Monday, June 28, 2010

APB Review

If you are an MMO gamer, don't be fooled by the persistence of the world in Realtime World's new online GTA-clone All Points Bulletin (APB).  It's not for you.  I'd argue that it's not even an MMO.  It's a shooter with driving and great customization options that just so happens to take place in a single persistent world instead of the usual structure of separate servers for each match.

The core gameplay consists of receiving a mission that gives you an objective and some opponents and sets you loose in the city.  Each mission is more like a miniature Warsong Gulch match than a warcraft-style "quest" - though sometimes you will be Fed Ex-ing an item from one place to another - sometimes in an actual delivery truck, even.  Nonetheless, such quest-like mechanics end up bearing more resemblance to capture-the-flag than deliver-the-parcel.

If you can accept the analogy: APB is like Halo or Call of Duty if you got to hang out in the map between matches instead of going to a "find a match" menu.  Except it plays exactly like Grand Theft Auto, with very basic first-person shooting and challenging and sometimes wonky driving.

Any reports you've heard that the shooting or driving is "bad" are greatly exaggerated.  They certainly are simplistic, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.  The shooting is serviceable, and the driving is actually quite good if you spend enough time with it to realize that not every car handles like crap, and you have access to nice cars from the beginning if you simply steal/commandeer them when you see one nearby.  The game actually gives you a nice little voiced video tutorial explaining how to use the handbrake, which is the key to driving in APB.  Once you master the handbrake, driving gets a lot more fun.  I think I can safely liken most harsh criticism of the driving to hating on Mario Kart before you learn to power slide.  Just because you sucked at it doesn't make it bad.

That said, the shooting and driving aren't extraordinary or groundbreaking either, and they make up the entirety of the gameplay.

So don't play APB if you are looking for an MMO, and don't play APB if you are looking for a top-tier shooting experience.  Do play APB if you like GTA and arcadey third-person shooting and driving, and the ocassional bit of utter chaos.  Especially do play APB if you like customization and have an artistic side.

One of the best selling points in the game is the nearly unlimited avatar customization.  It starts with the body, offering advanced sliders for everything from weight to eye tilt to ear size to body hair.  Then, you can get new pieces of clothing and accessories and customize them heavily for color and texture, and even add symbols and art to them.  You can use an in-game photoshop-like system to create your own symbols and art and use them as tatoos, as part of clothes, or even as car decals.  You can compose your own music, repaint your car, and make your own art.  Then you can sell it to other people who are less artistically-inclined.

At least, that's the idea.  We'll have to wait and see how the customization market develops as the game matures.  In beta, everyone is low level, picking from the same small set of options and itching to get into gunfights.  There is no telling where it will go, but the tools are there.  They are far from perfect and in some ways hard to use (especially when trying to place a piece of art at a certain angle), but they are there.

What appeals to me personally about the game is the opportunity to express myself artistically through my avatar, and play some fast-paced arcade-y driving and shooting.  Unfortunately, the game already feels a bit repetitive only a few hours in; I find myself doing the same type of mission over and over.  That's not necessarily a bad thing, as the missions are fun.  It's just like how I might queue up for Arathi Basin 4 times in a row or play TF2 on the same 3 maps for hours.  But APB, while deriving a lot of its fun from its simplicity, just isn't deep enough to compete with those games for long-term interest.  It hurts APB greatly that there are no character classes, so everyone plays the same and even starts with the same gun.  I have enjoyed playing APB at stretches of a few hours at a time, but I always eventually get bored and decide to log out.  This is in stark contrast to games like Mass Effect 2, WoW, or League of Legends, where I sometimes I have to tear myself away from the desire to play many hours into a session and way after my bedtime.

Boiled down, APB is an arcade shooter that has been tweaked enough to be marketed as the GTA MMO.  I've enjoyed my few hours with it, but I find it hard to recommend a full-price purchase to anyone but the most interested in that type of game and the groundbreaking level of customization and artistic expression available within.

It's also a shame for Realtime Worlds that better games are on ridiculously-cheap sale on Steam the same week that their game releases at full price.

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