Payday: The Heist is a PlayStation Network game that in many ways delivers the same thrills as the Left 4 Dead series, whose games were released as full $60 packages. The premise is similar: you play as one of four protagonists, in a team with up to three other human players, trying to reach a goal with wave after wave of determined enemies trying to bring you down. Should you fall in battle, there is a window of time wherein a teammate can revive you. Most of the enemies are fairly easy machine gun fodder once you get good, but there are several specialized enemy types mixed in that present more of a challenge. Oh, and the game is broken down into individual missions that you can play in any order any number of times.
The cops in Payday: The Heist are all over you like green on money.
The most obvious difference is that instead of playing as a scrappy survivor against hordes of the living dead, you play as a hardened criminal taking "resisting arrest" to the next level. The first mission you will probably play (it doesn't have to be first, but it's a great introduction to the gameplay) takes you through a well-planned bank robbery. You can walk around and case the place all you'd like, then hit R2 to begin the heist. From there, goals pop up in order: subdue the bank manager and get his key, retrieve the drill and thermite that were planted in the server room by an accomplice, place the drill and keep it in working order, delete the camera recordings, burn a hole through the top of the vault (I hope one of you brought the second container of thermite), grab the money, and get out alive.
Unlike most Hollywood movies, where the grizzled veteran detective patiently waits outside the bank negotiating the hostages' release via telephone, the cops in Payday: The Heist are all over you like green on money. Huge attack waves of police will descend on you repeatedly until you either complete your getaway or lose your entire team. There are short lulls in between, allowing you to make a little progress before the next batch of P.D. tries to take you down.
As in any bank heist, hostages are crucial. You can command them to get down on the floor and bind their hands with (a very limited number of) cable ties to prepare them for their most important function, as payment for your release. You see, things can get heated very quickly and sometimes your partners won't get to you before you completely lose consciousness. As long as you have a hostage, you can trade him to the police for an extra life, as it were. But if everyone falls in the bullet storm and there are no hostages left to trade, it's game over.
But the bank is just one of the six areas you can play. One of the strengths of Payday: The Heist is its variety. Another mission has you perform a daring escape on a busy bridge. Another has you breaking into an urban drug house and cutting a heavily fortified panic room out of the building so it can be airlifted away. Other scenarios have you capturing an armored truck and escaping through a slaughterhouse, stealing jewels at the site of a high-society party, and chasing down a criminal that's betrayed your group. The enemies and other facets of the game are randomized, keeping the experience relatively fresh over repeated playthroughs.
While a mission might take you twenty, thirty, forty minutes to complete, a couple are only available on a harder difficulty - and you are almost guaranteed to fail some of the time. You can level up more than 140 times, gaining new abilities or stats along three skill trees: assault, sharpshooter, and support. You don't really have to worry about specializing, since the game not only allows you to max out all three trees, it actually encourages you to spread out your skill points. But if you want heavy weaponry earlier in the game, if you miss a lot despite the game's generous hit boxes, or if you want to get some med kits A.S.A.P., you have good options.
There are also dozens of challenges, which help you level up faster, that you can meet while playing the game. These are pretty much in-game Trophies, and they encourage you to mix up your play style a bit.
The best way to play is with a team of four (multiplayer is online only), communicating over headsets, but the computer will take over as many teammates as needed and there are some ways to use the controller to issue commands if you don't have a microphone. The team A.I. is pretty smart, but it doesn't compare to a group of four splitting up and performing different duties in support of one another.
I'm pretty bad at first-person shooters, so it took me about five hours to beat the four normal-difficulty missions in Payday: The Heist. At that point, I was on level 16 (16/145 "reputation") and had only met five percent of the challenges. The developers estimate it will take most players well over twenty hours to max out their reputation, and that's not even taking into account the appeal of getting the gang back together for . . . one . . . more . . . heist.
If you don't have a problem with your avatar wearing a demonic clown mask and engaging in prolonged shootouts with the police, Payday: The Heist is well worth the money. (It sure does look like you're mortally wounding the opposition, but if it makes you - and the developers - feel better, I give you the description of the interestingly named "Civil Disobedience" challenge: "Defeat 100 law officers in a single heist." "Defeat" is the make-nice word.)