Payday: The Heist preview

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Bank robbers are badass. John Dillinger, Jesse James, Hans Gruber. They may be breaking all kinds of laws, but dammit; they're sticking it to The Man. They're people we daydream about – something Overkill Studios picked up on when diving into their first release, Payday: The Heist.

“It's one of those concepts that once you see it in action, you understand that it's brilliant and wonder why no one has done it before,” says creative director Simon Viklund. “We went boldly into the preplanning phase with the firm conviction that Dane Cook was right when he said, 'more than sex, every guy wants to be part of a heist.'”

The premise for this online co-op romp is simple: team up with three chums to infiltrate, rob and escape from a bank. It initially looks and plays like Left 4 Dead, albeit with capitalist zombies rather than actual undead. Boom boom.

But there are a number of neat things that set Payday apart. For starters, there's an XP system, with players able to level up and unlock new weapons and perks. This ties in with Payday's use of character classes and skill trees. Simon explains: “The assault, support and sharpshooter classes are the branches of the skills tree, and you switch between these branches at any point to change what your reward will be at the next level-up.”

In other words, you're not restricted to the equipment of any one class. For instance, you can level up with the support class and unlock a machinegun, then switch to the assault class and earn a shotgun, before fooling around as the sharpshooter and gaining trip mines. You can then combine all of these weapons into one loadout, tailored to your heist. Simon goes on: “The speciality branches are a way to categorise the upgrades you can get, but once you actually have the upgrades you're not limited by any predefined specialities.”

The developers are also keen to enforce that this is a co-operative game – “we put all of our love into that aspect of the product. A team of complete strangers should still be able to fully trust one another and work together like a tight crew.” There are certainly plenty of rewards for teamwork. The more robbers who make it to the getaway vehicle, the more XP you'll get. Cornered by an FBI agent? Tag him, and he'll be flagged up on ally screens, to help focus firepower. If you're a high-level player who rolls with low-level newbies, you'll be rewarded with bonus XP.

You need to stick together because the fuzz aren't exactly going to let you just walk out with their money. As Simon says, “every category of enemies has a different set of weapons, different accuracy levels and different combat behaviour. SWATs, for example, are more aggressive and don't pull off evasive moves as often – they have confidence in their tough armour and storm in – whereas FBI agents and standard cops are more careful.”

On top of these law enforcers, there's a whole set of special enemies who'll rock up at random points, much like L4D's Boomers and Hunters. There's the bomb suit wearing Bulldozer, who's armed with a shotgun and reckless abandon. There's also Shield, a SWAT officer who carries a riot shield to protect both himself and fellow officers. Then there's Taser Man, who – you guessed it – comes equipped with both a sub-machinegun and a Taser, capable of incapacitating you with a single hit. It's possible to bring him down with a lucky shot as your trigger finger involuntarily clenches. Finally, there's the Cloaker, who lurks in the shadows before smashing your head in with an electric baton.

Should you or your trusty teammates become overwhelmed by the rozzers, there's one ace you can play: hostages. Functional not only as makeshift armchairs, taking hostages is a vital strategy. Lose a sidekick and you can trade him for one of your prisoners. Of course, it'd be a good idea to keep your trading cards alive – accidentally introduce one to a bullet and the police will become more ferocious. So be sure to make good use of the F button. That's the 'GET THE FUCK ON THE FUCKING FLOOR' command. Lovely.

However, it's not all vaults and valuables. There are six different heist scenes in total (with more available as DLC), ranging from breaking into panic rooms, to prisoner extractions and armoured car hijacking. Each situation is influenced by famous Hollywood busts. “In Payday you get to play the bad guys in the beginning of The Dark Knight, Die Hard and Heat,' Simon points out. “There's also a lot of inspiration coming from Point Break, The Town and Dead Presidents.” I don't know about you, but I think I just did a little squee.

Although, um, didn't most of the bank robbers in those films get caught in the end? Bums.