Here is James Murff's, of Big Download, review for All Points Bulletin.
In one sense, it's almost impossible to review an MMO. A game based around keeping the player addicted and in the game for a long as possible doesn't exactly fit the rigid, defined experience of classic games. On the other hand, there are games like APB, which try to break the MMO formula by tossing in those traditional gaming elements. In doing so, they open the gates to being judged in a shorter period of time than games like Aion or Warhammer Online. Contrary to what might be said by the developers, you will know if you like APB within the first hour or not, and it isn't that different or difficult to judge.
*Note: This review does not take into account the business model, as it is our firm belief that the current business model has nothing to do with the enjoyment of the game.
APB takes place in the fictional city of San Paro, a metropolis located somewhere on the Pacific rim (most likely California). Years before the game, the mayor was murdered by a teenage criminal, leading to his daughter's election as mayor and the institution of the City Security Act. Known as the CSA, it legalized vigilantism by any and all citizens willing to fight the massive crime surge since the mayor's death. With the original criminal out of jail and the mayor's daughter having made her way into public office, the two sides are preparing for all-out war.
Despite having an interesting backstory, not much is done with it within the game itself. There are character bios to read for contacts, but doing missions for one or the other doesn't give you any insight into them or their organization. It's completely worthless, and many of the bios read the same as others. Not only that, but the missions lack character as well, with one mission being just as disposable as the rest. While we know that there are issues with players never reading quests in MMOs, APB takes it to a ridiculous extreme. None of the missions, and we mean none, have any sort of concrete impact on the player's feelings. They are merely vehicles to carry the player into conflict with the opposite side.
Conflict between players in APB boils down to two mission types: witnessed and opposition. Witness missions are only available to Enforcers, and they are acquired by witnessing a Criminal perform a crime. Once witnessed, the criminal must perform an arbitrary task (evade the cops and do no crimes for 5 minutes, survive for 15 minutes, capture a location) with the Enforcer acting in opposition. The problem with this is that the missions are both random and frustrating. When you witness a Criminal, rather than immediately becoming hostile, you have to drive halfway across the district to capture a point. Or chase the Criminal and kill him so many times, which is virtually impossible unless each side has three or more players. The witness system is pure genius, but it is implemented so poorly that it drags down the purported dynamism the developers were aiming for.
The second form, opposition, has its fair share of issues as well. For one, Enforcers can only be dispatched against Criminals, while Criminals can be dispatched against any other team. For two, matchmaking will pair you with players much better than you or with much better equipment on a regular basis. For third, you are often dispatched against enemies on the other side of the district. Finally, if you get an opposition, it generally adds an arbitrary and frustrating final stage to the mission. Get through 4 of 5 mission stages without a hitch? Sorry, you got opposition on the 5th stage, have another where you have limited lives and have to defend spray points until the timer runs out. It completely kills all sense of progression and success when you are winning against a team and suddenly have to fight impossible odds to actually finish. We know it's there to give the enemy team some sort of fighting chance in missions they begin to oppose late, but it's still frustrating.
All of these issues really just showcase the biggest problem with the game: it attempts dynamism, but fails spectacularly. Nothing you do has any real impact, and the relationship between opponents and factions is extremely rigid and forced. It feels less like a cops-and-robbers style game and more like just a straight shooter on a really big server. It doesn't help that the game forces instances in two forms: one with actual instances per district, and one with the grey name system. The grey name system is a spectacular way to troll and grief, since they can't be hurt but can be affected by physics, and there's pretty much nothing you can do about it.
This doesn't even mention the lack of content. There are a whopping three complete, polished districts in the game: financial, waterfront, and social. The first two are where the game actually takes place, while the last is where you do all your customization. For a game that was in production for half a decade, APB is missing a lot of what you would expect from an MMO. It would be like World of Warcraft launching and the only areas available to players being Orgrimmar, Durotar, and The Barrens. Argue the point of gameplay all you want, it's just plain silly that there are not more districts. There's also a lack of clothing types and instruments for the music. Overall, it feels like it was taken out of the oven too early.
Despite all this naysaying, the gameplay certainly has its strong points. The shooting and driving feel just like a normal open-world game, and generally rewards skill over time spent in-game. Guns are reasonably balanced, with only a few weapons being overpowered or unavoidable. Mods give players the ability to customize their gear and vehicles how they want. Open-world crimes are incredibly fun, although they lack scope. You can ram-raid shops, but not rob banks or even go into gas stations. The environments are peppered with back alleys, escape routes, and obstacles, which makes the city feel dense and full. There are spray points everywhere, which lets people showcase their excellent design work.
Naturally, for such a visuals-focused game, APB looks pretty. It's based on Unreal Engine 3, so it supports high texture resolutions and some stunning models. Unfortunately, it also supports texture popping and poor optimization, which is a constant hassle as you play through the game. Sometimes the framerate will chug, or everyone will look alike, and you just have to wait a little bit for it to clear up. Despite these classic issues, the game is still stunning looking whether you use the defaults or not, and it exudes a sense of urban culture that is more interesting than virtually every other game that attempts it.
APB is a game of contrasts. The core of the gameplay is solid, but the execution is terribly flawed. There is a lack of the dynamic gameplay promised and touted by the developers, and the lack of breadth hurts the game considerably. Despite being one of the strongest action MMOs we have ever played, with a customization system that rocks our world, we can't in good faith recommend APB to early adopters. There's just not enough there. Wait until the game drops in price or recieves content updates. It's simple not worth the $50 + subscription fee at the moment.
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