Title: Payday 3
Developer: Starbreeze Studios
Release Date: September 21, 2023
Reviewed On: PS5
Publisher: Deep Silver
Genre: First Person Shooter
You would think that sequels improve and iterate upon their predecessors instead of taking a huge step backward. Unfortunately, the highly anticipated heist simulator Payday 3 does the latter, with what I would probably assume is the worst game launch of the year with plenty of cut features, an overall lack of content, and a game that most people can’t even play due to unstable servers and an online-only requirement.
If you’ve played any other Payday title, then you’ll feel right at home with the gameplay loop here. Pick a heist, scout your surroundings, either go in stealthily or guns blazing, steal the loot, and escape. Unfortunately, the actual content here is a bit barebones, with only eight heists at launch. Keep in mind that Payday 2 had more missions at launch than this. It’s safe to say future content planned is definitely going to be sold as paid DLC. That being said, all of the missions here are visually distinct and have you robbing a bank, a jewelry store, and even a penthouse suite.
On the narrative front, it’s pretty minimal. The story continues where Payday 2 left off and has the gang come out of retirement to heist once again. Lazily put-together and unfinished cutscenes are inserted between heists that use static images and voiceovers to deliver some context. Half the time, the voiceovers don’t even work due to the game bugging out, leaving you to read plain text on a screen. There’s a total of six playable heisters, with some returning characters as well, including Dallas, Hoxton, Chains, and Joy.
I found many of the heists to be insanely cryptic on what you have to do next, and if you already failed the stealthy approach, get ready for an endless onslaught of law enforcement shooting you down. There is no partial completion, as you have to complete the entire heist in order to escape. Playing with randoms and bots that have no idea what to do made some missions unbearably long, with some lasting over 45 minutes. This is an experience that I can see being fun with friends but frustrating with strangers.
There are quite a few mechanics to get used to, including acquiring keycards, cracking passwords, lockpicking gates, hacking wifi systems, and deactivating security cameras. Every heist presents a different playground of sorts for you to pick the way you want to approach things. You can trade hostages for more time before more cops arrive or even use them as human shields. Four difficulty options are also available, including Normal, Hard, Very Hard, and Overkill for the Payday veterans. Unfortunately, Payday 3 doesn’t offer melee weapons, which is another thing that its predecessor offered.
You get a payout of cash and experience points based on your performance in the heist. Most of the tools, clothes, and guns are locked behind infamy levels, and you barely get any experience per heist. The levels go up to 150, so get ready to grind heists over and over again to get the stuff you want. There’s also an additional in-game currency called C-Stacks (fictional crypto-currency, lol) used to purchase the gear you cannot buy with normal cash. You actually can’t purchase C-Stacks with real-life money, but it is a bit weird to lock content behind a second layer of currency.
This is an online-only title, meaning you have to matchmake even if you want to play with three other bots. This is not to mention how incompetent the actual bots are, as you cannot issue commands to them, and they will not help with stealing loot. During my play sessions, I found several bugs as well, with the bots running into walls or just standing in place. Also, if you end up disconnecting for whatever reason, then all the time you spent on the previous heist is wasted, as you get no rewards or experience.
It’s quite baffling to see Payday 3 remove a bunch of features from the previous game, most notably voice chat and Crime dot net, which served as a lobby of sorts for players to find matches depending on their preferred difficulty levels. For a game that requires a constant internet connection and for you to make a separate third-party Starbreeze account, there sure aren’t many social features that come with it.
It’s also pretty clear that this game wasn’t designed with the console in mind. In fact, an older, incorrect version of the game was rolled out on PlayStation 5 when the game initially launched. To start off, the UI is atrociously abysmal and extremely laggy, requiring several button presses before an action is confirmed. Sometimes you can press the Circle button to go back, but sometimes the menu forces you to switch to a different tab. Given that this is a PVE game, I see no reason why the developers neglected to include aim assist, simply because it is harder to shoot a gun on a controller compared to a keyboard and mouse.
Performance on the PlayStation 5 is mediocre at best, with stable enough frame rates when the servers aren’t dying every two minutes. This is probably the biggest setback of the game: the servers. Since its launch, Payday 3 has been virtually unplayable due to consistent issues with online servers and matchmaking. Content from pre-order bonuses went missing, and it took several days for them to show up on my account. As I am writing this review, the servers are still unstable and a hit or miss if you want to play.
Payday 3 is fun and engaging when it works, but more often than not, it doesn’t. The servers that are constantly down, the overall lack of content, the cut features from Payday 2, and the lazily put-together cutscenes all prevent this from being a title worth experiencing, even for the diehard fans. I have no doubt that Starbreeze will polish this title in time, but for now, it’s an easy skip.
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