“A good attempt at team based PvP, but is not without a few shortcomings.”
Despite being in development for several years, I hadn’t heard of APB (All Points Bulletin) until just a few months ago when I had seen a gameplay feed on justin.tv and had mistaken it for Grand Theft Auto. It isn’t surprising that I had thought APB was a Grand Theft Auto game, since the creator of the GTA (David Jones) was involved in the creation process of APB. Since then, I’ve become quite the follower of APB and quickly purchased the game when it was released on June 29.
When I initially wrote this review, I had given the game 8.7 out of 10, praising it immensely. I have since amended the review, and it is what you’re reading now. When I had posted the original version of my review, I had only played the game for 10 or 12 hours, which isn’t a terribly long time with an MMO. I didn’t rush to put a review up, but I did write about APB sooner than I should have. I wanted to put a review up before the big name sites so that I would get hits, which did end up working. While my traffic increased by approximately 1000% (if that makes any sense), the dozens upon dozens of random visitors came only to read a review that painted a false picture of a game that isn’t terribly amazing. I’ve spent my full 50 free hours with APB now, and I’ve altered my review to show how I truly feel about the game.
APB is nothing revolutionary nor does it really excel at what it does. Despite this, it’s the only game that I can think of that involves a “cops and robbers” sort of gameplay on a fairly large scale. This immediately makes APB fairly unique, and it sets itself far apart from other MMO games.
When most people think of MMOs, they quickly think of Guild Wars, World of Warcraft, or the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic. Shooters play a large part in the MMO genre as well, but they are vastly overshadowed by MMORPGs. APB looks to change that by taking a theme that we all loved when we were children, cops versus robbers. Every young boy played some kind of variation of cops and robbers with his friends growing up, and it makes me wonder if developer Realtime Worlds had this in mind when they created this game.
A positive aspect of APB that sets it apart from other massively multiplayer games is the payment system. Players get 50 free hours of game time when they purchase APB. After the 50 hours run out, they have the option of paying a small sum that will grant them several more hours that they can play whenever they like which is a fantastic system for those who want to pay as they play rather than have to deal with monthly subscriptions. A second option allows players to pay a fixed rate for a month of unlimited play. This is not a recurring fee, so you’ll never have to worry about being charged by Electronic Arts or Realtime Worlds when you don’t want to be, and you don’t need to cancel your account to avoid those nasty subscriptions which plague other online games.
In APB, players are plunked into the crime-ridden city of San Paro. The mayor was previously murdered as crime began to escalate out of control, and the city’s police force looked incompetent. The former mayor’s daughter rises to power and quickly decides to ruthlessly attack the crime problem by passing a law that allows citizens to stand up and fight for their city as Enforcers, not quite police officers but certainly more than mere vigilantes.
The player has the option to play one of two factions, Criminals or Enforcers. The Criminals faction should require little explaining. Their goal is more or less to just infest the city and cause trouble for the civilians and law enforcement officials. Criminals do many things such as mugging pedestrians, bombing locations, delivering drugs at checkpoints, and stealing merchandise. On the other side of things, we have the Enforcers. They are the “good guys” and must keep an eye out for Criminals giving pedestrians trouble (muggings can warrant arrests) as well as responding to calls from dispatchers who they pledge allegiance to. Both factions have minor methods of making quick cash as well. Criminals can earn money by mugging pedestrians, and Enforcers can make a few quick bucks by turning in stolen vehicles.
Aside from a few minor differences, both factions mostly play the same. The only things that I think really stand out between them is that Criminals typically look more “ghetto” than Enforcers, and unlike the crime-fighting good guy faction, Criminals can mow down pedestrians and not be penalized for it. Enforcers obviously cannot run over pedestrians without paying the price for it, which often comes in the form of losing levels (called “prestige” for Enforcers, and “notoriety” for Criminals).
Mission gameplay is fairly similar between both factions. More often than not, players just need to deliver items, prevent the opposing faction from controlling a location, or either cleaning/vandalizing parts of the city. If you are not grouped, missions will always start as PvE, sort of. Players will receive a mission prompt and, after accepting it, must venture around San Paro by foot or vehicle fulfilling whatever the mission asks. Players from the opposing faction will randomly jump into the same mission, which quickly turns everything into PvP. It is at this point that you can try to outsmart your opponent, or call for assistance. Doing the latter will put out a distress message to players who aren’t in a group and, if they acknowledge it, they will join the group and (hopefully) come to your aid.
The best part of APB is undoubtedly when you have multiple people taking part in the same mission. Coordination becomes key, and teamwork is paramount. Is everyone in the group except one person driving to the mission destination? Well, if they are nowhere near a vehicle vendor or available car, you can swing by and pick them up. Passengers in your car can hang out the door windows with their guns, ready to blast anyone who causes trouble for the group. Sticking together at the mission destinations is absolutely vital, and those who do not look out for their teammates will find themselves dying frequently. APB does not encourage Rambo tactics, and rushing in like a madman will only result in death.
Despite the fact that team play is essentially what makes APB good, there are numerous problems with the core PvP gameplay itself that seriously hurt the game. For starters, once you have taken part in about three or four missions, you have essentially seen them all until Realtime Worlds adds more to the game. There are numerous missions throughout the ingame districts, but they all suffer from a severe case of deja vu, and you will find yourself doing the same thing again over and over and over and over and… You get the picture.
There are three districts to San Paro at the moment. The districts are Social, Financial, and Waterfront. The Social District is where players of both factions can just take some time to chill, but there are also dozens of kiosks spread throughout the district that allow players to buy new clothes, weapons, vehicles, and so forth while also customizing their characters. The Social District is a great place to sit when you just want to talk to your clan (guild), or when you want to check out new unlocked items that you acquired through completing missions.
The other two districts, Financial and Waterfront, are where the action takes place. In these two districts, players can openly accept missions and engage in PvP. A fourth district is supposedly in the works that will be very hectic and have open PvP that is not mission based, meaning that it will essentially be a large scale deathmatch game set in a city. Both of the PvP districts are fairly large, measuring about one square kilometre each. It does not sound like much, but considering that there are many overpasses, buildings that can be entered, and side streets, the districts feel much larger than they really are. You can cross a district fairly quickly in a fast car, but this is only when you drive point to point without any missions to district you. To finish off the districts, they sounds like they may be small and they certainly are, but there are so many accessible areas in each that it makes them feel larger than they really are.
Customization in the game is fairly extensive. Some have said that other games, such as Champions Online, have better customization options. I have played Champions Online and, to be honest, I feel that APB blows it out of the water. There are dozens of sliders just for head features alone. The customization for characters is really amazing, and it even surpasses almost every singleplayer game out there as well. Every aspect of your character’s appearance can be controlled by you, it’s really pretty amazing and, dare I say, creating an exact copy of yourself may not be very difficult!
There are extensive editors for clothing and vehicles as well, allowing you to give your character as much personality as you want. The vehicle editor is pretty impressive, as you can customize your vehicle’s wheels and such while also changing the paint job and applying whatever decals you want. There are so many decals available that creating designs based off of real things isn’t terribly difficult. Instead of doing that, I opted to paint my boring looking white car to look like a police cruiser, complete with the word “POLICE” plasted on the side. This compliments my Enforcer character wonderfully since he looks like a no-nonsense state trooper.
The customization is fantastic, though. The sky is pretty much the limit. Do you want to make Ronald McDonald driving a corporate McDonald’s car? No problem, it’s entirely possible. I’ve seen some pretty cool characters and vehicles ingame such as a very convincing Richard Nixon. Again, the customization is fantastic. I cannot stress this enough.
Another bit of “customization” that I like is the ability to decide what music you will hear when driving vehicles. You can create playlists with the songs that ship with the game, or you can use music that you have on your computer. The really cool thing about using music on your computer is that when other people are with you in your vehicle, they will hear the music you’ve chosen off of your computer if they have the same song(s) on their computer. The game utilizes last.fm to achieve this, and it really adds a great deal of immersion to the driving in this game.
While I’m talking about driving, I may as well mention the controls. Maneuvering your character is really no issue at all, and I found the character controls to be very fluid and responsive. Even aiming in the middle of gun fights is pulled off flawlessly, and appears to be completely unaffected by lag. Vehicle controls are a little different though, and they take some getting used to. Every vehicle has extremely stiff handling in APB, which makes drifting around corners essentially impossible – unless there’s a trick that I am not aware of. Vehicles are so stiff and slow to respond to your inputs that it can be frustrating at times. Directing your vehicle to turn in a certain direction can be very slow going, and I’ve found myself accidentally running over a few pedestrians and streetside objects due to my car not turning as fast as I expect it sometimes. Pedestrians can move back and forth in front of your car faster than you can weave, which is unusual to say the least. There is also the problem of vehicles flipping easily when they really shouldn’t be doing so at all. It’s not uncommon to see over a dozen flipped vehicles within one hour, and these flips are mostly all caused by driving accidents.
While the controls are just fine in combat, I found that sometimes it was difficult to judge where an opponent was when I was being shot at immediately. The game world can be so open in some areas that members of the other faction, who are involved in the same mission as you, may be shooting at you from down the street and on top of a building or in other vague locations. When this happens, I quickly scurry to anything that offers cover as I look down at my radar to see where the fire is coming from. Sometimes I will misjudge where I am being shot at from, and instead of hiding from the incoming rounds, I’ll unknowingly position myself in an even better location to be shot at. APB’s shooting mechanics would work wonderfully in a smaller game such as Counter-Strike or Team Fortress, but in a wide open city it can be difficult at times to find out just where you are being shot from, and unless you see the shooter quickly, you’ll probably end up dead – especially if they are using an SMG. There are several guns that do not seem very balanced, and you’ll soon learn what they are for yourself if you decide to play APB. It’s baffling how such a huge weapon imbalance exists when the game had gone through extensive beta testing.
Matchmaking can also cause a few problems with the game. Who you are paired against is seemingly random, as I’ve witnessed players with ratings of 20 being paired against three players with ratings over 200. The difference between 20 and 200 is gigantic, with the 200+ players having several upgrades to their characters and their weapons, which puts the low rating players at severe disadvantages. This problem occurs very often and quite honestly needs to be addressed, as it isn’t terribly fun to be pitted against players with the best upgrades available when you don’t even have one. Realtime Worlds promised that this game would reward players based on skill rather than time spent playing, but it has become evident that this is not the case with APB.
I found that the matchmaking problem can be relieved slightly by playing with real life friends, but even this lost it’s fun factor for me when my friends, who have far more time to play than I do, cruised past my rating. This made the game even more likely to give them higher rating opponents. It wasn’t bad when we were all low ratings and struggled together, but being the only one who is still moderately low (92, I believe), it makes things unfun when you are the only one who struggles against better geared players. It makes me feel a lot like a third wheel, which isn’t very fun at all.
I have a few issues with the graphics in this game. The city of San Paro looks just fine for an MMO and I don’t have a beef with it. However, I am quite upset with the player models. You see, when you are creating your character, you will see every little detail on their skin including individual moles and wrinkles. After jumping into the game and playing however, texture quality is reduced drastically and character models look, at best, only a third of how good they looked on the customization screens. I have all of my video settings on maximum and my computer is a powerhouse that is only a little more than a year old, so there’s no reason for my character to look so much worse when I am playing him. Others have complained about this issue as well, and it’s quite peculiar. I will assume that Realtime Worlds will address this in a future patch. My computer can certainly handle better looking character models ingame, and I feel slightly robbed by the fact that my character doesn’t even look half as good as he did on the customization screens. While this is due to me being on 32 bit Windows, I’ve seen a few screenshots from 64 bit users and, while their character detail wasn’t as reduced as mine, it was still present and they weren’t happy about it.
Loading is also a little slow when you are entering districts from the lobby. Load times can be up to a minute long, sometimes longer if you are playing in windowed mode and passing time in your browser or another window while you wait for a district to load. The length of the load times doesn’t diminish the gameplay too much, but when your group decides to switch instances or districts often, you’ll find yourself staring at the loading screen far more than often than playing the game.
In terms of stability, APB is a bag of mixed nuts. While most MMO titles have very shaky launches for all users, game performance has been divided amongst APB players. Some players have experienced no problems on 64 bit Windows, while others have. There are poor shmucks like me who are still on 32 bit Windows and are experiencing far too many problems. APB seems to enjoy crashing at random, or when I am in a car and someone blows it up. I also encounter bizarre black screens and game freezes when I am in the social district and trying to load up the editors. The game halts itself about three times per day, which is pretty annoying and quite bad when you think about it. There is also the case of lag and loading. Unless you have the best connection available, you’re going to experience lag while playing and many of your shots will not seem to register. I once emptied three full SMG clips into someone and they did not die, but they then saw me and killed me in about one second with only a few SMG rounds. I am on a LAN cable connection which affects my gaming slightly, but it should not cause this much lag. I would even dare say that a dial-up user shouldn’t encounter so many latency issues with a game. Very peculiar lag.
There is also a very troublesome memory leak that many players have reported. I initially did not notice it, but after playing many times in and out of full screen mode, it has become my worst enemy. Once you are playing APB, forget about anything else you have running on your computer. Do not touch MSN. Leave your browser alone. The time it will take to accomplish any task outside of the game while you AFK is absolutely insane. The memory leak causes me to wait up to a full minute for my browser to even function half the time, which is nothing short of ridiculous. I’ve had people say “it’s just because you run in windowed mode” but this is a gross inaccuracy. No MMO should affect your system in such a way. Perhaps I should resubscribe to World of Warcraft? That game never affected my computer at all, and runs silky smooth.
Overall, APB is a fairly competent and enjoyable MMO. There are a few problems that hold the game back from greatness, all of which I have mentioned above. None of the problems are game breaking however, and there’s no reason why anyone who enjoys PvP should flat out dislike this game. Trust me, if you’ve at least thought about trying the game, then the gameplay is probably something that appeals to you and you should enjoy the game somewhat, at least for a short time.
APB has had a very clean and stress-free launch, and future content sounds promising. With so much potential for future content and expansion packs, this will definitely be an MMO to watch in the future. If the game can hold your attention until then, you may be rewarded nicely. However, make sure your system can handle the game before playing, as there are A LOT of really unexplainable gremlins and glitches in this game that can, in some cases, absolutely destroy your gameplay experience.
As for me? My 50 hours are up and I’m unlikely to pay to continue playing unless some flaws are addressed, such as crippling display options for 32 bit Windows users, a lack of mission variety, very peculiar lag, poor matchmaking, the memory leak, and wonky vehicle controls. If you can overlook these issues which currently hold the game back from being a great MMO, then by all means give APB a try.