Preview: Payday 3 – Robbery, Reveals and Relentless Action

Depending on how familiar you are with the franchise, waiting for Payday 3’s release could either feel like the arrival of a series that’s popped up on your radar, or the return of one of the GOAT (Greatest of All Time). Whether you’re so excited you’ve already pre-ordered the game, or you’re an eager Game Pass member, the third iteration of Starbreeze’s first-person co-op crime shooter has been a long time coming, but it will no doubt absolutely crush upon its release.

As of writing, the game is currently undergoing an open stress test on Xbox Series X/S as well as PC, meaning anyone can jump in and check out one of the game’s earlier bank robbery missions. Players can opt for a stealth approach, or go in guns blazing and burn their way into the vault with thermite. I’ve been spending some time robbing this bank, and it has more than gotten me ready to dust off the old clown masks and dive back into the world of Payday.

Graphical Improvements

Immediately noticeable are the graphical improvements. While a 10-year gap between games, this sounds immediately obvious, but it isn’t always the case with modern gaming (just look at that big AAA FPS franchise with annualized releases, and you’ll see what I mean). Everything looks better, whether we’re talking character models, guns, the environments, and everything in between. The mission planning screen is similar, but at present, a static screen. No animated characters in the background, in fact, no moving elements whatsoever. I’m sure that something a little more visually appealing will be in the final release of the game, even if it is without live-action actors.

Lighting and Visual Effects

Then there’s the game’s lighting and visual effects. When I ignited my thermite to burn through the roof of the bank’s vault, it erupted with a satisfying combination of white light, smoke, and billowing sparks. Fearing I would stand too close and burn myself, I opted to shoot at a nearby window and make my way to the reception area to combat invading police forces. The glass pane broke with a satisfying smash, and fell apart in a realistic way. It isn’t just the big things, like nailing the perfect headshot through the window in a riot shield, it’s also the little things that Starbreeze has improved upon.

Soundtrack

I will say at this point that I was disappointed with what I heard of the game’s soundtrack. There’s nothing special here, while Payday 2’s soundtrack has become one of my regular listens on Spotify. Payday 2’s music is easily some of the best made for an FPS of its kind, perfectly transitioning from quieter, simpler music during stealth gameplay, erupting into a pumping, bassy all-out rave for when it truly hits the fan. Payday 3’s stress test had music that felt not only like a cheap cola alternative but a diet or sugar-free cheap cola alternative. Payday 2’s music is straight-up Coca Cola.

Shooting Mechanics

In terms of shooting, everything feels much better than in Payday 2, but still familiar. One change I particularly enjoy is how sidearms feel just as valuable as your main weapon. I would shoot my primary weapon until it ran out of ammo, then swap to my pistol. The pistol was more accurate, but obviously had a much smaller magazine. I became accustomed to my pistol’s accuracy and particular recoil and found I was able to hip fire at police and get quite a few headshots. A very welcome change!

Visual Style and Immersion

The bank mission also had a green tinge to everything, making the game feel more cinematic, with a color filter more similar to the original releases of The Matrix. This doesn’t distract from the gameplay, and it truly does make the game more immersive and similar to the films that inspired it. It’ll be interesting to see if other missions have different color filters, or if the current one is present throughout the whole game (or oddly, just this bank mission).

Loot Box Mechanics

Other welcome changes are the shit-canning of loot box mechanics. It took far too long to unlock everything a heister could have possibly wanted in Payday 2, and simply opting to spend cash to upgrade your weapons and appearance feels much better in Payday 3. It also makes more sense as a game focused on the acquisition of money to spend said money on unlockables. Think about it, in Payday 2 you chose from one of three cards to turn over, unlocking loot upon its face reveal. You could also unlock duplicates with this mechanic, whether you wanted them or not. With Payday 3, the richer you are, the more disposable income you have, meaning you can really pimp out your suit, mask, gloves, or weapons. Brilliant.

Stealth Mechanics

I wasn’t able to test out the improved stealth mechanics, but Starbreeze stated stealth has been improved and expanded upon. Unfortunately for me, the stress test was online-only, so I couldn’t solo a bank robbery as is my wont. While sneaking around a bank is like riding a bike for me, I can only assume that Payday 3 is drawing a lot of new players, as subtlety was unfortunately lost on the majority of my fellow heisters.

Team Dynamics

The first attempt saw another player stroll in front of a security guard, the game’s controls so new to them that they were unable to subdue the guard with words or violence. I opened fire as the guard radioed for help, we masked up, and took control of the bank. Due to this hiccup, we were constantly under siege from law enforcement, leaving with only a single bag of loot each. The next match went much better…

Enemy AI

Teaming up with two other human heisters and an AI, we managed to get halfway through the robbery in stealth. Unfortunately, another player did not spot a security camera that did, in fact, spot them. The alarm was raised, and we held the bank until thermite was delivered by our drop-off helicopter.

Elite police are still a thing, though some refinements have been made. During the stress test, we were flashed, sniped at, bulldozed, and attacked by shields, and ambushed by close-quarters combat elites. No medics or other specials were present. Snipers crouch down, making hitting them a lot harder. They also seemed to fire more often at us, and if left alone, only grew in numbers as the siege went on. Bulldozers seem to be smaller and faster, with a lot more defense. So far, the elites feel balanced but also a threat – especially to a single team member who finds themselves isolated from the group.

Teamwork and Progression

My teammates were busy partaking in the classic Payday 2 chain-throwing, where players all throw bags forward to each other in succession, which helps all the loot arrive at the same time and ensures no bags are snatched by cops, while I kept lowering bollards the police kept raising. I also protected my teammates from a distance as they made their way to the escape van.

The second attempt ended with a van full of loot, and not a single player downed. It was an amazing feat of teamwork and even though no one was talking in-game with mics, we managed to develop a shorthand where every player had an important role that ensured our success. Thanks to the second run, I had $500k to invest in gun attachments and a spiffy new mask.

Conclusion

Ultimately, I can’t wait to dive back into the world of Payday. It has an addicting mix of gunplay, action, stealth, and unique missions unavailable in literally any other game. Even the heavily Payday-inspired Crime Boss: Rockay City doesn’t have gang assassinations, art heists, frame jobs, etc. Payday 3 is bound to have all of those things, plus terrific visuals, improved gameplay, and all-new missions we’re yet to discover.

Catch you all on CrimeNet.


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