I have no idea whether or not there’s an NDA in effect for APB‘s semi-open beta. I certainly hope there isn’t, because I’m going to talk about it anyways.*
I’ve played four hours and fifteen minutes today, as both an Enforcer (a vigilante police officer) and a Criminal (a criminal). It was alot of fun, but I won’t be able to do this again tomorrow – open beta is confined to five hours of action play, total. Which is really too bad, because there are still things I’d like to try out in-game. Some of my thoughts below.
You know how Cities of Heroes (and Champions Online, to some extent) have the best character creation options? Well, not anymore. I’ve never experienced such an amazingly versatile character creator – your virtual avatar can be as beautiful or ugly as you want. In particular, I thought it was nifty how they made the entire screen the “grid” upon which appearance options are slid (like weight and height); if that doesn’t make sense, just remember this when making a character: that little hand on the screen moves, and as you move it, your character’s shape is modified.
On thing I particularly liked – the devs fixed something that has annoyed the heck out of me in almost every MMO I’ve ever played: in character creation, you can pause your character’s idle movement.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try out the clothes or decal design features as much as I would have liked. From what I could tell, it looked like a big pull of leveling up and getting money would be to unlock and purchase new items of clothing for your characters. Needless to say, I’ve not felt this giddy since playing dress-up FFX-2. Given that the clothes and decal features are in the unlimited-time “safe” areas, and that I’ve got a wad of cash that’s going to disappear come the end of beta, I’ll probably look into those options later in the week.
So, let’s recap – character body creation: unrivaled, so long as you want a human. Character clothing options: plentiful and potentially unrivaled.
Small oversights: you can’t save your character profile. Also, even small breast sizes are still quite big.
As I said earlier, I played both sides of the fence. Gameplay is not relevantly different between either side: an NPC will contact you with a mission that most likely consists of several parts. As you complete each part of the mission unhindered, there is an increasing likelihood that an ‘all points bulletin’ will be put out to the other side, allowing a few members of the opposing faction to accept a mission to stop you. Only enemies who have accepted the mission to stop you can kill you (at least, under the ruleset of the server I played on). Eventually, either the mission will be completed, or time will run out.
As you run missions, you gain faction with the NPCs you’re dealing with. Also, you’ll gain Prestige/Notoriety. Once you’re ‘famous’ enough (i.e. your P/N reaches a certain level), bounty missions will begin to be generated, with you as the target.
APB is about two things. The first is ranged, PvP oriented combat. In many regards, it feels like a multiplayer FPS where you run missions against specific members of the other team.
This also means that this game is alot ‘harder’ than other MMOs. Life is fast and death is cheap; I’ve found the most common cause of death is being shot in the back when someone you had killed respawns and returns to the fight. Fortunately, there are no death penalties, aside for a short ten second period waiting to come back to life.
Combat can often alternate between periods of intense fighting, and periods of nothing as either you or your enemy runs back to the fight from a spawn point roughly a 100 meters away.
Gun types can make a big difference; I’ve read that the N-TEK is the hands down the best thing you can purchase, and my SMG has been at times severely outclassed by sniper-rifle wielding opponents who used buildings to their advantage. Fortunately, the urban setting is really well done, and there are lots of ways to get around – and go through – buildings. I am particularly impressed with the games ‘vaulting a fence’ and ‘kicking open a door’ animations.
The second thing APB is about is driving. Maps are big, and the best way to get around is to commandeer/steal/’borrow’ a car, hopefully with a gunman riding (with a) shotgun.
At first, I was a really terrible driver; most cars handle like a brick, and the finesse of turning and accelerating takes some getting used to. As an Enforcer, I’ve killed so many civilians with a car that by rights, I should be a wanted man. However, after a few hours, I started to pretty alright driver. Note: if your car is smoking, go get another one!
It it fun?
Very much – if you run with a team.
Look, I’m all for MMOs that can be played as a single player experience. I hate being forced to group. But I’m not disinclined against APB for emphasizing team work. You can run missions by yourself, and the opponent response will be comparably small (1 vs 1 fights can be common). But you’re missing out on the main draw of the game: large-scale urban combat. I think that, long-term, my enjoyment of the game will be directly proportional to the people I run missions with and befriend in game.
Fortunately, APB has done a very good job making it easy to team up, and voice chat is integrated into the game.
Take my experience with McGrear here: I had been having an alright time bordering on a little bored. Then McGrear and I teamed up, and the two of us kicked some serious Criminal ass. Even when we got gunned down and lost the mission, it was still mad fun. One of us would drive, the other would cover the car in shotgun. We’d pull up and cover each other as we fulfilled an objective. It also didn’t hurt that we were pretty good shots, and we’d replaced our starting rifles. It’s a shame I’ll probably never get to play with him again.
Stylistically, the game has a pretty good sense of humor. NPCs you talk to actually have really fleshed out backstories, and your missions are often semi-slapstick (Criminals! Recover those stolen orangutan organs!), which is a nice contrast to the otherwise ‘realistic’ combat and setting. I also really like the artwork, for some reason. Maybe because I secretly want to be a tagger.
Room For Improvement/Concerns
– A perfect stake out often goes completely wrong when an enemy walks up on you from behind, or when a hidden shooter guns you down. This happens more often than you might think, as enemies only show up on your mini-map when they’re driving a car or sprinting. I wish there was a better way to avoid being surprised. Holding ‘G’ lets you see directly behind your POV, which is really nice, but more visual warnings would be really appreciated. It’d also really be nice to have a killcam, letting you know just how you died, and making it a little harder for an enemy to stay covertly camped.
– Car chases get old, fast. McGrear and I had some of the most fun on bounty missions – hunting down and ending the threat of some Criminal is very viscerally rewarding. But a skilled player will just get in a car and keep driving. And since it’s really hard to catch a good driver (especially if you’re both traveling the same speed!), that’s several minutes of fruitless puttering around the city. The general advice is – don’t do bounty missions.
– Missions sometimes snowball in favor of one side or another. I’d accept an APB call to stop some Criminal scum, but by the time I and other responders got to the first waypoint, the Criminals would have finished that leg of the mission and be moving on to the next.
– Adding to this is the fact that respawns can really split your team up. Let’s say a buddy and I are unsuccessful in stopping a crime, and die in the attempt. We respawn (sometimes together, sometimes separately) 100 meters from the crime. If this was only one leg in the quest (like a retrieval mission), then the enemy has probably already achieved their goal. That means they’re 1) still alive, 2) still organized, ostensibly, and 3) still have their vehicle available, all things my buddy and I no longer have. My buddy and I will have to meet back up, commandeer a car, and give chase to the next way point, against an enemy that’s moving faster and is probably better organized.
– Also, I’d really like it if the instant matchmaking would put me into battle with closer enemies – it sucks wasting response time driving to the other side of town.
– A completely forgettable tutorial. As best I can tell, all it did was show off the different types of interactions characters are capable of, i.e. context-sensative actions that are triggered by pressing your ‘use’ button. Fortunately, they’re over pretty damn fast, and you can skip it – at least after the first play through, though maybe even from the beginning. However, there are still alot of things I don’t know about in the game – like Enforcers being able to use non-lethal force and make arrests for added goodies, and how to port between zones, etc. (I also think I feel a little gypped that a chunk of my limited five hours went into a pretty worthless single-player experience. But the tutorial was much better than Global Agenda’s.)
– I guess so that it doesn’t unbalance things against the responding team, if when you join a group they are currently on a mission, you won’t be able to help out. McGrear and I got stuck in this situation where we teamed up, but both had running missions, and so couldn’t help each other out at all (as in, couldn’t even get in the same car) until they had both been finished/expired AND so long as we hadn’t accepted a new mission while the other was still running theirs. Basically, it was a really strange hang-up in an otherwise smooth grouping experience, and it was pretty annoying.
– It’ll be interesting to see how servers are handled. I really want to play with my internet/blogger friends, but because of how important no-lag is to an online FPS, it seems that the geographical location of servers is going to be really make a difference.
I really like APB, but I think people who are expecting a fully fleshed out cops-and-robbers MMO are going to be disappointed. I accept that it’s a mission-based, team-oriented, PvP-centric massively multiplayer online first person shooter with loads of customization options. I can live with that. In fact, it’s sufficiently different from a ‘regular’ MMO experience that it might just be able to find its own niche.
I’m glad that Realtime Worlds recognizes what APB is, too. Their pricing options are perfect – $10 a month is an acknowledgement that $15 a month is too much, and the pay-by-the-hour approach is exactly what alot of people have always wanted in an MMO.
Lastly: Criminal or Enforcer? I’ll probably roll both, honestly.