Before I even sat down to play All Points Bulletin (known to most as simply APB), I have to admit I was already a little concerned. APB as a game is a mish-mash of genres; it is neither a massively multiplayer online nor a first-person shooter; but at the same time, it's a little bit of both.
I don’t normally like shooters, and this is mainly due to the fact that I have little to no skill with them, to the point of utter embarrassment and frustration when playing. I also hold a deep personal belief that MMOs are nothing more than treadmills that make you fat.
Nonetheless, I sat myself down in front of what appeared to be a rather ominous looking Alienware PC, attempted to place my child-like hands on the massive keyboard, and off I went, all the while thinking "will I actually enjoy this?"
All Points Bulletin (PC)
Developer: Realtime Worlds
Publisher: Realtime Worlds
To be released: July 2010
I started off as an Enforcer -- or a glorified vigilante depending on how you wish to see it -- with another press member, and two random players from the online closed beta. Community manager on APB, Chris Collins, informed me that all teams are generated based on skill, as are opponents. (Probably a good thing since I couldn’t seem to hold "shift" and the "W" key at the same time.) The APB team had worked hard to make sure the game was kept as balanced as possible. You won’t find somebody relatively new to the game being matched with, or against, someone of far superior skill.
I easily spent a large chunk of my time running around exploring and hijacking cars, Grand Theft Auto style. At first I did little more than crash repeatedly and reverse over pedestrians, since the car controls took some skill to master -- it was more than simply jumping into a car and driving off. It didn't take me too long to get the hang of things, and I found myself pegged as the driver by the team. With a new mission coming through, I hijacked the nearest van and my team piled in. My three teammates hung out the windows, opening fire on criminals in our path as I would power slide into others. We then reached our destination and held our position until the mission time was up, working together to take out any criminals that threatened us.
We won and I have to admit, I was having fun. The teamwork aspect made this game way more appealing to me. I didn’t have to worry that I wasn’t the greatest with a gun, because within my team I possessed a different skill. But I did have my reservations. Working in a team with people you don’t know means you are at the mercy of Internet stupidity. Ben Bateman, another of Realtime Worlds community team member, informed me that those who don’t want random teams can easily start clans. The beta is already starting to see this with the "Wasps," an enforcer team made famous by their distinct all yellow and black attire, or the slightly more outrageous clan, "The Naked Alliance," already dominating.
It still wasn’t enough, though. Yes, it was a good open world shooter; the controls were basic enough and felt responsive. The game boasts 24 different weapon types and weapon power-ups and the combat feels solid and during a round-table discussion with the developers, it was obvious they had worked hard to achieve a balance. I was having fun, but I knew I would need more. After all, this game has the MMO pay-to-play idea behind it -- either pay monthly, or pay for 20 hours at a time.
APB has three "worlds," -- the combat takes place in two of these worlds and to enter these "Active Districts" the player will need a paid subscription or paid for gaming hours. The third world is the "Social District," and this is a lot deeper than the name gives it credit. The social district is where some real magic happens, and it’s free to play, so you don’t actually have to have any pre-paid hours or a subscription to enter.
Realtime Worlds has created an immensely deep character customization feature, better than I have ever seen before in a game of this type. Every single aspect of a character can be edited and changed, and with only a little bit of time, it is easy to create exact duplicates of real life people. Your characters can also be edited at anytime, with the exception being changing your character's faction or sex, since it's permanently set after you finish the character creation.
The symbol editing mode allows for unlimited creativity, and such symbols (think decals on a car) can be used for clans, clothes, vehicles, or even tattoos. Ben discussed some of the things that the team have seen since the closed beta went live and yes, there have been plenty of pedobear and 4chan party vans cruising the streets of San Paro. I spent a large chunk of time being shown some of the artwork either created by fans or by the art team themselves, whether it was cruising around San Paro in an exact replica of the car from Left for Dead 2, or creating symbols that were simply mind-blowing in there level of design and ingenuity.
To encourage this deep level of creativity, Realtime Worlds has set up a market place within the social district where players can sell their creations for either game money or Realtime Worlds points that can be used to pay for your subscriptions or gaming hours. Yes, you technically never have to actually pay to play so long as you can make the points you need from selling your creations.
Overall, I have to admit APB has really changed my pre-conceived notions. It continues to be both an MMO and FPS, but even the RealTime Worlds team has admitted it has been a pain to market, since the game can be many different things to many different people. Yet it manages to do all the things it does do exceptionally well, and considering the amount of things you can do, that is a pretty hefty achievement.
I could see myself spending hours in the social district getting in tune with my creative side while hopping in and out of the active districts when I feel trigger happy, content in the knowledge that my bank account isn’t receiving a beating. APB is a huge game providing entirely different experiences depending on what appeals most to you as a gamer, yet gamers can switch between these experiences with ease. This might finally be what pushes me to get that new PC I’ve been thinking about.