t see any of the bags I threw, forcing me to restart.
Thankfully, outside of the nightclub heist dropping to the low 50s, performance was a consistent 60fps outside of that one heist.
Due to feeling like completely different heists both stealth and loud, the 8 launch heists of Payday 3 feel more like 15. After 40 hours of game time, I am still revisiting heists to complete challenges and try them with different builds. If the developers stick to the road map Payday 3 could eventually keep players busy for hundreds, even thousands of hours.
With some exceptionally engaging gameplay and intelligently designed heists, payday 3 delivers on being a successor to Payday 2. While it will not have nearly as much content for quite a long time, for now, the foundations are much more solid than its former entry- I can see Payday 3 having just as long a life span.
Unfortunately, a poor launch state, controller issues, and a plethora of bugs make the game just short of a perfect coop shooter.
That is why I am awarding Payday 3, the Thumb Culture Gold Award.