‘Payday 3’ review: an entertaining crime caper, but it won’t steal any hearts

‘Payday 3’ review: an entertaining crime caper, but it won’t steal any hearts

What’s the perfect crime? In multiplayer heist shooter Payday 3, it’s whatever you want it to be. For some players it’s a sneaky burglary, staying one step ahead of security guards and cameras before vanishing with the loot. For others, it’s punching through a jewelry store’s alarmed display case, snatching their fanciest necklaces, and escaping after a daring shootout.

Whichever you prefer, nearly all of Payday 3‘s levels follow the same routine. You turn up to the target, guns and the series’ trademark clown masks stowed. After casing the joint, taking note of cameras, security guards and employees, you have a choice: keep quiet and try to grab everything without being seen, or pull your gun out and start taking hostages.

Usually, most heists are an unplanned blend of both. One minute you’re sneaking through the back rooms of a bank, snagging keycards to open its vault. The next, you’re in a desperate firefight with police, hauling bags of cash to your getaway helicopter on the roof because a guard spotted the camera you broke.

Payday 3
‘Payday 3’ Credit: Starbreeze

It’s a compelling formula, and it’s hard to feel bad about being caught red-handed when shooting in Payday 3 is so good. Ammo is scarce, which means landing headshots on heavily-armoured SWAT foes is a necessity. Special foes – like hulking Bulldozers who can soak up hundreds of bullets – ensure shootouts are challenging at any difficulty, and working with your three partners is crucial. As a shooter, Payday is at its best toward the end of each robbery, when your health and ammo are low and there are scores of police between you and freedom.

How difficult these shootouts are will depend on how your character is built. There are a total of 17 skill trees to invest in, offering powerful benefits to stealth or gunplay. Levelling up the ‘Grifter’ tree makes it easier to trespass in private areas, while ‘Hacker’ lets you tap into CCTV and distract guards by hacking their radios. Elsewhere, damage bonuses from ‘Tank’ and ‘Mower’ are better suited for players who prefer to go in guns-blazing. Combined with a myriad of customisation options for your guns, outfits and masks, Payday 3 gives players plenty of ways to shape their own criminal.

However, customising your crook takes cash, which is earned through heisting. One of our favourites, ‘Rock The Cradle’, tasks players with stealing a cryptocurrency wallet from a nightclub for rich socialites. If the alarm is raised, the wallet is wiped, leaving you with an expensive paperweight – but through stealth, social engineering and teamwork, we were able to snatch it undetected. Other highlights include two fantastic bank robberies, but another two levels – namely dull shootout ‘Road Rage’ and finicky art gallery burglary ‘Under The Surphaze’ – fall short.

Payday 3. Credit: Starbreeze Entertainment.
Payday 3. Credit: Starbreeze Entertainment.

There are just eight heists, which make two disappointing levels feel like a lot. Payday 3‘s biggest crime is that there’s very little crime, as you can complete every level in four to five hours. Though you’re encouraged to repeat each one to complete challenges, there’s little incentive to do so. It’s worse if you’ve played Payday 2, as most of 3‘s levels are familiar re-treads of prior missions.

Additionally, many of Payday 3‘s changes are disappointing. The newly-introduced negotiation stage of heists, which lets you trade hostages for time or resources before the next wave of police burst in, is a great addition in theory. But it’s half-baked, as there’s no actual negotiating to be done and you simply release hostages when the opportunity presents itself. Similarly, stealth in Payday 3 is underwhelming – guards are less likely to investigate broken cameras, and having unlimited cable ties means you can subdue any poor civilian that gets in your way, rather than having to think of creative ways to avoid them.

This stings because Payday 2 was a huge leap forward from the first game, thanks to its deeper stealth systems and additional heists. In comparison, Payday 3‘s content is lacking and it fails to advance the series with any meaningful additions. Although four updates are planned to launch over the next year, currently Payday 3 falls short of offering the perfect crime game.

Payday 3 launches on September 21 for PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. We played on PC.

Verdict

Payday 3 is brilliant fun, but it wears thin very fast. Despite its phenomenal shootouts and the thrill of pulling off a heist unseen, other tweaks are a step back from Payday 2 and the eight levels on offer won’t keep casual players entertained for long.

Pros

  • Most heists are incredibly well-designed, and support a variety of approaches
  • Expansive skill trees allow you to create a crook that suits your playstyle
  • Gunfights are fantastic

Cons

  • Stealth feels too shallow on certain levels
  • Not enough heists
  • Fails to innovate on the Payday series’ years-old formula

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