Hands-On: APB (All Points Bulletin)

Welcome to San Paro…

This week I visited the Realtime World studios in Dundee. First of all, a big thanks to RTW and Indigo Pearl for setting up the event and all the lovely luxuries we got. Anyways, onto the game itself…

Now, bear in mind that what I saw was still closed beta code. RTW couldn’t stress enough that they are still tweaking things like balancing issues between weapons and so on. APB isn’t your typical MMO, I actually wouldn’t even label it that, simply because it is truly unique in the way it works compared to how the traditional MMO does.

The game is currently split up into 3 districts, Social, Financial and Waterfront. Social allows you to simply customise your character, cars and weapons and is perhaps the greatest example of user customised content in a MMO type game I’ve ever seen. Talking to the guys at RTW about copyrighted content and inappropriate material surfacing, they took quite a laid-back approach except if companies request designs be taken down or if a design has received a number of complaints. Being an 18+ game, you should be able to get away with pretty much anything and I got the impression that they wanted that too.

For those who haven’t a damn clue what APB is, it’s hard to simplify. Imagine a game like GTA where two opposing forces constantly play against each other, cops and robbers style but with a twist. Well, that’s APB in a nutshell…although maybe that’s doing it an injustice since it plays and looks a lot better than anything by Rockstar.

The first faction known as the Enforcers are essentially vigilantes who roam the streets of San Paro arresting and killing the Criminal faction. The way the game works is that you accept a mission at any time and other players will work with you and against you to complete it on each side of the faction. So, a Criminal’s objective might be to outrun the Enforcers while the Enforcer objective will be to kill the Criminals a number of times. There are other types of missions like dropping off packages to locations, tagging a part of the city, planting bugs and so on.

I found that team work is absolutely essential to have any real chance of passing a mission. If you all try and just go in guns blazing at different times, you’ll probably just be put down. My character had a shotgun and a pistol, while other team-mates had Uzi’s and assault rifles. In total, I believe there are 25 weapons with 4 different variants for each, so you can store upto 100 weapons in your locker. The weapons do pack a considerable punch and are great to control, although I definitely think they still need some tweaking to get just right. You also oddly use the CTRL key to launch grenades, which isn’t always easy to do during a Firefight.

You can’t reach every objective in time just on foot, so transport is a must. You can hijack almost any car in the game and you can have 2-3 people in each vehicle with 2 popping their heads out the window firing shots. But you don’t get long to get out of the vehicle when smoke starts to appear. They do handle very well, although NPC cars have a tendency to get in your way, while other players can crash into you, even if they aren’t related to your current mission.

APB doesn’t let you just kill anyone you see, apart from NPCs of course. But even that has consequences to your rating. So you can only kill the enemies you face in missions, apparently there was a 4th district where everyone could kill each other, but it was just complete chaos. RTW did tease that they are testing things out to give players that kind of experience, if they want it…but then again they said that about almost everything, including the possibility of live events which the game would really benefit from. Especially killing zombies at Halloween, that would be just amazing.

Going back to customisation for a sec, you can make your own designs and items…but you can also sell them on the game marketplace for in-game currency or RTW points to stay in the game for longer. Talking about pricing, you can pay a monthly subscription as you can with any MMO but APB gives you the option to buy gameplay in hours, so you can buy something like 10 hours and use them as and when you want to. It’s a great idea and one that I think will work quite well, especially for those who won’t play every night and don’t fancy having a monthly fee for that.

In terms of performance, APB is impressive to say the least. Load times are fairly short and while there is a bit of lag, it isn’t so bad that it will ruin your experience of the game. The framerate runs incredibly smoothly, even with the chaos of explosions, fire fights and cars smashing into each other. Character models are also very well detailed and like I said, customising them is extremely deep (Almost to the point where it’s like a game itself).

Sound effects sound the part, while APB does allow you to make your own music for your death…which was pretty funny, especially when I heard a version of the music that plays when Mario dies in the original SMB. There’s also last.fm support in the game that I liked a lot.

APB does seem to check off most things on the typical MMO list, while adding quite a few things of its own such as handling like a third-person shooter, having a great focus on customisation while not making it mandatory and all the other things I’ve mentioned. Time will tell if it takes off on a great scale, I hope it does since the team have put so much effort into APB. I will give you the full verdict shortly after the game launches…