Thoughts on APB

After a little prompting by Wrestlevania on twitter, I’ve written up my experience so far on All Points Bulletin (APB).

For those who have not been following the games development, APB is an MMO created by Realtime Worlds, set in the near future where vigilantism have been legalised, so a big game of cops and robbers in an urban setting. You can play as ether an Enforcer or as a Criminal, with Clans and Parties, all normal MMO features. Dave Jones (creator of GTA) is one of the main people behind the game and Realtime Worlds, and off the back of Crackdown it has been much anticipated. It use a different payment model to most MMOs, playtime can be purchased per hour or 30 day unlimited (GameSetWatch has a nice article on the Psychology of this.)

All this is all based on the Keys to the City event, so only on ten hours or so game time, also this is the first MMO, I’ve experience apart from a little tour of Everquest by my brother in-law, so I may be a little off on common MMO features.

My PC is AMD Athlon X2 6400, 2gb ram, ATi 3800 512mb, so I’m at the lower end of the specification, especially for RAM, so your mileage may vary.

My stability has been poor, of the 12 or so time I’ve fired up the game, around half of them caused a reboot, which getting the latest hotfix drivers from ATi seemed to fix, most of the other had the game showing an error dialog and crash reporter, which in most cases I could not alt tab to. This seemed to happen when a larger number of players were close by, so I’m guessing this is the game running out of memory ( my task manager was
showing 2.16 gb used). One or two time I managed to play for as long as I wanted and leave the game normally. I was expecting the game to be more polished than this given its length of development and how long its been in beta.

Having said all that most of the time, my performance was fine (after I’d dropped the graphics level down a little), but I did hit some time where the lag made the game unplayable, trying to drive a car at high speed and not mow down people is very hard at two frame per second, the low frame rate also can make the fire fight less fun.

Visuals and Design
APB is pretty, the districts are nicely varied, with lots of areas to explore but still contained enough to be able to find your way around. You can see lots of nice little touches that create a believable city. The stunt ramps from GTA are also in evidence. I did see a number of graphical glitches, character appearing as the default model and then a few second later switch to the correct model. Animations also seem to be missing, with objects you carry
disappearing when you do certain actions, very alpha level.

As many other have said the character customisation is fantastic, the level of control, and the number of options is great. You also have the same level of control over your car, but that’s not something I really played yet.

As I’ve already said I’m not a big MMO player, more Battlefield and Left 4 Dead, so having to stop before switching weapon or performing an action seem to break the flow of the game for me, and meaning you need to plan action a little ahead of time. As for defusing bomb or checking a crime scene, most of the time you just need to press the action key (f by default) and waiting for the progress meter to fill up.

Some people have voiced their dislike of the car physics, but I found the arcade style fitted the game well. framerate and lag issues excepted, driving worked as I thought it should, getting a car onto two wheel seemed
to be in keeping with the whole Starsky & Hutch knockabout theme, weaving in and out of traffic was easy to pickup but could maybe do with being less springy.

Again setting aside the framerate issues. I did not like the combat, you only seem to have a single hitbox, so no headshots. It all feel far from fluid, even couching was clunky and a lot of the time it turned into just standing and pumping lead into each other.

The number of different mission is limited (also I only played as an Enforcer, so I have no idea what the CRiminal missions are like): Photograph a crime scene, Collect some stolen cars, Protect a location, Stop a criminal from escaping. So I could see them becoming boring quickly. Hopefully Realtime World’s have deeper missions as you progress in the game.

One particular pain, is they seem to promote camping at the final objective which can be very annoying With many the arenas for the final fights having design that allow the first player to arrive to control most of the area from high ground. Hopefully an update will address this giving a more tactical dimension to arenas.

Did I just waste 30 quid?
I really did want to like this game but it does not make it easy. I must say on my first play I was disappointed.

Crashes, lag, lacklustre combat. As a former game developer, I have some sympathy about the crashes, and Realtime Worlds do seem to be proactive having already put out one new build which did improve things. On the memory use side of things I have not seem anything that seem to warrant the amount of memory they use but I have not look in any great detail plus would not class this as a deal breaker. Performance and lag are being addressed and according to people from the closed beta only showed themselves after a previous update, which is already being looked at.

Customisation is one area they have got right, adding all those touches to your character is fun in itself and the auctions should see lots of cool add-ons.

Final Thoughts
Combat for me is biggest stand out problem, if it could be made less random and more fluid, that would help thing no end. Hopefully the small number of missions is something that will be less of issue as you get deeper into the game. I was expecting something like Multi Theft Auto with a little more structure , missions and progression, perhaps I was misguided but in its current form APB does not deliver.

The current build does not seem to offer much over multiplayer GTA as a quick pickup and play game while you have a little free time with the repetitive mission coming to the forefront on longer play session. At a number of points over the weekend I came close to uninstalling the game.

So I don’t think its a great game as it stands but the problems are fixable and I still want to see it grow and be a success but the actions of Realtime World banning reviews does not bode well.

Author: Zoe

A recovering games coder.