A Decade Later, Payday 3 Looks to Reinvent the Heist Game All Over Again
Banking on repeat offenders.
I am a professional bank robber. A thief of unparalleled skill, part of a crew of total pros who’ve seen it all. I’ve got a silenced SMG in case things get messy and a big ol’ magnum that could punch a hole in an elephant in case things get really messy. But stealth is the name of the game. We need to infiltrate this wharf and navigate a labyrinth of shipping containers to find the loot so we can sneak it out on a refrigerated truck (don’t ask).
First things first, let me duck under this security gate and … whoops! The guard saw me. And he’s chasing me now, looking to arrest me! Thirty seconds into the heist, and we’re already going loud. Masks on boys! Shoot ‘em if you got ‘em.
This is my welcome to Payday 3, the latest entry from Starbreeze Studios in the storied heist franchise that’s probably best known for its cool clown masks. I was part of a demo event in NYC that included a live-action robbery re-enactment before turning us loose on two different heists. In addition to the shipping container fiasco, we also stumbled our way through a bloodbath of a bank heist.
“You’re not supposed to get it immediately,” Lead Producer Andreas-Hall Peninger tells Inverse. “We want you to fail, or ‘fail’ and go loud.”
Fail we did, and loud we got. My squad of New York games journos were all equally unfamiliar with Payday. We’d heard of it, and dabbled in Payday 2 near its launch, but that was ten years ago. And while a lot of the mechanics will be familiar to anyone who’s played an FPS, the subtleties of the gameplay loop take time to reveal themselves. Penninger explains that Payday 3 is meant to be played and replayed many times over. There will be eight heists at launch and the goal is for players to train themselves to achieve perfection.
“A part of the charm is figuring out and seeing those layers. Like realizing you can lower the window blinds, close the doors, and essentially shut down the bank. That’s a super cool experience,” he says. “The satisfaction in figuring that out with your friends is a very big part of the game.”
Even though our demo was just two hours, my squad started to experience this ourselves. After we murdered our way through both heists, we had a quick huddle and decided we would try to do the bank heist again but with a little more grace this time. We began problem-solving together where the heist really begins — the loadout screen.
Because we were in a demo we had infinite money and all the skills we wanted. This did make us gods, though. We had to talk through our problems, like getting spotted by cameras, and decide which skills would help. Everyone settled into different roles. Instead of just maximizing our gunplay, some of us focused on hostage management, others on tech and security, and so on.
There are 17 different branches on the tree, each with five skills. With more than 100 skills total, players can only choose a handful based on their skill level and what they’ve unlocked. Penninger says the goal is to allow players to discover their style through gameplay.
“Now you can mix and match however you want, we want to give players that freedom. A big part of the fantasy is creating your own heister, creating your own build. We hope that’s going to be a step in the right direction,” he says.
It’s a testament to the design that we organically moved in this direction without any prompting from the assembled staff. We rebooted our second attempt at the bank heist after we stumbled across a guard in a restricted area who immediately raised an alarm. Our third attempt, on Hard difficulty, was our most intense and productive. We still had to go loud, but we infiltrated some secure areas and found solutions that would have informed our next playthrough.
We learned some lessons too. There was a furious amount of chatter once we cracked the vault, because this time we knew we had to deactivate the dye packs on the cash bundles or they would ruin the money. This was followed by an absolutely harrowing shootout as we ran back and forth hauling loot (you can only carry one bag at a time) that culminated in everyone bleeding out on the ground steps away from the escape vehicle. The gunplay is fantastic and you will murder an absolutely GTA level of police as you try to escape. Then the demo was over, and left us all with that coveted “one more turn” feeling.
“Part of the design philosophy is we want to trigger emotions of panic from time to time,” Penninger says. “Usually you feel that you are in control until you start stealing stuff. You’re confident, you’re gonna get greedy. You start to grab more than you can and that’s usually when you get really fucked over.”