APB MMORPG - All Points Bulletin gameplay review
All points bulletin review
Over this weekend I purchased APB - All Points Bulletin, an MMORPG from some of the creators of the GTA series. It cost me 50$ from direct to drive. I'm a fan of persistent online shooters and spent a lot of time playing Battlefield series, and other less known titles, like Gunz online. After playing Mercenaries 2: world in flames, I really wanted to experience an open world with other players. However, this is not what I found in APB.
The game features an urban combat with Enforcers (vigilantes) fighting criminals on the streets. The summary is - this is a hardcore, close quarters twitch third person shooter, which requires a lot of time invested and does not create any long term satisfaction.
First Impressions: The game is pretty and flashy, but has incredibly long loading times! Even clicking on a windows shortcut causes ~90 seconds wait before the game finally starts. You are greeted by a couple of fragmented movies about the vigilantes fighting criminals in the city of San Paro.
Joining servers and districts also takes a couple minutes, and you are greeted with colorful loading screens with drive by's, door bashing and all kinds of gangsta stuff. Unfortunately there's only a few of these, and they get tiresome really quickly.
APB MMORPG? I don't think so! APB claims to be an MMORPG, but I didn't really see that. The game is based on 2 districts: Waterfront and Commercial, each about 0.6miles x0.6miles. That's right, there are 2 maps! To make up for the small size, the maps are pretty twisty with a lot of alleyways and roofs. The game is not a true MMORPG, as each district is instanced many times. There can be about 80 people in each instance, split in teams of 40. There's mission-based PVP.
Grouping, etc the game's group size is limited at 4, and there's an option to join public pick up groups. Here all players must finish their missions before the leader accepts a mission. It is very common to join a group and find that they are doing something and you have to wait to play with them. It is possible to call for backup and have something like 7vs4.
PVP - here's the catch: each instance is not a 40 vs 40 pvp match. You can only shoot and damage "red players". These are people who joined a mission against you. There are 10-15 types of very repetitive missions for each side. Each mission is broken into about 5 stages which require moving through the city. If someone decides to stop you, their team may jump and oppose you along the way. At most you will have a 4vs 4 battle. After each death, you are met with less than 10 seconds respawn timer and seem to appear at random spawn points, about 100 meters from the action.
Battle dynamics: this is an arcade mode, Third Person Twitch shooter. You run and gun or camp and gun. Most engagement distances are less than 50 meters, shooting around corners and in tight alleyways. There's no material penetration. Each hostile player has a red name above, along with their ranks, so there's not that much stealth. The good thing is that the tag can be hidden by obstacles. There's no health or stamina bar, which is cool. Health regenerates after a few seconds. This means you shoot, then take cover to heal.
Coming from Battlefield 2 and Call of Duty, the "shooter" part seems crude and rudimentary. The draw distance is around 100-120 meters, and a lot of guns deal no damage past 60-70 meters. Guns? What guns? The whole game revolves around the OCA (the MP5k) and the NTEK (AK47U). At the release time, these are extremely overpowered and there's a lot of people complaining about them. There are a few variants of weapons, and most of them just keep improving under different names (there are multiple versions of the OCA and NTEK).
Tactics: For a twitch shooter All Points Bulletin has a lot of rooftops (1-2 floors high) and alleyways, much more than any GTA ever had. This means that you can flank an enemy. Other than that, there's very little to fighting - you can cook a grenade and toss it at an enemy or shoot him/her with your gun, practically point blank. There's a bit of long range (90 meters or so) sniping. Many encounters end up in you shooting an opponent at 10 meters away while strafing and seeing who dies first. Overall, I grew very tired of this after 20 hours.
Voice communications: There's an option to use in-game VOIP to talk to your team, but I did not see many pick up groups use that. It may be possible to talk to the enemies too, for trash talk purposes.
Driving dynamics - there's a lot of vehicles to drive in this game, from sports cars to garbage trucks and ambulances. These can be hijacked by both sides. Some police and criminal cars can be owned and spawned throughout the game.
What really bothered me is lack of easily visible vehicle damage. Your hood becomes crumpled, the roof can get mangled a bit and sometimes there's some smoke or fire from the engine block. But these are so subtle, that it is very difficult to judge the health of a vehicle. As a result, you will randomly die many times when you vehicle hits something or gets shot up. It takes less about 2 seconds to destroy a damaged vehicle.
Missions, etc: Throughout the game there are the same 15 or so missions rehashed over and over again. As an enforcer you would be disarming tiny bombs, breaking into cars and investigating crime scenes. If this sounds fun, it's not. Pretty much run to a place and stand in a circle for 5 seconds, or drive to a place and hit an F key. Rinse, repeat.
None of the missions are well explained or have any impact whatsoever on the APB world. You accept the mission and hope that someone shows up to stop you. Fighting enemies means better rewards.
Some missions, like the VIP or pursuit are actually fun for a while, until you start to get matched up with some ridiculously pimped out enemies. There are only 40 opposite players per instance, and the game matches you with 1-4 opponents randomly.
The game uses a rank and threat level system. Your rank is the sum of your experience in the game and is required to equip some of the high end items. The threat level system is how good the game thinks you are. It is based on your last 20 matches or so, and most decent players end up at ranks 8-10 for a while.
Things were pretty good, until I hit threat level of 10 and rank of 60. The game's automatch (picking other players to oppose you in missions) system is horrible. It is common to fight someone way more skilled and better equipped than you. There's very little you can do to win in such situations, and I ended up losing 1-7 or 2-8 at these levels on quite a lot of occasions.
Customization: APB as an MMORPG claims to have a lot of customization options, and this is true - I saw some pretty nice cars and character outfits. This is a bit disappointing, because you need to unlock decals and clothing pieces by going AFK in the "wardrobe customization" for the night. This levels your Fashionista skill, unlocking more clothing items and decals. Going AFK in the garage, gives you Tuner levels, unlocking more vehicles. Both are capped at 15 and can be achieved in a day of AFKing.
The verdict: This game is being heavily hyped through IGN and direct2drive. You may end up buying it on impulse, like me. But unless you are a hardcore twitch TPS fanatic, this game is not for you. It gets repetitive and boring in a matter of days and issues, like 2 overpowered weapons combined with poor matchmaking and small battles just kill this game.