Payday 3 is something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. I played its predecessor a lot over the years, and although there were a lot of hiccups and a loveable amount of jank, I always came back. Nothing else has ever scratched the same itch. Even though there was only one heist to play in such a limited vertical slice, I’ve come away from the Payday 3 Closed Technical Beta with even more excitement.
If I had to summarize my experience into one sentence, I’d say it feels like a vast improvement of what came before it, all the while still retaining what makes it feel special. Sneaking around and marking enemies for you and your crew in stealth is just as familiar as rallying together to take down the Bulldozer special forces enemy. Even the music meets the high expectations I have for a Payday track.
Quite a few additions ensure this still feels like a whole new game, though. The gunplay and movement are a lot smoother, and the animations look great across the board. Lockpicking is now a short minigame instead of an agonizingly long button-holding interaction. The enemy AI is also much smarter and can provide a lot more of a challenge.
I have to give a special mention to the crew AI, which is more helpful in general. I know it’s not groundbreaking, but I’m not exaggerating when I say I got excited whenever my computer-controlled teammate dropped an ammo bag for me or pointed out a guard that was approaching me.
Hostages can also play a bigger role, thanks to some new interactions. They’re a lot more valuable when things go loud, as you can trade them early on for a bit of extra time before the police assault waves begin. I was excited to find out that in between those assault waves, you can trade them for first aid packs too.
The one heist available was called No Rest for the Wicked. It felt like a standard bank job with both a stealth route to loot the vault with no one the wiser and a loud route against waves of police. Compared to the previous game’s early heists, this one felt much more elaborate.
Not as complex as that game’s final heists and crazy secret ending requirements, but there were certainly a lot of options and interactable mechanics to discover. It says a lot that this starter heist can already provide a highly-detailed map and the emergent gameplay that fans love.
My favorite experience was one of the few stealth runs that didn’t go loud early on. We broke into the building and covered each other as we marked guards and tied up anyone who was alerted by our guns. We sneaked around looking through files about a side objective, stole keycards, utilized computers to bypass security, and even dragged over an executive employee for their biometric info.
Most of it was done with bated breath until we finally had the vault open. It was the same quintessential stealth experience I’ve always loved from the Payday series.
Our silent heist was then ruined when someone tried to press the F key to pick up a bag of money but instead pressed the G button and tossed a grenade out. Everyone collectively froze until it went off and alerted the entire building. The rest of the session was a chaotic mess as half of us rushed to move the bags out as the police closed in, while the other half gave into greed and began picking through the safe deposit boxes in hopes of finding the side objective’s loot.
All of it culminated with a massive shoot-out in the middle of the streets and a three-heister huddle against the back of our escape van. We only had one teammate with decent health, and they ran through a hail of crossfire to deliver the final bag of money. I couldn’t help but smile when I saw the end screen — both from relief and also because this was the same quintessential loud experience I’ve always loved from the Payday series.
Of course, there are plenty of things to do outside of the heists. Both mask and suit customization have returned along with the new option to customize the look of your weapons. Specific color schemes are available, although you’re free to go wild and make your shotgun look like a plastic toy if you want.
Buying multiples of the same weapon and modifying them with different parts is also available here, in case you want to build different loadouts for your favorite rifle. These parts unlock as you level up the corresponding weapon, unlike the card drop system in the previous game.
The Skills System has returned too, albeit with an overhaul that resembles the previous game’s Perk System. Over 100 different Skills are available, each is separated into a category of sorts with a headliner skill that the others work with. Using the skills from a specific category will contribute to research and help you unlock the rest.
Where this differs (extremely) from the previous systems is that you’re free to mix and match with any skill once you’ve unlocked it. This means that you won’t need to build a rigid Anarchist Perk deck or commit to a bunch of skills you don’t use just to get the one you really want.
All of this results in a familiar gameplay loop. You go on heists, you make money, you invest in yourself, and then you go on another heist. Between all of the different skills and weapons to unlock as well as the intricacies of this heist, I can see myself playing this individual heist for many more hours than I had the chance to.
The best heists in the previous game felt like puzzles you could replay over and over again, and the Payday 3 technical beta accomplishes that with this one heist. There are some small technical changes that some fans might not like, such as the loss of the detection stat and numerical values, the latter of which I do wish there was an option for.
At the end of the day, though, I don’t want the exact same game again. I want an evolution of the game I spent hundreds of hours playing, and that’s what this feels like. I’m excited that I’ll be able to jump back in when Payday 3 releases on September 21, 2023, for PC, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X|S.