PAYDAY 3: Heist shooter shows willingness to learn from past mistakes

PAYDAY 3: Heist shooter shows willingness to learn from past mistakes
Images via Starbreeze Studios

Written by 

Joshua Boyles


26th Jun 2023 14:00

When it comes to PC titles, there are few games that are quite as consistent as the PAYDAY series. Almost a decade after PAYDAY 2 launched back in 2013, it’s still one of the most played games on Steam, averaging just as many players today as it did ten years ago.

Now, developer Starbreeze Studios is gearing up to launch its next iteration of the franchise, PAYDAY 3. GGRecon was invited out to the Sweden-based offices to play a good three hours of the upcoming title, as well as speak to the people behind the pixels.

Several million dollars of virtual cash was stolen, and there were more civilian casualties than we’d care to admit. Regardless, we’re happy to report that Starbreeze seems to be learning from the mistakes of its past, and PAYDAY 3 is firmly on the right track.

Get down on the ground

Three heisters wearing masks and carrying money from the vault in PAYDAY 3
Click to enlarge

The concept of PAYDAY 3 remains remarkably similar to the games that came before it. You play as one member of a four-person squad, aiming to execute a daring heist on one of several varied locations.

The full game will launch with eight heist locations, and we were able to explore two of these in our extensive preview session. These included a downtown bank in the middle of New York, as well as an art gallery situated right beneath the Brooklyn Bridge. At launch, heist locations will be based in New York, the “Capital of Capitalism”, as the developer calls it in its briefing. However, future heists may begin to explore further afar.

Each heist is like its own little puzzle box, requiring a complex set of steps to pull off stealthily - if you choose to go that route, that is. As is the case with previous titles, it’s up to the players whether they decide to go in all guns blazing from the get-go. Thankfully, each playstyle feels completely viable, and each has its own rewards, too.

Speaking to the Brand Director and Head of Community, Almir Listo tells us that this new title is all about going back to what PAYDAY 3 is all about, “It’s about ensuring that you feel like this hardened career criminal that is excellent at doing what you do.”

Better with friends

First person screenshot shooting an AK-47 in an Art Museum in PAYDAY 3
Click to enlarge

It’s possible to play PAYDAY 3 solo with AI companions, but coordinating alongside three other co-op partners is definitely the optimal way to play. A new ping system lets players easily mark guards, cameras, and other hazards with ease, and is especially useful when figuring out how to complete a heist silently.

This all feeds into the expanded gameplay systems available to players before they don their masks. For example, one scenario saw us deliberately letting a guard catch us trespassing in a certain area. While detaining us in handcuffs, this let another member of the squad slip through and disable the building’s security systems.

PAYDAY 3 levels are designed to be played over and over again, with difficulty levels and modifiers adding an extra layer of replayability. Enabling ‘Private Security Firm’ modifiers can alter the way you play, like making cameras indestructible, for example. After toying around with these, the difference is certainly noticeable, with us only able to complete the heists on Hard mode a handful of times compared to Normal.

There’s still enjoyment to be had playing solo, but nothing quite compares to the feeling of almost completing a heist silently as a team, only for one remaining guard to rumble the whole operation. If you have a regular squad of players, there’s an immense amount of fun to be had in picking away these puzzle boxes until you find the optimal way to (star)breeze through.

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That next-gen feeling

An art gallery beneath the Brooklyn Bridge in PAYDAY 3
Click to enlarge

Part of what makes PAYDAY 3 such a drastic step up from the last title is the move to a brand-new engine. PAYDAY 2 previously ran on Starbreeze’s DIESEL engine, which was also used for titles like Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, and Terminator: Salvation.

Now, PAYDAY 3 runs on the vastly updated Unreal Engine 4, which has enabled the team to get much more creative with its gameplay implementations. NPCs are now dynamic, with guards feeling less on rails and more like actual human beings. A new ‘Search’ phase solidifies this feeling, with guards now looking for danger when they come across something that’s off, instead of sounding the alarm immediately.

Cosmetic environment damage is also new here, with papers on desks, vases, and other non-descript items breaking before your very eyes. Especially when the bullets start flying, it gives each level a lived-in feel rather than remaining pristine when the stealth plan inevitably falls to pieces.

What’s more, Starbreeze tells us that it’s planning to move the whole game to Unreal Engine 5 at some point post-launch. There’s no timeline on that yet, but it should mean that this gorgeously modern rendition of the series will look and play even better a few years down the line.

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Passing the baton

Art guarded by laser beams in PAYDAY 3
Click to enlarge

In many ways, PAYDAY 3 is a way of drawing a line under PAYDAY 2. Although immensely successful, the developer isn’t afraid to admit that it made a few mistakes during its time. Linking back to unsavoury microtransactions and goofy collaborations, Starbreeze sounds set to rectify those errors here.

“In PAYDAY 2, it felt like a hoard shooter. It felt over time that we had diluted the brand in various ways through certain collaborations - it felt a bit all over the place,” Listo elaborated.

“I think that when players get the opportunity to play, they will feel that we’ve really come back to our core.”

Collaborations will eventually be a part of PAYDAY 3, but we’re told that they’re not the focus at launch.

We care about a very important aspect of player feedback, which is to keep the integrity of the brand and IP. We want to focus on the characters that we make and their story, not other people’s," Listo explains.

PAYDAY has previously collaborated with the likes of John Wick, and that particular licence was mentioned again during our interview. So, while players shouldn’t write off collaborations just yet, there’s certainly more to look forward to after launch.

Paving the way for live service

Heisters running down an alleyway with money in PAYDAY 3
Click to enlarge

Speaking of post-launch, PAYDAY 3 is releasing in a period where it seems that every other game is geared towards live service - and this one is no different. Starbreeze isn’t ready to talk about what sort of new content to expect post-launch, but everything we’ve seen so far seems to be built to accommodate ambitious plans.

New characters and heists are almost certainly on the cards, but there’s an extremely deep customisation system that Starbreeze has to play with too. Weapons and character models can be fully altered with cosmetics and attachments, all of which seem to be unlocked with various forms of in-game currency.

At first, this screams micro-transactions. However, Listo is clear that the way micro-transactions will be handled in PAYDAY 3 is nothing like they were in the past. “We’ve learned from our past and we’re not looking to do any micro-transactions that will somehow make the game feel like a pay-to-win experience,” Listo explains.

“However, the game will feature content that you pay for in various ways. That’s ultimately because we have to put food on the table, especially if we want to work on [this game] for such an incredibly long time after its initial release.”

As it stands, Starbreeze has committed to 18 months of post-launch content for PAYDAY 3. With the title launching straight to Xbox Game Pass, and a lower price point of $40, it seems like Starbreeze is going the right way about introducing a hit live-service title to the masses.

What’s next?

A single heister standing in the New York street in PAYDAY 3
Click to enlarge

Thankfully, there’s not much longer to wait until players can get their hands on PAYDAY 3 for themselves. Launching on September 21, 2023, Starbreeze has left it right until the last minute to reveal the bigger details of its next hit game.

So far, we’re happy to report that PAYDAY 3 is certainly something worth getting excited about. It fills a gap in the co-op shooter market that we didn’t know existed until we tried out this latest rendition of the formula.

From a studio that’s remarkably honest about the mistakes of its past, PAYDAY 3 is one of the more promising titles on the slate for this September.

Joshua is the Guides Editor at GGRecon. After graduating with a BA (Hons) degree in Broadcast Journalism, he previously wrote for publications such as FragHero and GameByte. You can often find him diving deep into fantasy RPGs such as Skyrim and The Witcher, or tearing it up in Call of Duty and Battlefield. He's also often spotted hiking in the wilderness, usually blasting Arctic Monkeys.