Published on June 8th, 2010 | by prime0
APB – Beta
Hanging out the window of a speeding car and toting a machine gun, it’s hard to envisage a game further removed from the traditional tenets of the MMO. Purists and wizards may scoff, but APB looks set to be a refreshing addition to the online space, despite perhaps sitting uneasily alongside more conventional rat-catching affairs.
APB has been described as a new breed of online game, and it’s not hard to see why
The game is the brainchild of Dave Jones, the man who will forever be described as the creator of GTA. More recently, he was behind the console-only Crackdown, and his apparent lifetime obsession with open-world ultra-violent cities is set to continue with APB. Given the choice of factions – Criminal or Enforcers – it has already been described somewhat simplistically as online cops ‘n’ robbers.
Despite clearly being a massively multiplayer online game, Realtime Worlds are deliberately avoiding the term MMO, primarily because APB is not an RPG. It’s a skill-based action game, without recourse to arbitrary levels, statistics or abilities. So if you’re a Criminal you could find yourself preying on the city of San Paro by mugging pedestrians, robbing shops, flogging stolen cars and generally causing chaos, as well as embarking on more directed missions given by NPCs known as contacts – essentially quest-givers. Working for a contact gives you access to better equipment and they’ll give you missions involving things like bombing or burning down buildings.
On the Enforcer side of things, the open-world gameplay revolves more around policing the city, so you’ll be patrolling the streets, finding the criminals and catching them in the act. Enforcers also have contacts who will give them missions that involve stopping criminals, researching them, and generally protecting the populous.
However, the objective-based missions are less important than in more traditional MMOs, and are often simply a way of bringing players together in what is at its core a PvP game. A lot of the time the action happens organically, with a complex matchmaking system that will throw together four baddies against four goodies of roughly equal stature in what becomes a rolling series of pseudo-Deathmatch games, generally with one side attempting to achieve an objective and the other side trying to stop them.
For instance, some criminals could be holed up in a building with the Enforcers attempting to storm their way in and smoke them out. If it’s across town then you’ll need some wheels to get there, and in time-honored fashion, you can haul a bewildered motorist onto the tarmac and appropriate their vehicle, whichever side you’re fighting for. The key thing to consider is that the Enforcers are not really the police; they’re more a of a vigilante outfit intent on cleaning up the city using methods not necessarily any less morally dubious than those of the Criminals. The action is rarely less than frantic and VOIP is activated by default, so to get the full experience it may be worth investing in a headset.
That’s not to say there isn’t any downtime, and this takes place in the city’s social district, where peace has broken out. It’s here that the game’s extraordinary customization features become apparent. Spat into the world in jeans and T-shirt, there are literally hundreds of layers of detail. In the social area, characters wander around, chatting and dancing in what initially comes across as a less lascivious version of Second Life. Most are to be found swarming around terminals, each tweaking numerous aspects of their appearance. A bewildering array of options is available, although the results are striking, with the Beta currently littered with some worryingly attractive women – presumably the work of 15-year-old boys. Elsewhere you can customize your vehicle and even create your own death sound, effectively a jingle that plays whenever you slay someone. As you’d expect, a swathe of in-game music is available, and you can also import your own tunes.
APB has been described as a new breed of online game, and it’s not hard to see why. A hugely ambitious affair, effectively the tools are in place for the players to determine how the experience ultimately pans out, with potential for a genuine long-running battle for control of the city streets. And while an extensive playtest of the Beta reveals a control system that could arguably be more robust, it’s to be hoped that the overall experience eventually matches the ambition of the concept. Either way, APB: All Points Bulletin is a bold attempt to do something different, providing an invigorating urban playground that’s mercifully free of Elves, Goblins and Pixies…