APB First Impressions

All Points Bulletin is the new game from Realtime Worlds now in open beta with the Key to the City event.  Somehow, whether being an unselected beta applicant or just on the mailing list, I received a key to the event.  I had already decided not to purchase the game at this time without having played it, and I will get to that.  Yet, a little “beta” preview never hurt anybody. 

I loaded up the game, and there was an impressive character creator.  I pressed random a couple times (the best way) until the generator gave me a character that I liked.  The best part was making a pudgy guy.  I am so sick of male Adonis figures, and I like “flawed” characters in all my RPG’s (table-top or elsewhere).  I don’t think anybody would love Sam Gamgee quite as much if he was the WWE-equivalent of a hobbit paladin instead of a pudgy, pie-eating stalwart.  So, I was happy to make a fat Irish Enforcer.

The tutorial zone was the first zone I entered.  It was sadly amusing because I expected PvP from the get-go, and even in the tutorial zone I planned on rocking some Criminal heads.  In fact, I and another character, GunJ1ss or something, shot at each other and rammed cars for about 5 minutes before realizing that we were either on the same side or unkillable. (I swear I saw him steal a car, and ramming him with a garbage truck seemed like a good option at the time.)  So, I don’t know if I just completely missed the text that said “the tutorial zone is a safe place for carebears” or what. 

Finally I got through it, and hit a district with some actual action.  From what I saw there is one social district where Criminals and Enforcers are friends and two action districts.  The action districts are broken down like FPS-servers with approximately balanced sides.  The one I played a few hours on had about 35 people on each side.  With about 70 or so active players, the map was pretty busy.  I was never bored; that’s for sure.

This game is an MMO, but only in the fringe sense.  I would call this game an “open-world, event-based PvP game with a few advancement elements with controls and style based on Grand Theft Auto.”  Even if all the terms are not 100% accurate, potential purchasers will get the crux of what the game offers.  It is not a Grand Theft Auto MMO.  The NPCs are either advancement props or point props.  All the action that I saw was provided by players.

Here’s how the game works:  I see an ambulance parked haphazardly on a curb.  Since it is not parked at a perfect right angle, I know another player has taken it.  I hop in and a little event pops up telling me that this vehicle was stolen.  I can complete the event by driving the car back to the drop off.  So, I do.  Except that Criminals are alerted that I am trying to get this car to the drop off.  A few Criminals are sent a message saying something like “an Enforcer is returning a car, blow him up” or what not, and if they accept then they are given my current location and the car’s drop off point.  I am pretty sure that these notifications are sent out in a balanced method.  There were two Criminals in red, which means event opposition, at the drop off point. 

I had a few events with four Enforcers on my pick up group, which disbands as soon as the event is over, and I had plenty of 1v1 events.  My favorite was stopping a Criminal from setting fire to a few cars.  I joined the event after she had already set fire to one car out of three.  Enroute to her and her targets’ locations she got another, and I ran her over as she ran to the third target.  The event is time-based, and she respawned a little ways away from the third target, which I started camping with my Uzi.  In another 1v1 event, I had to take down a small-time Criminal three times before he escaped Enforcer notice.

Players can merely start events on their own by returning stolen cars or killing civilians, but the advancement prop NPCs I talked about can also give out events, which when completed boosts the players influence with the NPC.  There are levels in a sense with gates to gear and certain NPCs, but for better or worse, I largely ignored it as I went out in to the wicked world to take down whatever Criminal crossed my path.  Seemed to work out pretty well too.

These player-opposed events are the essence of the game, and I agree that Realtime Worlds should be worried about “mixed” reviews.  Their marketing previews seemed to not hit the true mark of the game, as they seemed to want to market the game as something a tad more comprehensive (read: MMO-like) than it was, and I believe Realtime Worlds chose the wrong business model.

I had an absolute blast in this game, and there is really nothing like it out there now.  The closest comparison is Warhammer Online’s RvR, but with a generational leap ahead.  Still, with all the other PvP games out there, I just cannot find it in myself to buy a game that bars/grants access based on time.  I don’t want to be thinking about the hours I have left when I am immersing myself into taking down scumbags, and I do not want to support a subscription game where players are the content.  I wish Realtime Worlds the best success, but this business model is not for me

The bottom line is that this is a really fun game if a player comes at it from a Team Fortress 2 with tons of map objectives in the wool of Grand Theft Auto rather than anything more computer-controlled MMO-y.  There are, of course, some beta bugs, slow loading times, and unnecessary resource hogginess.  The game could use another month to polish the engine, but I think for how the gameplay was designed, it feels sound.  Maybe when I see a Steam sale, or they change the pricing model to something a tad more current, I will buy the game and play until my time runs out. 

in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself

24 thoughts on “APB First Impressions”

  1. Hey, how did you like the car handling and combat? I only played a few hours during closed beta and for me the cars felt a bit sluggish, both in steering and acceleration. Also, the combat could’ve been a bit more fast paced IMO.

    1. The cars did feel sluggish, but I remember feeling the same way in GTA3. It just takes a little getting used to, you have to look out for the cars that have the response you like, AND eventually you will be able to spawn whatever car you like.

      For combat, I found it really quick. For the kill quests, maybe it was a little slow when a Criminal hid on a rooftop, and I didn’t have any grenades. When there was an objective, I found it really quick and brutal.

  2. For the first time, I am a little interested in this game. The player-opposed events sound very interesting.

  3. ATB is going to have unlimited subs as an option, is it not? That’s what I read anyways….

    Personally the only reason I’m considering playing this game is because they offer the time-based subscriptions. Granted, my working assumption is that when I buy 20 hours, those 20 hours can be spread across a bazillion months if I so desire.

    1. Yeah, you can either subscribe and have no time limit or buy hours.

      50 hours upon buying the box, and 20 hours per $7 or so, is a good deal… I just have a mental block about paying that way. It feels less like owning, and I would like to at least feel like I own my games.

      Also, to be clear, without a sub or action play hours, players can still hang around the social districts.

  4. Good overview and mirror my first impressions as well.

    I will also add that I spent A LOT of time in the Social district creating symbols (used for clothing, tattoos, tags, etc) and designing clothing. APB’s design tools are the best I’ve seen in a game. You use 2D primitives to create shapes, but add to that up to 100 layers, scale/rotate/skew/flip tools, undo/redo, masking, gradients and a bunch of other effects. As a designer IRL designing cool looking symbols with a limited ‘palette’ will be a game in and of itself. Plus, you can sell your designs and clothing in the Marketplace for both in-game currency and the RMT virtual currency which can be used to buy game time.

    The clothing design is a bit of mini-game as you can level up in Fasionista and unlock new bits of clothing and design primitives. And I believe there is a DJ minigame as well where you can level up in something called Tuner. Not sure how that works, but I know you can “import” your entire music library into the game. I believe they use Last.fm to stream your music or music like it from your car radio, etc.

    So at first glance it looks like they’ll also have plenty to do (initially) in the Social district (which is basically free) as well.

  5. 20 hours for 7 bucks? I was looking forward to a game with a pay per hour subscription… but that seems kind of high to me. Maybe it’s just because I have no frame of reference for this type of subscription model. I may try it out with an initial $7 but I don’t see myself paying for hours over and over again.

    But, then again I could be wrong. As western consumers we don’t really have an idea of what a pay per hour MMO should look like. I’m interested to see what happens with their subscription model. I think I’ll do the same thing you are and wait for a steam sale or something along those lines.

  6. If WoW had the same hourly sub price I’d save $8/mo easily. And the unlimited sub is only $10 so not a bad deal, especially when the social areas are free 100% of the time. Can’t wait to get this game – even from your description (and what your commenters have added that you completely left out) sounds like it’s worth $50.

      1. Guess I was referring more to the things you can do in the free social area – the clothing/symbol/DJ minigames. But you covered what I really wanted to know about. Thanks for the first impression!

        1. Yeah, Massively’s first impressions are much more comprehensive. Sorry I didn’t dig in to all the details. The core game seemed a lot of fun.

          I am a little worried because a lot, and I mean a lot, of people on Twitter and APB-Evolved (and Massively) talk about how repetitive the game is. On one hand it’s PvP… the core is repetitive b/c player actions are not, but why so many?

          1. That was the general trend for GA as well. I think a major factor these games are ignoring is the total lack of PvE-ish content. Even the most die-hard PvP players, when not playing a straight-up FPS, want to do something besides PvP 24/7.

            1. PvP is the future of MMORPGs. Unfortunately, most MMORPGs are so utter crap to begin with that when they do PvP, it is completely separate from the world or doesn’t influence it much at all. The archaic combat systems don’t help either.

              Games like Global Agenda, which is setup in a very similar way to APB, features what you would call “PvE,” and yet it is struggling as far as I know.

              The beauty of PvP gameplay is that it is dynamic. Players do not do the same things each time you face them. Conversely, raiding the same instance or playing PvE content that reacts the same way each time or in a limited number of ways, is far more repetitive and restrictive.

              In APB’s case, the core mission goals may be the repetitive, the locations may vary only a little from drop-off points to pick-up points. However, in the end, each time you run a mission against other players, the way those missions play out is always different, and THAT is as close as you can get to avoiding repetitive gameplay.

              And, just to finish up, APB is not a game for the typical MMORPG gamer who prefers levels, raids, instances, monsters that react the same way over and over, boring combat systems, etc. Realtime Worlds is definitely hoping to capture the more FPS and action-oriented gamers out there.

            2. I wonder though if you play PvP seriously. It quickly dissolves into zerging, FOTM builds, exploiting glitches, grieifing, ganking, long waits of time in between tiny bursts of action, and other wonderful things.

              It’s virtually impossible to balance, highlights inequalities in player skill and gear, and generally drives off people not into it heavily.

              Don’t take my word for it though, go dive into an MMO like EvE or Aion and try.

            3. I would agree with you if APB had a combat system like Aion, Eve Online, or any other MMO that uses a target, auto-attack, dice rolling mechanic founded in Dungeons and Dragons (can you tell I hate that stuff)?

              The difference here is that APB uses FPS combat mechanics. So yes, maybe someone with higher gear/weapons could beat a new player easily… if they were both standing in front of each other spamming the fire button.

              What isn’t taken into consideration here, however, are FPS factors such as ability to aim the crosshair, adapting to and finding cover, flanking, and general positioning.

              In APB I can, as a new player, drive a car and run over a level-capped player and kill him instantly. So yes, having higher level gear, cars, and weapons does give you an edge, but it doesn’t make invinsible to those a certain number of levels lower than you, as it undoubtedly does in any MMORPG that follows the archaic combat system that involves very little player input.

              Also, I don’t believe in developers attempting to balance the “inequalities in player skill.” That’s just ridiculous. I would never design an FPS so that players with a negative K/D ration, for example, automatically get an auto-aim feature while those with a better K/D ratio (arguably more skill) don’t.

              One of the best ways of getting rid of PvP inequalities in games like Eve, Aion, WoW, AoC, LOTR Online, etc., is to abandon the combat principles of the 1980 pen and papeer RPG.

            4. Actually upgrades do make any kind of player tactics a bit moot. I’ve been behind a guy and opened up on him, only for him to turn around and kill me. Whoops, turns out he had a damage reduction upgrade and a damage increase upgrade on his weapon.

              Maybe games shouldn’t help out people with less skill, but they shouldn’t make people with slightly more skill (actually slightly more time in a large clan), unkillable.

            5. I disagree. If you were simply standing right behind him, out in the open, then sure I can see why you died. Does that mean that player was “unkillable,” as you said, no, it doesn’t.

              What I find interesting is that this “unbalance” seems to be a major criticism of APB by MMORPG gamers. Yet, every single MMORPG that uses that archaic combat system has this flaw. Why is this type of “problem” acceptable for a game like World of Warcaft, but unacceptable for APB?

              In the end, I’ve had no problems killing players regardless of their level or gear. Then again, I’m an experienced FPS gamer and not a tab-to-target/auto-attack gamer.

            6. Well, with WoW PvP isn’t the whole game. Those who do PvP in those games really do bitch about unbalance often fiercely, because it can be felt.

              If we are talking about pure skill it’s really only when it’s tied to progression that people care. The progression can act as a force multiplier in the same way more people on one side can, and progression almost always favors the vets in any game.

              The only way to get rid of the d and d roots is to get rid of progression, which begs the problem of why you should be paying a monthly fee to games which do a worse job than standard FPS out there.

            7. Thats utter BS. I played the game and guess what… max rank grenade launcher bullet proof vest players DO NOT loose against newb basic rifle thugs in jogging pants. No matter how you warp it, ganking new players is evident to all.

              Either you will deal with it cause you wanna get a bigger gun, or youll say F it, this is gay.

              Im not gonna sugar coat it.

  7. Something to keep in mind when considering a purchase is the game starts to fall apart as you play it more. Five hours of playtime isn’t enough to see this (which is the entire point of limiting playtime, I’m guessing), but once players start forming clans and jumping up the ranks, skill totally leaves the picture and the game turns into the person with the best gear wins.

    For some perspective, I was in the closed beta for quite a while, and while I am huge into customization and dress-up (*coughsecondlifecough*) the gameplay was bad enough to turn this into a not-buy for me.

  8. I didn’t like APB.

    I’m not much of an FPS/shooter player. I usually play them against bots, or on a LAN against friends. I’ve never played on public servers. I’m not terribly competitive (I was when I was younger, but it did unkind things to my health and personality), and my skill level is low.

    After a completely inadequate tutorial that taught me nothing about how to play (I never even had to fire my gun, for pity’s sake), my first mission saw my objectives camped, and I was sniped over and over by a guy who could one-shot me while I could only gave him papercuts. It wasn’t fun. It was frustrating.

    I think APB is being severely mis-marketed. It’s not an MMG; it’s a next-gen shooter with official servers, persistent ladders, equipment unlocks, and extensive customization.

  9. just tried playing APB for an hour or so, just trying to get someone, ANYONE to kill me. I am un-killable it seems (Unless I shoot a car to the point where it’s going to explode and then jump inside it)

    Quite sad. After driving on the sidewalk, killing dozens, mugging pedestrians and shooting down civilians in broad daylight… no one came to stop me. I went afk for 30 minutes. No one, not anyone could shoot back at me. What good is a game with no enemies? Not very good.

    And what good is a game that forces me to go through boring “tagging” missions before getting off newbie island. Not too great.

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