Also available on: N/A
Developer: Realtime Worlds
Publisher: Electronic Arts
The MMO has proven to be one of the gaming industry's biggest growth sectors during recent generations, so it's no surprise that we have seen an influx of them of late. With the sword and sorcery setting looking tired, it's refreshing to see developers take the formula down new avenues. Online crime sim APB is Realtime Worlds' attempt at this, and while car jacking and gun-toting lend themselves to the genre reasonably well, poor vehicle handling and a frustrating sense of imbalance let the side down spectacularly.
The game takes place in the fictional city of San Paro, a crime-ridden cesspool reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto's Liberty City. Players choose between two warring factions - Criminals and Enforcers - and compete in a series of mission-based scenarios. The meat of the experience is driving and shooting, so GTA comparisons are inevitable however desperately Realtime Worlds was hoping to avoid them. San Paro is an open-world environment littered with objectives and rife with shootouts, so there's no shortage of action to cut your teeth on. Once you choose where your allegiance lies, opposing players in the vicinity are alerted to your presence and offered the task of taking you down.
It's essentially a modern-day spin on the cops 'n robbers concept and a player-versus-player experience. Playing in groups is definitely recommended, and alliances are easy to forge thanks to the game's matchmaking system. Teams go head-to-head in a variety of missions scattered across the city and can only attack members of the opposing group. With multiple contests going on simultaneously in each district the gaming arena ends up resembling a war zone, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.
The experience has more in common with a competitive online shooter than it does an MMO. Combat is not turn-based and its outcome is based on reflexes, so advancement is dependent on skill rather than time invested. Moreover, it's nowhere near as stat-heavy as its counterparts and there's no levelling up to speak of, at least not in the traditional sense. It's a novel approach and one that would have worked if APB's basic mechanics didn't feel like an afterthought.
For a game in which driving plays such a fundamental role, vehicular handling should have been smoother. Controlling one of APB's cars is like trying to get around on the back of an irate bull. Manoeuvring is slopping and unresponsive, and corners are almost impossible to negotiate smoothly at high speed. Elsewhere, gun battles aren't quite as entertaining as they should be, amounting to little more than sporadic bullet spraying and frantic mouse clicks.
Unbalanced mission structure does little to rectify these problems. In most games of this nature, the matchmaking system places you in the most appropriate group based on your level of experience. In APB, you're thrown in at random. Rather than using a level up system, the game rewards progress with additional weapons and equipment. If you are unlucky enough to be faced with battle-hardened opponents who are armed to the teeth from the off, it's easy to become disheartened. Related to this, many of the mission outcomes are easy to predict as players with the biggest guns invariably come out on top. In point capture contests, the team that arrives on the scene first has a tremendous advantage, though you can still command a base for the much of the duration and lose out in the dying seconds because the length of time a point is held counts for nothing.
These shortcomings are particularly vexing because beneath them all is great game with an abundance of creativity at its core. There are moments of brilliance - leaning out the passenger window of a speeding vehicle while hitting the opposition with a few rounds is a particular highlight, and the endless character customisation settings places a staggering amount of options at your fingertips. The backup system is also a stroke of innovation, allowing you to play solo as support to various gangs as and when it is needed.
For an MMO-style game fresh of out beta, technical issues are minimal. This in itself is an achievement given how laden with server issues and glitches other games of this kind often are at launch. Visually, it's a polished affair, the custom designed vehicles and characters adding some real flair. Sadly, this doesn't extend to the city backdrop, which feels like nothing more than a sterile concrete jungle, there only for functional purposes.
Overall, APB is a strong concept let down by poor execution. Crafting an online multiplayer experience around the Grand Theft Auto template is a great idea in principal but sloppy driving mechanics and unbalanced missions sap most of the fun out of the game. However, it's important not to write this one off just yet. Any title resembling an MMO can effectively be considered a work in progress, and there's every possibility that Realtime Worlds will develop patches to rectify some of these issues. Here's hoping.
> What do you think of the game? Share your views