The bank heist is a uniquely exciting premise for any piece of media. There’s something very alluring about watching several talented individuals put together a foolproof plan only for it to fall apart in hilarious and spectacular ways.
It’s a task that’s both physical and mental, demanding communication, coordination and a little bit of luck. But you can’t get close enough to all of that adrenaline when you’re watching it go down on the big screen. There’s countless immersive and haptic physical feelings to be coaxed out of a real-life bank heist, and that’s where video games come in.
If you’ve ever robbed any of Overkill Software’s virtual banks, you’ll know that roleplaying in Payday 2 comes quite naturally. One minute you’re overwhelmed by the lasers and violence, and the next you’re barking at your teammate to bag the body of an unlucky security guard.
Within my group of friends, I play the Mastermind, the guy who has to shout at all of the civilians to stay put. I also monitor the guards and ensure there’s no funny business going on in or outside of the bank. The Mastermind as is the smooth talker, the negotiator, and the observer, the one who is in control of the heisting group’s fate, most of the time. If I make one mistake, like forgetting about the silent alarm toting-tellers, my colleagues doing the dirty work are fucked.
I think it helps that in real life, I’m a deeply anxious person who is always trying to re-confirm information that should be obvious. My line of questioning persists into Payday 2, where I’m frantically asking my friends if they’re safe, what they can see, what their inventory looks like and so on. Unsatisfied with being the eyes and ears, I try to build out little worlds and problem matrices based on the information my friends have in their heads as well as my own. I’m like their virtual assistant, a little Geordie Alexa that offloads the boring information in their brain so they can focus on fixing the drill that cracks the vault. As you can imagine, you can tell a lot about a person from how they play Payday 2. It’s convinced me that I’d at least have some use in a real-life heist… we certainly wouldn’t forget any important tools.
Across hundreds of hours, our crew has taken home countless scores big and small, our personalities coalescing into a heisting hivemind. But the beautiful part of this phenomena that I want to stress is that we still make mistakes. You can’t get away from human error when the stakes are so high. There’s always room for that little bit of brain fog that sets the alarm off, the serendipitous event that wasn’t risk assessed in the Mastermind’s mind palace.
I say all of this to illustrate the elusive brilliance of the video game heist. Like the network of neural lace necessary to play high-level and competitive team sports, virtual bank robbery demands a lot of mental and social malleability, as you bicker and bark your way into a high-security vault full of deposit boxes.
It’s why I’m so excited for Payday 3, as there really aren’t many games on the market that understand the beauty of making communication and coordination the star of the show. Payday 2 came out in 2013 but it’s still in its own lane, and that’s what bothers me. Only GTA Online can achieve similar stellar heights with its own intricate multiplayer heists, and that eagle also landed at the start of the 2010s.
So where are all the co-op heisting video games? It goes without saying that Payday 2 and GTA Online have been very successful, and it’s been nearly a decade since they took off. Hell, think of all of the Shark Card money Take-Two has made from GTA Online’s persistent growth, which has been powered by additional heists. This niche genre is also inherently multiplayer, which will no doubt please the executives during pre-production.
As such, I don’t see any arguments against the marketability of heist video games, yet I always find myself looking for more… The only game on the horizon that seems to be swimming in the same pool is Arkane’s Deathloop. It’s a stretch to call it a heist game honestly, but if we swap out vault loot for the solution to the game’s eponymous open-world murder puzzle, it starts to make more sense.
You’re gathering information and creating a careful plan to execute on. The phantom that invades your game can help or hinder you too, a lurking force of chaos ready to strike at any moment. Deathloop has got emergent gameplay and so much potential for tomfoolery, which are both hallmarks of all good heist games. Here’s hoping more game developers get the memo and tap into this underrated market to make Masterminds of us all.
Developers, please make more heist games. Thank you.