All Points Bulletin is a new action MMO from Realtime Worlds, a development company based in Dundee, Scotland, which also created Crackdown. APB, which launches on June 29, 2010, takes place in the fictional world of San Paro, a living city where its players are in a constant struggle to rule the streets. This game is not really about cops and robbers, but rather a game where players can either be "the bad" or "stop the bad". Players choose to be either Enforcers or Criminals. Enforcers are players who strive to maintain a sense of order by, ironically, using violence to stop the Criminals, who want to be left alone to mark their territories and take what they please.
Last week I visited Realtime Worlds' new home office in Boulder, CO, and I was able to play the game for a couple of hours. Now experienced MMO players know that two hours is not enough time to properly review/preview a game of this nature. Also, no new news was released during my visit, so what I'm going to do instead is tell you about my short exposure to the game, including some observations about character creation, before talking about the meat of APB.
This game sits on a fine line between being a first person shooter and an MMO. In most areas it behaves like an MMO --you have Clans (which are equivalent to guilds), missions (quests), and you a play live with others. The first thing that makes it feel different is the setting-- it takes place in a modern-day city--and secondly, it plays like a first-person shooter, meaning that you use the mouse to shoot and there is no auto/tab targeting. As you'll probably hear me repeat often, this can take a while to get used to.
Initially, the thing I first noticed about this game was the art on the loading screens. It reminded me of a mix between skater style and Banksy, very raw but artistic. At character creation I chose to play an Enforcer to start with. I had heard a lot about character creation and was very excited to try it out for myself. You might have seen the character-editor videos online, but they truly don't do this game justice. This is like a character creator you'd find in a Cryptic game turned up to eleven! I chose a female, named her, then began the joyously tedious process of making her look exactly as I wanted. The system allows you to manipulate things like eye spacing, nostril size, hip size, and countless other aspects of the face, hair and body, to get the shape and size you desire. It's amazing! Once satisfied with my physical appearance, I entered the game.
I started with the tutorial, which places your character in a parking-deck area with bland walls and a contact NPC nearby. I clicked on both mouse buttons to move around and, instead of moving my character, I shot my gun. Doh! You move around using the WASD keys. I had forgotten this already and made that mistake a handful more times throughout the day. Contacts are essentially your quest givers. After you have made contact with one, they will later call you with a mission that you can choose to accept or not. These missions are timed, so you have to make sure you have enough time to finish it before accepting. I "made" my contact and within moments I had my first mission (to spray paint a wall), and a small red icon appeared that directed me to the location where I completed my first diabolical act--tagging the wall. Subsequent missions involved blowing up a shop and stealing items.
During one of my missions, it was suggested that I should steal a car so that I would make it to the destination on time. Stealing a car was easy ... just walk in front of any nearby motorist to stop their vehicle and then press the "F" key (action/interact). My character went into action yanking the driver onto the street and jumping behind the wheel. Amid my feeble attempts to drive away, the car's previous owner stamped her feet and cussed me out as I sped off, but I could barely hear her over the great music that I was now jamming to in the car. However, Driving is NOT easy. I repeatedly ran over pedestrians and slammed into walls... but not on purpose. You can have up to four players in a car and passengers can hang out the window and shoot, but driving itself is going to take practice, especially while in combat. It does get easier as you go, however, and there is a great satisfaction when you first turn a corner using one fluid movement.
I finished the tutorial and entered the Social District. There are three areas for players to explore; two Action Districts and a Social District. The Action Districts (Financial and Waterfront) are where players complete missions, spray graffiti, and fight each other. The Social District is a non-combat zone where players create things and socialize.
The Social District is in a grassy park surrounded by very tall buildings covered with large advertising signs--think Times Square--which players are able to create themselves. You can advertise the stuff you've made (clothing, music, decals, etc.) on these signs. The second thing I noticed were large statues of players, some up to 40 ft tall. These statues can be earned or, if you're just that vain, you can buy one and personalize it to look like your character. But, you're going to have to earn quite a lot of money to do that first. The Social District is where players design music, tattoos, cars, and clothing by using special kiosk-like machines in many of the main buildings. Using a design kiosk is free, but you can sell your wares to other players to earn cash. There is no way to truly explain just how free you can be with your artistic abilities in this game--you have to experience it to believe it.
Not everything is available at the beginning of the game, but as you level up more customizable art assets unlock. If you have no artistic abilities, like myself, there are plenty of preset designs you can use and practically unlimited ways of combining color and shape to these creations. For instance, I created a design that comprised a chevron behind a dragon (both were pre-existing in-game images), chose the color for each, and was able to use the final symbol on my car, jeans, and shirt.
As for the music, you can create snippets for many different game events. At special music kiosks, a piano-like interface allows you to create melodies note by note, which you can then save. I made an eight-second tune that played whenever I killed another player. Additional background tracks can be made to enhance your creations.
After all of that, I got to experience some combat and a couple of real missions. I switched over to an already-created Enforcer character and played around in the Waterfront District. I made contact with the closest contact NPC I could find and then moseyed into the parking deck to a phone-booth-looking machine to summon my own personal car; the same car that I had just stylized in the Social District. My driving skills were still almost nonexistent, and I was barely out of the parking deck before I received my first mission. It was to go and retrieve a bunch of CDs that had been stolen and hidden. Iconned arrows appeared to show me which direction to go, and I was soon exiting my car and retrieving the item. On my way to return the CDs to my contact, my first APB went out. APBs trigger whenever a Criminal is spotted breaking the law during one of their missions. Enforcers are alerted and can choose to go and try and stop the Criminal from completing their mission. I decided to abandon my personal CD-delivery Fedex mission and headed for the action.
The robbery was going down at a convenience store. A woman was waving a gun around while two other Criminals headed for a van--no doubt their get-away vehicle. I jumped out of my car and started shooting. Well, tried to anyways. While diving into the action, I frantically tried hitting the Tab key to acquire a target. Wrong! No auto/Tab targeting here. It's all about skill (of which apparently I have very little) and I died quickly. I respawned nearby and ran back into the action. By this point, all of the Criminals were in their van... waiting. I lined up my crosshairs and aimed, and got a few shots in. However, the van, with two Criminals hanging out the windows spraying bullets, accelerated to ramming speed. The bullets got me again and I died. By the time I had respawned for the third time, they were gone. I decided to "commandeer" a car (that's what Enforcers call stealing), and headed back to my contact to drop off the CDs to complete my previous mission.
Playing this game for the first time is a bit overwhelming. It is packed to the gills with "crafty" things for players to do, like music creation and tattoo design. Players are able to use their iTunes libraries as background music to listen to while playing the game. Players can create Clans of up to 100 players of the same faction. These can have their own identity and ranks, and their own chat and voice channels. Also, players are able to make short videos of their adventures using the "awesome" button, which I'll talk about in another article. I didn't have enough time to sink my teeth into too much action, but what I did experience was pretty intense. Fighting can get extremely chaotic with guns flying and cars whizzing by, so if you're keen on that kind of thing then this game is definitely for you.
The creative aspect of this game is so compelling and extensive that you simply must try it. Even if you're only mildly interested in the guns and fighting, APB is worth looking at for its innovative approach to customization.