So I've been robbing a lot of banks latelyS

There exists this… moment of perfect clarity, right between the moments where everything is going fine and where shit hits the fan. It’s the moment when you steel yourself for what’s about to come around the corner, the moment when you know exactly what you need to do.

Payday: The Heist is a game about these moments.

Actually, it might very well be the only game about this moments, because to be completely honest, there is no other game about heists that comes to mind, and even if there is one I’m not thinking of, Payday, I’m fairly confident, is the only one that puts you in the shoes of the Hollywood-style hardened criminals so well.

That means you get to experience a lot more exhilarating moments: screaming “FUCK THA POLICE" while you go down in a shower of bullets one moment, taking out cops with a revolver as one partner revives you and another keeps you both covered, managing to successfully identify and sneak past security guards on top of a skyscraper, nailing a Taser while being electrocuted…

Working through a heist in Payday is thrilling because of the intensity of emotion felt while playing: panic, relief, and exhilaration. These moments are further intensified by the game’s fantastic difficulty and devious demand for cooperation. Of course, cooperative games are nothing new, or even all that special—to warrant my devotion, a game has to be special.

Payday: The Heist most definitely fits that description.

In a normal co-op game, difficulty and demand for cooperation go hand-in-hand: the players are attacked by more enemies who do more damage, while the players’ guns do less damage. In Payday, things are just a bit different. Lately, I’ve been playing the Left 4 Dead crossover map No Mercy, which takes place in a hospital.

The initial challenge in the map comes from locating all nine security cameras, taking them out within seven seconds, and then immediately forcing everyone in the hospital to take cover, preventing them from pressing any of the three panic buttons. In order to do so, every crew I’ve worked with has spent several minutes locating each camera and figuring out who’s going to take out which one to avoid triggering the alarms. Then we’ve meticulously tied up each and every person we could—all while keeping an eye out for anyone who might try to press the panic button, answering phones, and searching through patient files for the right guy.

Difficulty is reflected in the enemy design as well—Shields, for instance, are heavily-armored cops carrying invincible shields for protection; to defeat them easily, one player must keep the Shield’s attention, while another player flanks them and takes out the delicious, gooey law enforcing center (man, that was a weird metaphor).

Throw in the randomization aspect—twenty sets planks for boarding up windows spawning at random locations around the map in Undercover, for instance, the camera locations in No Mercy, or the areas and kind of enemies that will spawn at any given time in any given map, and you’ve got a game that doesn’t teach you to memorize it, but to learn how to play.

Instead of teaching players that the Bulldozers will spawn here and the power will always be turned off there and the car will always fall through the roof right side up, Payday: The Heist encourages players to think about how to control space, how to solve problems, and how to work with other people. When combined with the potent emotional tension of each moment and the need for teamwork, you get one of the only video games that actually tries to be a good co-op game.

So I've been robbing a lot of banks latelyS

If you want to have fun with Payday, you need to play with other people. Play it solo… and it can still be fun, but the problematic friendly AI leaves a bit to be desired. Truth be told, Overkill, the developer, didn’t get everything right: players can stealth their way through Diamond Heist, but the game’s stealth mechanics aren’t very good. The enemy AI isn’t all that great either—challenge comes more from the sheer number of enemies that can spawn and directions they can come from than whether or not they can outsmart you. It’s not as if the AI exhibits the variety of behaviors and intelligence seen in games like FEAR or Halo: Combat Evolved. This means that the actual shooting experience is more about keeping yourselves covered and shooting than it is, say, in tricking enemies into thinking you’re in one place, then flanking them. An improvement to AI, of course, would only serve to make Payday, already a great game, only better.

More problematic, however, are the game’s achievements. While it’s awesome that every in-game achievement is tied into an in-game challenge that rewards the player with money (Payday’s equivalent of XP), some of the achievements are deeply problematic. Good achievements teach players how to play a game better than they already do: in Left 4 Dead, for instance, players are rewarded for shoving hunters off their friends—a move players might not have realized was possible before.

Payday has some neat achievements—like taking out cameras as quickly as possible (though as it stands, it’s rather hard to tell if taking out cameras does anything)—but also several troubling ones. It encourages players, for instance, to trade in all three butchers in the Slaughterhouse level, which means that three players would have to be taken into custody in order to earn the achievement, and it’s not the only achievement like this. In other words, Payday rewards poor player behavior.

But, all told, these are rather minor complaints; Payday: The Heist is the best cooperative game I’ve ever played. It’s a game about possibilities—about unique and randomized situations that encourage players to be better at playing the game. It’s a game about

It’s a game about having a lot of fun.

But there’s a bit more to it than that.

I’m pretty poor. Real life misfortunes have been plenty for the past eight years. Quite a few friends have had the generosity to gift me video games, and I’ve been largely unable to reciprocate, with one major exception: Payday. It’s the game I’ve purchased for other people. It goes on sale a lot—for just $5 a pop (less if you pick up a $15 four-pack). I must have picked up twelve copies by now to give to friends. I’ve half-jokingly stated that my goal is for more people on my Steam friend’s list to have a copy of Payday than to have a copy of Portal 2.

I might not be able to purchase friends the games they want the most, but I can buy them one of the best games I’ve had the pleasure of playing. Even more importantly, it’s a game that practically requires being played with other people; in other words, I’m not just buying gifts for my friends, I’m trying to create ways to spend some quality time playing games with my friends.

It’s worked, too. I wish I could say that I’m a Payday megafan: I love it just as much as they do, I’ve done as much as I could to share my love for Payday with other people, and yes, Payday 2 is one of the few games I chose to purchase this year. But… I’ve never made it to level 145. I’ve never played on Overkill difficulty. I don’t have all of the masks (which really sucks; some of them, like the troll masks, can’t be earned anymore).

Instead, I’ve spent nearly all my time in the game playing with people who are lower leveled than I, shepherding them through the game’s levels, teaching them how to play, showing them the ropes, and generally having a fun time.

And, y’know what? I love being a shepherd. I first played a game with people near my level a week ago, and it was a blast too, but it’s fun to walk around the level, showing people where security cameras are, telling them what to expect, watching them fail and fail and fail again and then suddenly figure it all out and successfully pull off a heist.

I love this game.

I love sharing it with other people.

I love the thrills, the disappointments, the quirks, the characters, the moments. Payday: The Heist is my favorite multiplayer experience.

So, hey, let’s play some time! I’ll make sure you have a blast.

Republished from my sexy Tumblr.