For years, speculations about a Grand Theft Auto MMO have been buzzing around, enticing fans of open-world chaos. Despite coming up in the rumor mills nearly every other week, the game has never materialized, allowing Realtime Worlds’ All Points Bulletin to come to the scene unopposed. While it’s not actually the GTA MMO people have hoped for, the game features many of the elements fans would have expected from Rockstar’s series, as well as some others that turn an almost forgettable experience into something worth paying attention to.
APB has two sides: gameplay and customization. When it comes to customization, APB is king. Character creation allows for every facet of the character’s face to be modified, meaning that every single person playing should be able to make an avatar that looks exactly like, well, whatever they happen to want. It’s after the player jumps into the game that it really begins to shine, though, as the game’s Social District comes with a suite of tools to allow the player to stand out amidst the thousands of other Enforcers and Criminals. Players can outfit their characters with an large number of clothing options and customize them completely, with decals that allow players to literally craft whatever they want. It comes with a tool that feels like a stripped down version of Photoshop, and has already lead to players making insanely detailed logos to put on their shirts, cars, or skin.
Extending that thought is the music creation system. Short and long tracks can be created, with the former being played whenever a foe falls victim to a player’s attacks, and the latter being pumped out of car stereos for all to hear. Already, Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” can be heard blasting through the streets of San Paro.
This is what APB is about. It’s a game about making a mark, and being recognized for being the best. In the game’s Social District there are even statues that commemorate the month’s best combatants in a number of different categories. It’s a game about fame, infamy, and everything in-between. This thought continues into the gameplay by pointing out successful Enforcers and Criminals on the streets with open bounties, and rewarding players that take them down.
For as good as the customization is, it’s nothing without the other side of the game, the actual gameplay. Players take to the streets of San Paro as either of the two aforementioned classes and do battle in the game’s two combat districts. There isn’t traditional leveling, instead just a slow roll-out of new items and abilities unlocked by completing missions. In many ways, APB is a success in this area. In theory, that is. The concepts that fuel the encounters are brilliant, and when they work as intended the sheer brilliance shines through. Sadly, the times where it works as it should are outnumbered by the times where it doesn’t.
It plays out like this: An Enforcer or Criminal takes a mission, and is sent to an area in San Paro to begin. Each mission has several phases, and the first usually involves taking pictures, busting open a door, or completing some other action that’s tied to pressing a button and watching a status meter fill up. During this mission, a call is put out, and the rival faction is offered a mission that works against their opponents. APB negates the need for NPCs by simply filling that role with other players; an element that many might argue is the future of multiplayer gaming. There aren’t always foes in the right place at the right time, however, and that’s where the game will begin to falter. Hard.
Realtime Worlds’ brilliant code, which is capable of doing so much good, and creating such interesting battles, will often mismatch players, creating either unbalanced teams, or impossible winning conditions. Since opponents can join a match in-progress, it will sometimes be right before it’s completed, meaning the player joins just to lose. Other times, the game’s imperfect leveling system will show itself, and set players with starting weapons against those with much more powerful armaments.
There’s some great fun to be had piling a group of allies into a car and chasing down opponents. It can be fun enough to make players forget that the driving isn’t perfect, and the shooting needs some major improvements. When APB works, it’s simply bliss. Sadly, more often than not, it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, the imperfect hit-boxes are more apparent, and the lack of a cover system becomes more detrimental. The facade fades, and unless Realtime Worlds fixes the game’s issues with more mission variety or some non-player characters to combat, they will likely see many struggling to find an excuse to purchase their game, or to continue paying once their first 20 hours are up.