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All Points Bulletin Review

Review; Jul. 19, 2010; Channels: Video Games; By Jenner David Cauton
Feel your childhood come again in a game of cops and robbers. In the end though, you just might feel robbed.

Ever since Grand Theft Auto 3 was released, the gaming industry exploded into a whole new industry of open world games. It also brought itself along a lot of unwanted controversy, but that's another story.

APB

Enter All Point's Bulletin, a game that's title at first sounded really odd to me, (until I actually looked up the term, sorry I don't know local police vocabulary), and is made by RealTime Studios, also makers of Crackdown. APB takes the open world crime simulator concept and puts it into the MMO space. Many people have simply called this game GTA IV online, but if you're expecting to behave in this game in a similar matter to the single player portions of open world games, such as killing civilians, car jacking and just causing general chaos, you're going to be disappointed. While there is definitely that, it's really not the main focus of the game.

The background of the game is brief, but it sets the mood: A fictional city named San Paro has reached an all-time high crime rate. Because of the severe amount of criminals running amok amongst the streets, the city has allowed various vigilantes to do the job. Kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out. These "Enforcers" take upon the task of eliminating criminals, dead or alive, in any way they see fit. 

The game takes on an MMO approach to the open world genre. Players can create up to eight characters, either Enforcers or Criminals. Gameplay takes place in one of three districts: two action districts named Financial and Waterfront and the social district, Waterbreak Marina. The action districts is where all the..uh..action takes place, where you do missions that both increase your standing with your organization and various contacts and gain money. The social district is where you can customize your character and then-some to your hearts content. More on that later.

Just looking at the game alone, it seems all too easy to compare the game to GTA. You hijack cars, kill or rob civilians, run them over and rob stores, but there's much more to it. The game has a heavy focus on missions that are given to you by different contacts. Finishing these missions will net you some money and raise your reputation with that contact allowing you to purchase weapons and equipment from them.

Typically, a mission as an Enforcer has you running to random locations on the map either to find an item, raid a building or destroy a box to find an item inside, hack an item, deliver a car, etc. Criminal missions involve you robbing stores, stealing cars, finding items...yeah, OK. Ether way you look at it, both sides pretty much do the same thing in contrast: Push the "use" key here.

Each mission can have multiple phases, with giving you new objectives with each one. Now, if you're lucky, you can do all these missions without having to fire a single shot. That's right, no enemies. That's because the only NPC's in this game are contacts and civilians. Despite this being tagged as an MMO, you will never fight computer-controlled opponents. The minute you begin a mission, the game's matchmaking system will scan the other team and attempt to find a reasonable team to oppose you.

Once it's found someone, if they're not already on a mission themselves, the game tells them what's going on and asks if they accept. If they do, both teams will have the APB logo flash on their screens, indicating that they are now being opposed. Depending on the mission, the win or lose conditions can vary. For instance, if the objective is to capture a certain area, a time limit is implemented. If it's to kill a certain Criminal player, both teams will have a certain amount of lives.

APB time.

It may seem like a good idea to login in the wee hours in hopes of doing missions unopposed, but not only is this pretty boring, but the reward is minimal. Seriously. You would make more money losing a mission to another team getting only just a few kills than actually winning one completely unopposed. If you're not on a mission however, there are still other ways to make money, albeit criminals tend to have more options in this regard.

Given the nature of the game and size of the maps, it would seem foolish for the game to be a total free-for-all and let you kill anyone anytime you please. (Although servers with this ruleset are currently in the works.) To prevent griefing, you can't kill any players whose name is grey, only red. Any damage you cause to them will be nullified. They will only turn red if they're on your mission, or, as an Enforcer, you witness a criminal player doing such a deed.

Unlike Criminals, Enforcers have the ability to "witness" a crime being committed by another criminal player, effectively turning their name red to that Enforcer. Of course, this works both ways, as the Criminal can also now shoot him back, but at least the Enforcer has the upper hand of being able to control when this happens. Criminals don't have the same luxury. However, both sides can also achieve high Prestige (Enforcer) or Notoriety (Criminal). Successfully completing missions, getting high kill streaks, or doing enough random crimes as a Criminal can raise your threat level. If this gets high enough, a bounty will be put on your head, you become a high threat player, will show up on everyone's map, and everyone on the opposing team is given the green light to shoot you, whether they're on your mission or not. The good side to this is the higher your current threat level is, the better your rewards get. This level, however, will go down if you are ever killed, or will deteriorate if you enter the Social district or go offline.

Playing either side has its pro and cons. Criminals, are well...criminals. They're good at getting money, so it's pretty much easy for them to do that. Because of their nature, they have more options to get money when not on a mission.  On the other hand, Enforcers also have access to "Less Than Lethal," weapons, such as tasers and bean-bag guns. The quickest way to end a Criminal is to kill them, but an even better way is to use such weapons to stun them. They don't hurt much, but it will knock them out, allowing you just enough time to run up and arrest them. Doing so will freeze the player in place for a longer period of time than if he just died from being shot and re-spawned five seconds later, and whenever you do die, you always start a distance away from an objective, giving the other team a chance to complete theirs.

All of these things are all happening in real-time, in a server that's holding 80 players, up to 40 of each faction.  Along the way to an objective of your own, it's quite common to run into a firefight for someone else's mission. Although you can't help or harm them in any way, (except colliding into them with vehicles) it still gives the feeling that your in a living world, and you're no longer the center of the universe.

When you want to take a break, or if it's time to spruce up your image, you can enter Breakwater Marina, the game's social district. This area is where you can use the game's highly touted customization tools. Many games change your character's look when he changes their equipment, but in this game, clothing is completely cosmetic. Any "upgrades" your character has is not physically shown.

The depth of customization in this game is just simply mind-boggling. If you were to examine all the sliders, creating your first character alone might take about an hour. You can make genders later (except your sex), but for a price. You can also purchase different vehicles and sets of clothing, and even customize those by changing their color or putting decals on it. Decals are logos that you can draw yourself using the game's drawing tools (sorry, Photoshop users) and once created, can be saved and then be placed on your clothes, vehicles (which can also be upgraded), even your own body. The decal editor, however, has limitations; it's no Photoshop. The majority of the tools you have at your disposal are pre-made shapes, combining them with others, and resizing and rotating them. How people are managing to create known characters such as Invader Zim, the Thundercats symbol, various Internet memes and curiously phallic shaped symbols (c'mon, you know you saw this coming) with just using these shapes is beyond me.

If all this weren't enough, the game even allows you to create music, and even death themes that play to the player you just killed. The game also as an in-game music player that can be played either from vehicles or on foot as well. The game has various artists, such as Alien Ant Farm, Pendulum and even Beethoven. You can play these songs for others to hear, or even upload your own from your hard drive. As other players pass your vehicle, they can hear the music you are playing (even ones you made), or, if they don't have such an MP3, the game will find a similar track.

Never looked so good...Want to advertise on the go but don't have a car?  Do it in this game!

The game suffers from not necessarily bugs, but balancing issues. For one, it's been common debate whether or not the upgrades you can unlock make many matches unfair. Removing these upgrades entirely though would remove the carrot on the stick; the will to keep playing as well as any sense of becoming stronger or reward, common in RPGs.  This wouldn't be such a bad problem however if the in-game's matchmaking was adequate in choosing evenly matched players, as often times, it's not.  The in-game's VOIP also doesn't work that well either.  By default, it's set to voice activated, so those who don't realize will constantly have their game's speakers, their own coughing or unrelated chat constantly transmitting, and if you have audio ducking enabled (lowers in-game volume while someone is speaking) it can really start to be a pain.  There is a push-to-talk button, but it takes way too long to activate.  If all this wasn't enough, the game has graphical limits if you are running a 32-bit OS, even if your hardware meets the recommened system requirements.  You must be using a 64-bit OS in order to see this game in full detail, and even with that, the graphics don't seem to justify the need for it.

The good, and the ugly.  There is no bad here.The good, and the ugly.  There is no bad.

Editor's Note: For more info on the 32-bit restraints, please read Jenner's blog post APB - Restraining Order.

Like most MMOs, the game has a subscription fee, and it's a little bit different than others. You can pay for unlimited hours for one or several months, or, new to MMOs,you can pay a smaller amount for just 20 hours that will never expire even after a month has gone by. The hours also only get used up in the action districts, so the time you are customizing everything in the game is free.  The game uses RTW points, similar to Xbox Live, and, yes, the smallest payment of gametime, 20 hours, is 280 RTW points, and the two lowest intervals you can buy is 200 and 400. Gotta love them leftovers.

Leaning out of cars can be fun, but leave you exposed.
Leaning out of cars is useful when mobile, just remember to get out quickly when you stop.

RTW had actually released an embargo on any reviews for a full week upon release of its game. OMGN is not contracted with RTW, so this excludes us, but we decided to wait anyway for any changes. What changed was little. I've never heard of such an act, especially for video games, but RTW has stated before that it was already predicting mixed reviews, but only in terms of expecting others to approach the game in a different direction you're not supposed to. (Single player GTA styled games.)  It's really sad that a game with such a genius idea can fall apart due to just a few simple concepts that don't seem to be fully developed.  When the game is working as intended, it's a blast. Blaring your radio while chasing down other players, designing your own unique image, creating music for others to hear, all are things never done before all in one game. In essence, the game is the MMO equivalent of jumping into a server to play a few matches, and jump back out. Only this time around, you're doing it in style. Your style.

Despite all its flaws, I still find myself coming back to it, hoping that things will get better. There really isn't much to do other than doing the same kind of missions over and over again, but at least they're a bit randomized. A few mini-games in Breakwater Marina would be nice, or some more activities to do outside of missions in the action districts. For hardcore players, the game's content can be exhausted through rather quickly. The matchmaking is still being tweaked, and more advanced graphical options for 32-bit systems are being looked at. If you do get this game, you will have fun. No other game can really offer what this does all in one. But for how long it will hold your interest and patience is another question. For now, I would play the first 50 hours of free gametime the game comes with, and see if you like it enough to wait for some changes. Hopefully, we won't have too wait long.

Presentation - 9

The use of many different artists in music is a nice, real world touch. The feeling of city-wide anarchy in a world that's no longer centered on you is there. Customization tools are by far, the best any MMO has ever done. Most of the game's interface is familiar to any common shooter, but a some of the elements are left unexplained, even in the game's tutorial or manual. Not too hard to figure out, but still daunting that RTW has still yet to release their PDF manual for digital copies.

Story - 7

 The story is lacking, but given the game's design and setup, it's not really required.

Graphics - 7

 Good for an MMO, but doesn't do a good enough job to warrant a 64-bit OS. 

Sound - 8
Great use of various artists with a wide range of genres. The ability to import your own music and for others to hear it is grand.

Gameplay - 7

 If you want a persistent RPG styled wide open world shooter online, this is it. Gun mechanics, while not realistic, work given the game's RPG touch...if you are against an evenly matched team.

Current Stability - 6

 Numerous balancing issues, justified or not, hurt the experience, and the community. Broken VOIP makes demanding communication a chore.

Lasting Appeal - 6

 The game can be refreshing within your first few days, but if you can't stand doing the same thing over and over again, this won't hold your interest for long if new content isn't added soon.

Editor's Note: You can read more from Jenner about APB: All Points Bulletin in his blog post APB - A Second Look.

Comments

rfludwick

rfludwick - Jul. 19, 2010 at 11:24:26pm

Interestingly, should I choose to get this game, the new 64-bit rig I'm setting up (will arrive this week to put together) will enable me to view the game in its full glory. Haha.

Review Score
7.1

Mature

Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.

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