Game Review: APB All Points Bulletin
Release: June 29, 2010
Genre: Action Pay to Play MMO
Developer: Realtime Worlds
Available Platforms: PC
MSRP: $49.99 plus monthly or hourly fees
ESRB Rating: M
APB All Points Bulletin is an action pay to play MMO from Realtime Worlds. Designed by David Jones, co-founder of Rockstar North and designer of Crackdown, the game takes place in an open world, modern day setting. Announced at GDC in 2008, APB is a game many of us have been waiting for for a long time. Does it live up to our expectations? We’ll see.
In the world of APB, a fictional city named San Paro, crime is at an all time high and to help counter it the mayor has made vigilantism legal. Known as “Enforcers,” private citizens are allowed to take the law into their own hands. In game this means that you must choose between one of two factions, Criminals or Enforcers. In the open world, the two factions play fairly differently, but during missions they are basically the same gameplay style. The best gameplay aspect of APB is the very thing it is named for, APBs. While playing, if your character has a high enough Notoriety, as a Criminal, or Prestige, as an Enforcer, an APB may be called out on you by the opposing faction, sending any number of members from the rival faction to stop you. This keeps the missions fast paced and exciting.
APB is by no means a WoW-killer, nor does it attempt to be. Most of the classic aspects of an MMORPG are left out of this game. No leveling up in the typical sense, no attributes, no PvE, no long story driven quests, no huge world populated by players, it sheds almost every aspect of an MMORPG in an attempt to make something different. The things it retains are character customization, loot, and the social aspects of an MMOG, and that is about it. Instead, it focuses on short, heated battles taking place on one of two, open world maps.
To be honest, it almost seems wrong to refer APB as an MMOG at all. Instead of a large open world, the game uses “Districts.” There are three districts per server, one “Social District,” where players chat and customize their characters, and two “Action Districts,” where the actual game play takes place. While it does have up to 100 players on each district, per server, most battles seem to consist of two 1-4 player teams fighting it out. By comparison, MAG, an MMOFPS, allows 128 players per match, 64 on each team.
During the game, players do missions for different groups within their factions. These missions are obtained by pledging to a contact within the group. As you complete missions, your level with your contact increases. As this increases your contact will reward you with more contacts within the group. As you complete more and more missions for the group, your level with the group itself will rise. This unlocks new weapons and perks that are only available from that group. This leads to a lot of running around between groups to make sure you unlock everything.
The game also uses a “Rating” system as opposed to standard leveling. What causes your rating to increase is beyond me. It seems that everything from completing missions to chatting with friends will increase your rating. Even letting your character idle at a customization booth in the Social District will help raise your rating. The game also features Achievements and Roles, another form of achievements, that seem to do nothing other than stroke your ego.
APB’s best aspect is its customization options. The character creator is hands down the best I’ve ever used in a MMOG before. Rather than picking from a selection of stock faces and bodies, you can adjust and tweak every aspect of your character. Want a short, overweight man with dark eyes, wrinkles, and a receding hairline? You can make him. Want a tall, thin woman with freckles and short pink hair. You can do that too. Pretty much anything you can think up, you can make, or come close to making, with the character creator in APB. Once inside the Social District, you find that this extends to many other aspects of your character as well.
You can deck your character out in clothing from a large selection of stock and player-made items. You can tweak your outfits down to the tiniest details, from what kind of jewelry your character wears, to how they layer their outfits, to whether they tuck their shirt in or not. You can also design custom clothing using an ingame editor to adjust colors and apply decals. Decals can either be stock images, or custom made using an editor that goes beyond even the Forza series. Using various primitives, stock images, and various font faces, users can create anything they want. As you progress through the game, you unlock larger libraries of each to use. Once saved, these decals can be used on clothing, cars, even your body as a realistically rendered tattoos.
Vehicles can also be purchased and customized. All players start with a single, low end vehicle. As they increase their “Rating” they unlock more to purchase. All of these can be customized however the player sees fit. The amount of physical modifications the player can preform varies from car to car, but paint jobs and decal usage are nearly unlimited. All of the player created objects can be bought and sold using an in-game marketplace for either APB Dollars, the currency used in the game, or RTW Points, a real world currency used to purchase game time.
The bad news is that customization is about all APB does right. The game play, while fast paced, is very repetitive. There are about four or five missions in the game that you play over and over. When playing them against the opposing faction, they typically break down into a race to see who can camp each objective first. While they are fun at first, it starts to get old after only a couple of hours. Another issue is the match making. When you first start playing APB, be prepared to die, a lot. The game regularly puts you up against players that are equipped with much better weapons and perks than you have access to, making the fights very one-sided for new players.
One of the severe problems with APB is the game itself. Despite having a fairly high-end machine, I have no problem running new games on high settings, the game typically ran at 20-30fps. Even on the lowest settings there were many times when the game stuttered horribly. Also, even though I have a 20mb/s internet connection, the game had slow connection speeds. The load times are terrible and regularly the game would take a long time to load player models, as well as the textures on player vehicles. Even my own character would show up as a fuzzy mess while the game loaded his textures.
It also features controls that are iffy at best. Aiming is just OK, and there are no location aware hit boxes. Every player, no matter what size they are, uses the same hit box, which registers the same damage no matter where you’re hit. This makes using cover a lottery. Maybe you’ll get shot, maybe you won’t. The driving controls in the game are fairly awful too. A lot of this seems to be as a result of the connection speeds though, as the cars seemed to go from fairly easy to control, to downright impossible.
In the end, the thing to remember is that APB is an MMOG. Most aren’t very pretty initially and this applies to APB too. In time, patches and content updates could make this game really shine. The idea behind APB is brilliant and it has a lot of potential for future growth. As it stands though, you are better off saving your money and playing another shooter that does it better.