In reality, stealing a car is wrong but in APB it feels so right. In the top right-hand corner of my screen I am told to indulge my automobile thieving skills and then bring the spoils back to a certain point; I'm like Nicholas Cage in Gone in Sixty Seconds but meaner and without such a punchable face. To compliment by criminal activities is a virtual comrade by the name of Jack Shandy; he wears makeup, has an afro, and rides shotgun whilst hanging out of the window shooting passers-by like he is on a wild game hunt. Call me crazy but he seems a little unhinged.
A few minutes later we draw within touching distance of the drop-off point. Assuming everything is clear my ally exits the car and escapes back into the night. Splitter. Huffing with anticipation I thumb the keyboard, my jeep coming ever closer to the yellow waypoint that signals the end of the journey and a new life of cash - but just before this happens I notice something out of the corner of my eye. Sat perched atop a building is the deserting Jack Shandy - rocket launcher in hand. Before I can run for my life, the crazed bastard opens-fire upon my stolen money spinner; explosion; death. I will have vengeance upon the one they call Jack Shandy, we are on the same team!
There is a lot to like about a game that allows you to do whatever you want when you want. Forgoing the usual setting of fantasy/sci-fi/superhero APB Reloaded takes us into a modern urban environment and pleads with you to be anti-social. Taking the role of either cop or robber, it is your job to wreak havoc city-wide whilst proving your dominance against the other team - usually this involves several burnt-out cars, a couple of crumpled civilians, and at least one player shouting "FFS HAX0RZ!"
Been there, done that
Most of you will remember last year’s release of APB. Here we had a game that was so close to being fun that it was dangling one toe off a silly-slide cliff face, but the rest of its body was stuck firmly in a murky swamp. Realtime Worlds crafted some great environments and customization tools enough to make Cryptic shake in their collective boots, but for a lack of real end game content and some very undercooked designed elements, the MMO just wasn’t to be and was promptly shut down; that is until now.
Free to play is upon us like the onset of a zombie plague. Everywhere old and slightly tired games are being thrown “scrolls of resurrection +2” and APB is one of the latest titles to fall to the trend. So given a new lease on life and with the added suffix “Reloaded” things for the MMO are going to be different this time though, and I’d be damned if they weren’t right.
The major focus of APB Reloaded is not to reinvent the game or even fiddle with the formula; it is to make the ensemble work as it should have done at launch. The combat feels tighter, the driving has more weight, and the missions work better – and honestly what more could ask from a title that firmly sat in the boxes of “What if” and “Maybe”.
Things this time around are a lot more refined and work better. Starting out your new life as either cop or robber is more direct and easier to get straight into the action. Your first car for instance (that is if you do not choose to hijack the AI) is a sporty little coupe with some superb handling and drifting abilities, and the weapons you are equipped with don’t feel like slightly broken pea shooters either: APB Reloaded is all about getting into the fray and enjoying the mayhem that unfolds around you and these additions allow for just that.
Upon finishing the tutorial area I slipped into the Financial District (one of two action zones) expecting to be slowly integrated into the experience with one or two solo quests – I was wrong. Players can opt to be allocated an automatic group and from here take on missions from the get go. It takes a special kind of developer to realise exactly what gamers want from their product and K2 Network really have hit this on the head.
Just ten minutes young into the main part of APB and already I was cruising with several colourful looking criminals, in a pickup truck, heading towards an area to steal some goods. My allies hung out of the window, shouted obscenities, and picked off stray citizens that populate the world. Looking like rejects from Mad Max 2, we arrived at our destination and disembarked – and then the firing began. One of our group fell immediately, his cornrows slapping to floor and his lipstick tattoo looking suddenly ridiculous. The remains of our crew hid behind walls and the car waiting for someone to lead the charge – sensing a time for heroic deeds I foolishly stepped up, hovered my hand over to shift and ran into the alley that separated us from our goal – and like in the movie Platoon I was mowed down by a hail of gun fire whilst in reality slowly shouting “NooooOOO”.
Moments later I respawned a matter of yards away from my allies and resumed duty. The missions within APB Reloaded are admittedly a little on the slim side, but all together they work a lot better than before. Capture the Flag style matchups are gleeful as players hunt each other down through the city environments, and nothing is quite so much fun as car chase with several players participating.
All Points Better
I hesitate to use the phrase again, but this APB works in this iteration; the difficulty of the title has been scaled and more appropriately utilised, and finding matches with other players is more refined. Before, more experienced players could find loopholes to take advantage of new comers, this is now largely absent with better development and mechanics. This is APB as it should have been at launch and while it took a shutdown and a change in management to get here, it is still appreciated none the less.
With all praise and potential aside however, there are still one or two worries that remain. The end-game content still appears to be on the slim side, and there are only a handful of missions available so after customization has lost its appeal, I still question what will keep players coming back. Content patches will be expected but with the “freemium” mode it’s hard to tell just how free or engrossing this will be for returning and newcoming players – perhaps a little more in the way of new content would have reassured prospective players? This is definitely one that we can’t call yet.
On the whole APB Reloaded is a very interesting and engrossing game in beta. The changes made are welcome and if you are looking to play the title you heard about in so many previews in the past, this is it. This is an MMO that is both fun and engrossing, difficult yet accessible – it will interest anyone looking for something passed the average death match but also doesn’t completely reinvent the idea of shoot-‘em-up multiplayer. It’s safe to assume I am interested how this one will turn out.