A Mixed Bag of Awesome & Frustration
All Points Bulletin: Reloaded is a general mixed bag of awesome and frustration. Only in San Paro will you see diminutive, round-cheeked Asian females gently pummeling heavily-muscled tattooed men for their wallets and kamikaze punks, decked out in rags to make The Joker Proud, terminate the opposition by driving everyone off a bridge. Only here; the occasional Van Diesel movie notwithstanding. If this sounds like something you can get behind, APB Reloaded may be the game for you. Maybe. Like it or not, the problem with APB Reloaded is that it's just one of those games: it either works or it doesn't.
However, before we get ahead of ourselves, let's rewind this a little bit. In case you missed the memo, APB Reloaded is the metaphorical phoenix fledgling that arose from the ashes of its short-lived progenitor. Set within the crime-infested world of San Pedro, this team-based MMOFPS (or TPS if you prefer) will have players rocking it as either a Criminal or an Enforcer. If you choose to be a Criminal, you'll spent a majority of your time stealing cars, burglarizing random infrastructure, mugging unfortunates, vandalizing property and generally doing all those things we have come to expect from family-friendly crooks. As an Enforcer, you will, on top of arresting disreputable vagrants, probably find yourself accidentally doing a lot of the same things as well. After all, a vigilante's job is to get things done. Collateral damage is inevitable.
Even as minimal settings, APB Reloaded is rather pretty. This is something I can claim with impunity as I've been recently operating the game on a crappy little netbook. Though it looks far more appetizing on a proper gaming rig, APB Reloaded, like a lady of virtue, is capable of retaining a fair bit of its charm even under duress.
That aside, I'm extremely divided on this front. On one hand, I have nothing but good things to say about beautifully detailed the characters are. You would be hard-pressed to be just 'another face in the crowd' here because the level of customization that APB Reloaded offers is just plain staggering. It would make The Sims weep in envy. And while it pains me to confess to my own femininity here, I'm impressed at the panoply of costumes worn by the residents of the world. This is urban decay at its finest, a pitch-perfect (if somewhat idealized) realization of street-side culture.
(And in case you're wondering, the animations aren't anything to shout about – it's pretty much 'out of the box' material for the Unreal Engine 3.)
Having gushed moderately about the positive aspects of things, let's examine the other hand. APB Reloaded, for all of its intercity grandeur, lacks personality. At first glance, this might not appear to be the case. San Paro is festooned with all the hallmarks of a sprawling metropolis. Skyscrapers, parks, warehouses, freeways, neon lights, an abundance of pedestrians – they're all there. Nonetheless, that's also all there is. If you've seen one part of San Paro, you've seen the rest. There is little that differentiates one building from another. Odd as this might sound, I would have appreciated a little bit of grunge too. Trash on the floor or spilled rubbish bins in the alley ways; anything that would tell me that I'm in an earthbound hive of scum and villainy.
The music fares monumentally better, however. The fact that APB Reloaded will do its best to find tunes that match your personal play list is plain awesome. That is all. As an added bonus, the pre-existing tracks aren't too shabby either.
Now, here's the reason for the 6.5. Understand that I would have normally excused the sterility of the environment. APB Reloaded would have probably gotten a 7 out of me. Unfortunately, it's being taken down a notch due to the interface. At the risk of forever estranging our APB fans, I'm going to say this: it's terrible. Feel free to get your pitchforks. I stand by my statement. While it might just be the fact that World of Warcraft's structured and orderly approach to level progression has spoiled me rotten and left me incapable of facing grittiness of San Paro, I have certain intrinsic problems with a game that leaves me confused for the first ten minutes. Sure, the whole 'press this button to move, press that one to shoot' is all well and good but how do I take on missions? Why must I run around the first NPC I met in a very uncertain fashion before she addresses me with a task? Why is all the necessary information located in a frustratingly discreet of my screen? Who are these people you are grouping me with? Where are my convenient shortcuts? Most importantly of all, why won't you let me back into the Tutorial District after I make the mistake of leaving it the first time?
Will APB Reloaded change your world? No. Will you change the way you perceive FPS games? No. Will you teach you a new way to play a first-person shooter? No. Is there anything here that I would consider explicitly new and fresh? Absolutely not. Unless you've never had the good fortune of crossing paths with an FPS or a driving game, you won't find anything new in APB Reloaded. Picture something that exists as a cross between Grand Theft Auto and any other team-based FPS out there and you will have APB Reloaded.
Instead of utilizing a traditional quest system, APB Reloaded makes use of something called 'missions'. They're essentially the same thing. The only exception is that you don't have to march up to someone with an exclamation mark over their heads. As for the missions themselves, they're relatively pedestrian, things you've probably seen before. Steal a vehicle. Deposit a vehicle. Recover items. Defend a choke-point. Attack a choke-point. Indulge in an all-out battle for supremacy. You know. Those sorts of things.
One of the best things about APB Reloaded is the sheer amount of personalization that it allows. You won’t ever have to worry about being part of a homogeneous player population. In fact, you would probably need co-conspirators in order to create a crowd of people with a similar appearance. Why? Well, we've mentioned it before in the previous category but I'll say it again. Customization in APB Reloaded is just that good. If you are, in any way, one of those good folk who spend hours cultivating the appearance of their avatars, you will, believe it or not, find yourself consumed by this aspect of APB Reloaded. I'm still boggled by it. For a game that is essentially a persistent death match for thousands, APB Reloaded would make The Sims and Second Life weep in envy over the lavish amount of control provided to its users.
From the moment you enter the game, you're given every utility necessary to properly compose the character of your dreams. Want a better-looking car? Work your way towards one or slave over the decals of your first vehicle. Want to add some spunk? Add tattoos to your characters. Rework their wardrobe. Tailor their underwear to your own perverted tastes. Need to make yourself a well-known virtual maestro? Sit down for hours to manufacture complex tunes before marketing them to your peers. And yes, weapons are also subject to both functional and cosmetic make-overs as well.
(Of course, that much of control isn't always a good thing. The male Hatsune Miku that I stumbled over in the social district is proof enough of this.)
If APB Reloaded ever goes belly up, the developers will probably be able to make a whole lot of money auctioning this component to the highest bidder.
Gameplay-wise, APB Reloaded is what you might have expected from something labeled as a 'first-person shooter'. A majority of your time in APB Reloaded will be spent journeying from your current spot to the next mission marker. In order to get to your destination, you can choose either to proceed on foot or to take a vehicle. While it's entirely possible to tamely ride your own car to every place of interest, APB Reloaded permits you to indulge in literal highway robbery. Yes, much like in Grand Theft Auto, you will be able to commandeering cars and running over the original owners after wards. You will also be able to car jack stationary vehicles, a task that involves nothing more than pressing 'F' next to a car and waiting.
Though entertaining to an extent, I've seen no real point to this. Cars and trucks do not feel too different from one another. If anything, it feels like little more than the means to an end. The same can also be said about the other criminal activities you can choose to participate in.
Best experienced with a coterie of allies, APB Reloaded is not a game for the solitary. You need friends to make this work, something that represents the other bone I have to pick with APB Reloaded. If you were to tell me that this is an FPS with a persistent world, I would doff my head and salute it in a slightly awed fashion. But, it's not. An MMO should provide the option for solitary play. You should be able to enjoy this alone. You should not, if you choose so, be shackled to other players.
To be fair, you could technically embark on solo missions but the game provides little reason to do so. Away from the frag-fests, San Pedro is painfully barren of interesting things to do. Sure, there might be people to mug, money to launder and vehicles to steal but actual interaction is limited. You can't talk to pedestrians. You can't pick up random quests. You can't really do anything.
(Ironically enough, only the Enforcers are capable of indulging in low-grade griefing. As a Criminal, you won't be able to steal cars from other Criminals or batter an Enforcer down. However, an Enforcer will be able to sneakily 'witness' you in a criminal act and move in to put you in handcuffs.)
More frustrating, perhaps, is the ease of the missions. Unless you're met with opposition (the best part about APB Reloaded is the gunpowder-flavored bloodbaths), things are just too easy here. The first time I was told to burglarize a few locations, I was excited. Would I play second-fiddle to my group leader and be tasked to hold hostages down? Would I have to shoot a police officer in the knee? No, and no again. Instead, I found myself doing little more than wait around even as my compatriot pressed 'F' and effortlessly completed his quest. (Dead city. You get where I'm coming from now?)
On a lighter note, driving around in APB Reloaded is an absolute dream, something that makes the emptiness of the city an even bigger disappointment. Cars handle almost surprisingly well here. Curiously enough, this appears to be applicable to all vehicles. While they don't feel very different from one another, it's still pleasing to be able to command a starter car without feeling like a toddler in a box.
You know how other reviews keep telling you to play with your own friends? You should listen to them because it's true. APB Reloaded is somewhat abysmal on that front. Precious little chatter occurs over the intercoms. At times, you might see a few spam bots enthusing in a foreign language over the channels but that's about it. People here seem largely focused on the task of killing each other. It's either that or a vast majority of conversations happen over personal intercoms.
While many have commented on an abundance of cheaters, I've actually been lucky enough not to encounter any. Then again, I grew up in South-East Asia – the land of fast-paced, trigger-happy gamers. I doubt I would be able to tell the difference even if an aim-bot bit me on the derriere. With that in mind, matchmaking actually felt decent. I never once found myself encountering a group that would take down my own without so much as a batted eyelash.
(All bets are off on Fight Club, however, If you fancy 16vs16 Battle Royale, you should totally hit that District right now.)
Long-term fans of more 'realistic' shooter may find APB Reloaded wanting. To begin with, APB Reloaded does not have skill shots. All hit boxes are built equally. You will not be able to perform a one-headshot skill from maximum range. At best, you will be able to pepper spray your opponents from the top of a building while they search fruitlessly for you. Worst of all, there is no real heft to the weapons, no obvious indication of your ammo levels, no real way to determine whether your car is about to explode unless being explicitly told so.
As I've mentioned several times before, APB Reloaded also suffers from a sparse background. While I understand that the focus is on team-based PvP, I believe there still should be more to the game than just that. APB Reloaded does, however, get major points for their in-depth character creation and the sheer amount of personalization you're allowed.
Best you weren't expecting that score, were you? Not after all the mean things I've said so far. While APB Reloaded is rife with little issues, they are, for the most part, little issues. Unlike many other genres, there's a certain timeless appeal to first-person shooters. You need skill. Full stop. Unless you find yourself bringing an assault rifle to a fight between mechas, there is always some way to bring down the adversary.
Steep as the learning curve may be, there's something about the game that baits you back. Maybe, it's the fact you've figured out how it worked. Maybe, it's the plethora of stuff you've unlocked. Maybe, it's the chance to lease bigger and better weapons. Maybe, it's all of it put together. APB Reloaded might not really be the sort of game that would eat ten hours of your day before you've even realized what's going on but it's certainly well-suited for a daily death match or three.
It could have been better. APB Reloaded could have been so much better in a variety of ways. But for a free-to-play game fresh out of open beta, it's actually not too shabby. While the survival of the game is reliant on in-game purchases, I never once felt the gap too overtly. There was only once that I found myself questioning how fast I died. With the panoply of game modes that's being promised, I have hopes for APB Reloaded. However, we shall see.
APB Reloaded, while significantly more refined than its ill-fated predecessor, is still far from perfect. When things aren't jiving the right way, expect to spend a lot of time frustrated. The learning curve is stupefying. Your first few hours will be mostly be spent dead, dying or lost. You will, at least once in your career with the game, flirt with the idea of un-installation.
When the constellations are in perfect alignment and every card is in place, APB Reloaded purrs like a well-oiled machine from the Gods. Everything about it becomes glorious. The chase, the kills, the illicit satisfaction that comes from mowing down unsuspecting civilians with a truck - nothing quite compares to that raw, kinetic thrill that surfaces as you cross San Pedro with your group of like-minded lawbreakers, Enforcers in hot pursuit behind you. In its finest moments, APB Reloaded is everything you dreamt of that night when you decided Grand Theft Auto would have been better as an MMO. And sometimes, it's even better.