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APB - A Second Look

JCXanirus's Blog; Jul. 18, 2010; By Jenner David Cauton
Type: Thoughts

If you found this article, you may be wondering why I'm reviewing it again.  This isn't a review per se, but an in depth look at the flaws of APB, and possibly why many reviews give this game such a low score.  While I probably won't do this for every game I review the details mentioned here can really cripple almost all the aspects of the game.  Read on before you take the plunge.

A common debate in various forums and in-game in APB is that there are mainly only two weapons widely used, the OCA (SMG) and NTec (Assault Rifle.) People who are using the Ntec are often referred to as noobs simply because it's stronger. But that's because they are staying their distance. Pull out an SMG in front of their face, and they don't stand a chance. (Even if the Ntec has slighter better damage) In a lot of FPS games I've played, this isn't usually the case, regardless of range, it just seemed that the assault rifle triumphs over the SMG. To APB's credit, I don't know whether or not this is considered balanced or not, but I do enjoy the fact that literally almost every gun has a use. A common setup I use is an SMG paired with a magnum pistol. If I can't get close enough to my enemy, I can just use my pistol which deals a lot more damage, and can be shot at a greater distance.  Regradless, the community often complains about these two main guns, so be prepared for it.

Your rating is your character's level.  (The max is about 300 something.) You don't level per-se in terms of a typical RPG, it just tells you what equipment you have access too, like different guns, cars, guns and gun upgrades. You still have to buy them. The problem is the game's matchmaking, as mentioned before.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.  Often it goes for the latter.  The matchmaking does a surprisingly sufficient job at making sure that neither team is severely out numbered. For example, if you start a with a mission with a group of three, the game will try to find another group of three to oppose them. If it can't, it may find just one or two, but gives the smaller team the ability to find one more mid-mission. But just one, no more.

The game also gives you the option to always be "Looking for a group," even if you're in a mission. (It's different than calling for backup.) To make matters fair, the problem with this is that while looking, and a mission pops up and you accept, any members who enter your group after the mission has entered an APB state (you are being opposed) will be in you're group, but not in your team, and therefore cannot participate in the mission. Before you know it, those members not in your team, but in your group, will be doing missions on their own, you finish yours, and cannot join theirs because they already started one themselves. Then your team starts one, they finish there's and...yeah...this cycle keeps going on and on. The matchmaking limits how much both teams can call for backup so neither side is severely outnumbered, but at the cost of forcing players in the group to either sit around and wait, or do a mission themselves. And no, you don't want to do missions solo. If you start a solo mission and reach an APB before getting another player to join, the game seems to stay 1vs1 for the mission's entirety.

"Funnily enough I'm just reading the Eurogamer one just now, and there are misconceptions about more powerful characters and more powerful guns. There are no more powerful characters and there are no more powerful guns in the game. But people die and they see a rating on a player. Rating has nothing to do with the kind of equipment they have. Our weapon system is exactly the same as Modern Warfare. We don't have more powerful weapons. We just have a different range of weapons."

Dave Jones

As far as Modern Warfare goes, yes, this is true. Like Modern Warfare, as you progress in rank, you unlock new guns to use. To keep the game at a fair playing field, higher level guns aren't necessarily better than the previous ones. For example a gun of the same type at a higher level may be stronger, but it may also have reduced accuracy as compared to one unlocked at an earlier level.

Ok, so the team balancing thing can actually be forgiven, as I guess it's there for a reason. The problem is what the game considers just exactly "who" to bring into the fight. What this system takes into account, a player's threat level, overall rating, etc., has constantly been debated over and over again in the game's forums. At first, it was based on player's rating. As Dave Jones mentioned above, rating has nothing to do with the equipment they have. Yes, not the equipment they have, but it does mean they what equipment they have unlocked. And I'm sure any player with the intention of actually trying to win would put on the best gear available to them. One little upgrade isn't going to do much, but 6 upgrades versus someone who has just none at all is a completely different story. (I counted. I can take about 3 seconds of oncoming fire from an Ntech, but a fully decked out Ntech will kill me in HALF the time.) Because of this, a system based on rating seems solid, but it can only go so far. You can have players who have good weapons but just overall not good at the game.  So then the system eventually switched to be based on threat level, and as mentioned in the review, is an ever-changing variable that can increase by playing well (winning, getting kills, etc.) and deteriorate with in-activeness or being offline. Unlike rating, it does not reflect what weapons you have unlocked. Just how well you, as a player are currently doing.

This change as well, isn't exactly effective, as two people can be a low threat level rating simply because they just started playing for the day, but one person could have better weapons than the other, meaning a higher rating. This system is still in effect today, and countless times I have faced players at least 150 more rating levels than I am. This means they are touting weapons with enhanced damage, extended clips, and better accuracy, while I"m stuck with a weapon with nothing at all. Another thing to add is that whenever you are given a mission that will cause an APB, you are able to see the other teams numbers and threat levels before accepting. While helpful, it can also be exploited heavily for griefers, and will also cause other players to never come to your aid if they feel they're not strong enough.

The system does try, after all, it can only pick from so many players if all there is high level players on the server. But often enough it's just amazing how often I faced players with weapons well beyond my level mission, after mission, after mission. So as of yet, the matchmaking system has been unable to find a comfortable medium. A medium that RTW is still trying to look for, but if they want to keep any fan base, they better hurry. It seems that anyone who has more time to play the game as to opposed to others is always going to be the ones to prevail, despite this game being touted as a skill based game, and not how much time you play. This system of PvP is often seen in full on MMORPG's like World of Warcraft, but at least in that game it has a choice of a few thousand players to pick from in Battlegrounds, that, and PvP isn't it's only type of gameplay.

The game is very tactical, and is really more about positioning and flanking more than shooting, given the gun's balance. Actual damage is different. Every player only has a single hitbox, and it's quite big too, making aiming a little bit too easy at long distances. There are times I get more kills with my magnum pistol than my SMG due to the really loose hitboxes. This means highly accurate players won't see any damage difference whether they getshot in the chest, head, or foot. For example, it can take three shots, to the head or not, with the first unlocked sniper rifle to die.

The way that I see it, what RTW seems to not understand is despite comparing their weapon system to Modern Warfare, is that APB is a third person shooter, not a first person. One can easily use the camera to their advantage to peek around walls without exposing themselves.  This is fine.  Because the cities are so large, searching for a certain player you're supposed to kill would be difficult, so the game puts markers on all the players that everyone can see. Depending on the mission, sometimes they go away, but other times, they don't, as if you can see through walls. This often leads to camping, and firefights head on. If both players are in close proximity to each other, with both of them at both sides of a corner, it's very easy to see each other. In this situation, which happens all too often, if both of them happen to be using the same type of gun, the player with the one with no upgrades simply has no chance at winning unless a teammate was to distract him. Unlike Modern Warfare, one can just unlock a single gun and easily able to unlock upgrades for them after a short while. In this game it takes a very long time to unlock any upgrades at all, and when you finally hit that level, it's only just a single upgrade. Eventually, you'll hit that level as well where more options become available to you, and probably enjoy the game more. But you'll be enjoying it for all the wrong reasons.

The game also includes a marketplace in the social district, which I avoided mentioning until now. This marketplace can be used to, you guessed it, sell items to other players. This means you can buy weapons that you normally wouldn't have access to because you haven't unlocked it yet, causing even low rated players to have over powered weapons for their level...providing they have either good connections with friends or enough funds for the already inflated economy in-game. If there was an actual crafting system, I would definitely find this aspect of the game enjoyable. You could collect components and either sell these components to get money or make the guns yourself. But because there is none, there's no incentive to make your prices reasonable, and believe me, many are not. You can even mail items to your own alternative characters as well, making for even more exploitation. You can also spend real money to buy RTW points, which is the point system the the game uses to buy gametime, or sadly, in-game items. Yes, you can buy weapons well beyond what you've unlocked in a skill based game, simply by paying real money. Or you could also just buy in-game currency, as the lousy gold farmers that RTW had promised to keep a watch out for, seemingly spam away undetected 24/7. I find it quite intriguing however, just exactly how the farmers are making money ever since the ability to make money while spending time in the customization areas has been removed. (Just leave your computer on overnight.) Since the only way to make money is to actively participate in missions, which requires competition against actual real players, not NPC "mobs," I don't know why they're still here. I'd like to see them create macros that fights real people.

The game also supports VOIP...and no...that's not working too well either, and this game isn't exactly keyboard friendly. The game defaults VOIP to voice activation, which means a lot of new players might not even notice they're own sighing, burping, swearing, or unrelated speech is all being transmitted, as well as their own speakers output. (Frustratingly enough, my own headset mic picks up its own sound the headphones are making.)

Oftentimes, the VOIP will attempt to transmit even when the player isn't saying anything at all. If you have audio ducking enabled (in-game volume lowers temporarily so you can hear their voice) it can get irritating to listen to your game constantly lowering the volume when no one is even speaking. This makes the push to talk function more desirable, but unfortunately, you have to hold down the button for at least 3-5 seconds before it activates, and even at that it just struggles to stay on. Not exactly enough time to spot enemies, or to tell someone holding a mission item in their hands to go and drive away without them while you keep enemy players busy. Without a headset, and no quick message system, you have to rely on your gut feeling on unspoken word. Some gestures are obvious. Players that drive up and stop next to you indicate that they want you to get in. A player that opens up his supply case can tell you that opens his supply case can ask if you need ammo, or is changing his own loadout and needs cover. Anything else more complex will require the shoddy VOIP. Someone also decided that it was best to have the ability to hear nearby players, including enemy players, so you can now enjoy meaningless bitching about who won or lost in-game instead of just Xbox Live lobbies.

All of these flaws mentioned are currently being looked at by RTW, but I wonder if it will come soon enough.  MMO's have a curse that they need to get the majority of the game right the first time.  If APB had PvE content in addition, this would of sufficed.  Sadly, this is not the case, and should of been looked through more carefully.

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