As I walked into the facade of what was supposed to be the New Williamsburg Savings Bank, the first thing I was greeted by was the sight of a champagne tower. Before I could pluck a couple of drinks from it, though, a security checkpoint barred my entrance. Once I’d dropped my belongings into a platter and been properly patted down, I was able to recover my belongings and be served a glass by one of the idling waiters. Before long, a handful of fellow members of the games press had congregated in a corner of the gaudy interior and exchanged pleasantries, all the while eyeing the stage and podium on the other half of the extravagant hall. The lights eventually dimmed and the wait staff ushered us to the aforementioned stage—though not before I could grab myself a second drink—where we were treated to a speech about the opening of the bank. It was clear that we, the unceremoniously dressed crowd, were meant to be the attendants of a gala of sorts and as such raised our glasses to cheer the occasion. Except then the bank lost power, save for a lone spotlight shining on a balcony above, where a masked individual who declared themselves a bank robber and our captor took center stage. Their crew burst through the doors on our level, corralling us even closer to one another and simultaneously arguing amongst themselves. Eventually, after holding the lector at gunpoint and fighting off a security guard who dared step up to the bank robbers, we were made complicit in the crime, escaping through the basement of the bank with a duffel bag full of “loot.” Only then were we finally greeted by the team behind Payday 3, who had somehow found an old bank in the heart of New York to transform into the first, and importantly interactive, stage of their preview event.
In the swanky basement of the Williamsburg Savings Bank, we were treated to a couple of hours of Payday 3, the followup to 2013’s Payday 2—a game that launched into the stratosphere 10 years ago and has never really quite come back down. Payday 2, like Team Fortress 2 and more closely like the Left 4 Dead series, has enjoyed a long tail, especially on PC, where it still ranks as one of the most played titles on average with incredible consistency. Launching just as the advent of games-as-services was hitting, it has the distinction of being one of the OGs of the form, turning the delivery of DLC maps and missions into arguably one of the most successful content pipelines. In that time, Payday 2 and its developer Overkill Software has weathered competition, controversy, and corporate mess and has lived to tell the tale and deliver Payday 3, a game that the team has unambiguously declared they foresee supporting for the next 10 years. Payday 3 wants to be a part of your life for the foreseeable future. So how seamlessly does it fit in?
At the risk of betraying how little I’ve played Payday 2, I’d say the game plays pretty damn faithfully to what longtime players expect. The series has never been the smoothest shooter, reveling in a comfortable (and almost endearing) amount of awkwardness that is still kind of present here. However the change in engine and sheer passage of time does mean there’s a kind of night and day change in quality in Payday 3. Missions unfold much as they ever did, with your crew walking onto the site of their heist and casing it before donning masks and executing on a plan or lack thereof. In the time since Payday 2, and likely through its DLCs, the settings have certainly grown more complex though. Advanced security around the perimeter of a bank made it that much more of a pain to sneak around without a tech savvy heister, and even when I did kit myself out with a slew of tech abilities, the game didn’t just suddenly keel over for me. Neither of the two levels I played—one in a bank and the other in a shipping yard—were a cakewalk, requiring coordinated efforts from the four of us just to make it out alive. In one case, only two players made it to the end in a downed state, finishing the mission but quite laughably with no reward to show for it. Though we fumbled around in our earlier and successful attempts, it was the later failures, where we tried to properly engage the game on its own level and use the tools given to us to figure out how best to navigate the environment, where I derived the most fun from it.
At first, my single-minded goal of completing the outlined objectives paved the way for more than enough mess and fun. Fighting off onslaughts of increasingly brutal cops led to plenty of close encounters on its own, especially as we tried to coordinate the madness over all the noise and nonstop action. A second run at the bank level yielded results better than money I didn’t need, it gave us the chance to try different, rewarding approaches. On that renewed attempt, we snuck around, discovering an alleyway that offered another entrance into the building. Even though we were discovered eventually, we were able to corral more hostages, quite like ourselves about an hour before, and use them to negotiate with the police, delaying their response. On a harder difficulty, the game also shifted and obscured objectives, like the switch boxes we had to flip on the street outside to bring down roadblocks in order for our getaway van to reach us. For at least the two hours that I was able to play, Payday 3 kept me on my toes more than I expected, especially for the sequel to such a well-established and known quantity. Though we failed to keep quiet, the fact that we could is a possibility that pushes me to want to keep experimenting with Payday 3 once it’s out in a few short weeks.
The possibilities in this game multiply quite a bit once you factor in all the different permutations of character builds and approaches that players can make and take. This and the consistency of post-launch content seem to be why Payday 2 is the megahit that it’s turned out to be, and at first blush Payday 3 seems to be following in those footsteps. Though it wipes the slate clean—a slate which consisted of 80+ heists in Payday 2—the developers are determined to match Payday 2’s success. A new locale, engine and some revamped features won’t make it a hit right out the gate, though. Payday 3 is emerging into a whole new market, one that has proven unfriendly to service titles. It’s a mystery if the audience that’s already bought into and enjoyed Payday 2 will make the jump, let alone players who’ll be jumping in for the first time. We’ll just have to wait and see how successfully it pans out in the end, but for my part, I don’t see why Payday 3 shouldn’t thrill its audience like the series traditionally has.
Moises Taveras is the assistant games editor for Paste Magazine. He was that one kid who was really excited about Google+ and is still sad about how that turned out.