Payday 3 is the third entry in the always online, one-to-four-player, cooperative heist FPS series from Starbreeze Studios. Returning from retirement, the Payday crew have not only moved to terrorise a new city, from Washington DC to New York, but also moved game engine from Payday 2’s Diesel into the more robust Unreal Engine 4.
From the get-go, it’s clear the game hasn’t been designed with consoles in mind, as on load up you are faced with creating an account for Nebula Starbreeze via the PS5’s built-in browser. It’s not ideal but mandatory, and can be a lengthy and cumbersome process when you just want to get into a heist.
Payday 3 plays almost the same way as its predecessors; you’ll be briefed on your mission, tasked with scouting out your surroundings as an inconspicuous member of the public before masking up and raiding your objective building, stealing its valuable contents. The big difference here is the improved focus on stealth before having to mask up.
This time around, you must sneak through various increasingly restricted areas, public, private, and secure, pickpocketing and lock-picking as you go. If detected in a private area, you'll be escorted out by a guard. Fail to follow their instructions and you’ll be put into custody, and forced to spectate the rest of your team. Get detected in secure areas, however, and you'll be shot on sight, initiating a police raid. You can delay this raid by trading in hostages to the police for a little extra time. It’s nothing revolutionary, and surprising it’s taken until the third entry in the series for an access level system to be implemented.
The heists themselves are relatively interesting and enjoyable, if a little outdated and on the short side, lasting roughly 15 to 30 minutes each. With a total of eight on offer spanning various locations — a bank, a jeweller, an art gallery — you’re looking at no more than four hours of content before you're repeating missions on harder difficulties. There's a relatively good selection of difficulties, with Normal, Hard, Very Hard, and Overkill. However, other than the two additions in Overkill — making security cameras indestructible and guards radio alerting more often — the only differences are more enemies with larger health pools. Considering the bigger focus on stealth with this sequel, we expected more challenge when it came to deactivating security systems and cracking pass codes. Instead you're just faced with objectives where you stand in circles for a minute, or type in a code you found in large numbers on a desk, making replays rather linear and repetitive.
Although Payday 3 is playable solo, you’ll be joined by three incompetent bots to aid you by standing in your way, shooting walls, and not stealing any loot. The bullet sponge cops aren’t much better as they tend to stand out in the open, shooting regardless of whether you're in their sights. There seems to be a good range of enemy police units; grenadiers throw smokes that disable your sprint; riot shield wielders block incoming fire and require grenades to take down; taser units stun you for lengthy periods; and snipers pick you off from range. It’s a shame the AI isn’t up to scratch since there are a lot of good enemy ideas here, just not executed to this generation’s standards.
Outside of missions you’ll be navigating the cluttered user interface to customise your guns, equipment, and cosmetics that are all locked behind levelling up and in-game currencies. All the money you steal on a heist is split between the gang and made available in the shop to purchase weapons, gadgets, and clothes. However, some items are locked behind another in game currency, C-stacks. These purchasable tokens are an extortionate price, meaning you can only claim a handful for the millions of dollars traded in before using them to purchase a special weapon or outfit. The levelling is also an absolute chore, with over a thousand grindy challenges providing nothing but lacklustre XP rewards. There’s really no incentive to complete each raid 15 times just to get a digital checkmark. We completed the campaign collecting most of the loot along the way and still only reached a measly level 10 (unlocks go up until level 150) which meant we only had three different weapons unlocked.
The UI isn’t the only noticeable issue with its excessive number of tabs and scroll bars. The precision required to interact with objects is infuriating, as you’ll be fumbling around trying to aim your reticule to pick up small objects, like rings. Also, in-between each mission are short, unpolished cutscenes made up of what can only be described as concept art slideshows accompanied by subtitle text used to progress the story. It wouldn’t be so bad if these were animated and implemented into the actual missions, but they feel very out of place and unfinished being standalone videos on the main menu. Lastly, the game suffers from frequent frame rate drops when gunfights break out, and there's also the occasional visual glitch.
Payday 3 has its enjoyable moments, bringing its well-known cooperative heists into a new game engine. However its lack of content, outdated gunplay, underwhelming AI, and unfinished cutscenes leave a lot to be desired. If you're a series fan looking for a substantial step-up in this sequel then this isn’t it. However, if you're after a multiplayer title to clown around in for a few hours, this will suffice.