Rob a bank. Bring your friends.

Let’s say you wanted to rob a bank. How would you handle the situation? Would you charge in with your mask on, waving guns around and ordering hostages to the floor? Would you wait, case the joint, until you had a better idea of how to get the most money in the shortest amount of time? Would you be patient, or just roll the dice and hope for the best? After all, if things get chaotic, at least you’ve got three friends along for the ride.

This is the concept behind Payday: The Heist, a downloadable PS3/PC first-person shooter from Sony Online Entertainment. I had the chance to play the PS3 version at E3 yesterday, and though it looked like a pretty standard shooter at first glance, I quickly found out that there was actually some subtlety and strategy mixed in with the shooting action.

Though the controls will feel pretty familiar to anyone who has played a first-person shooter before, there is one big difference in Payday: the R2 button. This button triggers different responses depending on the situation, and has a number of uses. At the start of a heist, it’s used to actually begin the robbery, letting the bank employees and customers know you’re there and you mean business. Push it near a hostage and you’ll order him to the floor; holding it allows you to tie him up, provided you have twine handy. Hitting R2 next to a partner signals him to follow, while holding it next to a fallen friend helps him up.

My first task upon entering the bank was to find the bank manager and grab his key card. Before that happened, I was immediately prompted to hit the R2 button to start the robbery, though I was warned not to, since that would make everyone panic and finding the manager would be a lot harder. Fighting my urge to turn the situation into complete chaos, I patiently strolled through the bank until I found who I was looking for, at which point I started the robbery, tied him up, and grabbed his key card.

Once the robbery begins, new objective markers begin popping up on the screen, but Payday isn’t just about that. While I was trying to rob a bank, I also had to control the hostages and deal with the police, who were starting to swarm outside of the bank. I was told that shooting security cameras would limit the police force’s intel and slow them down, but I learned this lesson a little too late. The bank was soon swarming with cops and SWAT team members, and I threw caution into the wind. I stopped dealing with hostages and left my friends to their own devices, hoping I could rush through the robbery and get out of there.

It was a bad choice. Soon I was being shot at from every angle, the hostages were revolting, my teammates were down and unable to help me, and I was desperately trying to stay alive and just get the job done. That didn’t work out, and as I finally hit the ground with no friends left to help me back up, I thought about how much more smoothly that would have went if I had taken the time to do it right from the start. Running and gunning isn’t the best solution in Payday, and that’s what I like about it. The cooperative aspect is also very interesting, and I could definitely see myself wanting to play with a group of friends and seeing what kind of team-based strategy worked in each different robbery. If the line at the SOE booth was any indication, Payday might just be a surprise hit when it comes out later this year.

Payday: The Heist will be out this holiday season for the PS3 and PC.

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