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Platform

PC

 

Genre

MMO

 

Publisher

Electronic Arts

 

Developer

Realtime Worlds

 

ESRB

M (Mature)

 

Released

June 29, 2010

 

 

- Ridiculous amount of customization possibilities

- Expansive music list

 

 

- Laggy as hell

- Not-quite-polished graphics

- Serious game balance issues

- Ridiculously limited gameplay areas

- "Cell phone plan" rationed game time billing

 

 

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APB

Score: 4.5 / 10

 

apb review          apb review

 

Back when you were a little kid (you do remember those days, right?), chances are that you played “cops and robbers” with your siblings, your friends, or just the neighborhood kids who happened to be at the local park.  Might have been with cap guns, might have been with squirt guns, might have been with those weird little battery-operated guns that had electronic sounds and garish color schemes.  It was a pretty simple game, full of imagination, and if it wasn't quite up to the level of

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character development seen in Michael Mann's Heat, it had the virtue of killing some time.  Realtime Worlds' All Points Bulletin tries very hard to bring that feeling of “cops and robbers” into the MMO space but doesn't quite manage to bring either the innocent fun of the concept we had when we were kids or the smooth sort of mature gameplay our adult selves look for.

 

On the visual side, APB

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looks a little rough.  The character models, vehicle models, and building models all feel like they're not quite ready for primetime, like they needed a little more polish before the game went live.  To some extent, this is mitigated by the very high degree of customization that you can put on both your character's clothes and your own personal rides.  One can probably spend days upon end, and some probably do, coming up with all manner of logos, graffiti tags, car decals, and other stuff using the various tools packaged in with the game.  Pearlescent paint and vanity plates aside, though, the game's visuals fall a little short of greatness.  There are all manner of little touches in the environment, and there's certainly a lot of destructible stuff, but it seems to fall into a dangerous sargasso between realism and stylistic concerns that dampen the overall visual punch of the game.  It's a game that feels like it could have been cooler visually.

 

One gets some mixed feelings from the game's audio.  There's an absolute embarrassment of riches in terms of music, to be sure, with bands including but not limited to Alien Ant Farm, New Found Glory, Rise Against, Meshuggah, Tears For Fears, Echo & The Bunnymen, and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs.  On top of all that, you've got the option to create your own custom tunes in APB's own multitrack music editor.  The sound effects for APB, by comparison, are kind of middling.  They don't sound bad, but neither do they really inspire the player.  They're just average, and for a game that is supposed to be all about the action, average sound effects just don't cut it.  As you might expect from an MMO, there's not a whole lot of voice acting going on, and what little there is seems to be at the same level as the sound effects in terms of effectiveness.  We don't get any sort of life, any sort of feeling from the NPCs who have spoken lines.  The end result is much like it is with the visuals.  You get the feeling that it should be cooler than it currently sounds.

 

It is in the area of gameplay that we shake the feeling of “could have been a contender” and run smack into the feeling of “never had a shot at being a contender.”  In any MMO, content is a major element of what brings players in and keeps them in there.  My suspicion is that Realtime Worlds was trying to do an end run around this by letting users feel like they were generating a large amount of content.  While it's true that users can customize a great deal of the existing content, and generate some original content on their own through the music editor and the Designer tool, there's not a whole lot to the game once you get past those elements, or decide to forego those elements entirely.  There doesn't appear to be any sort of traditional story arcs or quest lines like what you would find in other MMOs.  For all practical purposes, there is no PvE gameplay.  It's entirely PvP.  The only distinction is that you don't set a PvP flag.  Rather, your actions in the game gradually make you a more viable and more visible PvP target through the use of the game's Notoriety mechanic.  Basically, the more crooks you bust when playing as an Enforcer (the cops) or the more crimes you commit as a Criminal (the robbers, obviously), the higher your level of Notoriety.  Once you reach Level 5, it's open season on you, and anybody can take their shot at you for a nice chunk of change.  Naturally, like any purely PvP environment, there are people who learn to game the system in order to grief other people.  And like any purely PvP environment, newer players can expect to get their asses handed to them by players who've been playing longer and have tricked themselves out with weapons and equipment that is not only horribly overmatched against the noobs personally but decidedly unbalanced in terms of general gameplay as well.

 

apb review          apb review

 

While there are NPC factions in the game that ultimately unlock newer and more interesting weapons, vehicles, and add-on modules for the aforementioned weapons and vehicles, there's not any real sense of immersion or connection to them.  They might as well be the various kiosks dotting the game, spitting out random missions instead of ammo or vehicles.  To rub salt in the wound as far as obtaining new gear and vehicles, the Criminal side can make money hand over fist just by stealing NPC cars and driving them to drop off points, whereas the Enforcer side has no similar opportunities for fast fundraising and is hampered in missions by the fact that running over NPC civilians walking along the street penalizes the reputation and cash rewards awarded at the end of a mission.  This might be tolerable if not for the absolutely unconscionable degree of lag in the game.  Driving a vehicle can either be a fun Grand Theft Auto-type experience or a frustrating slog that bangs up your whip because you tried to make a turn and found out five seconds after your vehicle stopped dead that there was a building in the way.  Playing as an Enforcer while driving is made extra frustrating by the fact that when you get hit with lag, you'll undoubtedly mow down civvies and slash your rewards.  If you're on foot and in the middle of a firefight, the lag also becomes problematic, particularly when you've got somebody in your sights and you think you've just let loose a stream of hot lead, only to find out after the spike that you were casually slaughtered.

 

There are only three zones in the entire game, one of which is a “social” area dominated by people standing around various kiosks to play around with the vehicle or wardrobe customization tools.  There's no feeling that you're in an actual city.  Just two parts of a city and relatively small parts at that.  Here again, lag bites down hard on the player.  Even in games like EVE Online or World of WarCraft, I've never seen such long loading times trying to get into an area.  Even worse is that when you're playing around with the designers, you see all sorts of stuff that you'd like to get, but it's content that you have to unlock, and there's no indication of what you need to do to unlock it.  This is particularly troublesome when you can look at various weapons and equipment sold by faction NPCs and it will tell you exactly what the requirements are to unlock an item.  The cruel irony is that the game's missions are so thoroughly repetitive and uninspired that only a masochist or a munchkin would actually spend the time necessary to grind out the cash and factional rep needed unlock all these goodies.

 

I would like to take a moment at this point to talk frankly about the billing scheme used by APB, and to unequivocally denounce it as utter crap.  Your average MMO falls into one of two categories when it comes to billing and playtime: a monthly fee or no monthly fee but still supported by new game sales and micro-transactions.  APB does neither of these.  Subscribers are expected to fork over money for “RTW points” which can be used to buy in-game items but are required to be used to buy more gametime.  MMOs are not supposed to be rationed out like a "pay as you go" cell phone plan.  While there is notionally the concept of buying 30 day “unlimited” gametime with points, it's still a needlessly clunky system which does not add any genuine value to the game experience.  It's a nickel-and-dime mentality that signs the death warrant for this game.

 

APB had a simple concept, one that anybody who used to be young and a dead shot with a squirt gun could have gotten behind, and Realtime Worlds managed to screw it up completely.  If you want to play cops and robbers, you'd have more fun playing GTA IV in multiplayer than this hot mess of a game, and you'd save yourself a lot of money and headache in the bargain.

 

- Axel Cushing

(August 5, 2010)

 

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