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First Look Opinions

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He started hassling a nearby pedestrian, hinting that you can rob any NPC that you come across for extra cash, and then, after shooting the pedestrian in the face, that you can also kill anyone in the game. "We make violent games in Scotland," he added. Indeed. Dave continued by mentioning that you can steal cars (GTA style). Cars can also be crashed into store fronts. You can then steal the stuff in the store window.

Dave pointed out though that criminal actions have consequences. If a criminal is "seen" by an enforcer committing a crime, the enforcer can put an APB on you. Luckily no one else was around to see Dave murder the pedestrian. Phew!

He then received a group invite to help complete a mission. Presumably, one of his group mates had received this "quest" from a criminal contact. While Dave waited for his team to show up, he confirmed that characters do have levels - his character was level 328, which he explained was "very high". Characters also have a "threat level" (Dave's was currently at 14), which is a rating that describes how "dangerous you are", and which changes all the time based on your actions. Characters also have a "notoriety level", which is a measure of "how much crime you do".

The group mission Dave had just accepted was a "spray" mission, which required his team to spray graffiti in six specific places on the map. At this point, a tricked out SUV pulled up with three other criminals in it - Dave's team mates. He climbed into the back seat. As the SUV took off toward the first location to be tagged, all three passengers leaned out of the windows and started taking potshots at pedestrians. The first wall to be tagged (which was shown on the minimap), ended up being inside a building.

Spraying graffiti uses a fairly length "cast bar". As Dave completed the first tag, the letters "APB" filled the center of the screen. When a criminal completes the first illegal task of a mission like this, an APB is broadcast throughout the district, regardless of whether an enforcer saw it happen or not. Enforcer players can accept the APB if they wish, which results in them joining the mission on the opposing side. If the criminals can complete the requirements of the mission within the given time limit, they win.

As Dave's team exited the building, a couple of enforcers (clearly distinguishable by their red overhead icons and who had responded very quickly to the APB) opened fire on them, and the battle began.

Combat is FPS based - WASD with mouse aiming. If there were abilities being used, I didn't see them. There was no obvious hotbar jam packed with icons. The UI was very clean.

A few seconds into the firefight it became very apparent that Dave sucked. It took what seemed like five or six direct hits for an enforcer (named Steven Seagull) to kill him. It is unclear to me what benefit Dave was getting from being level 328.

Unlike in some games, death is relatively painless in APB. You respawn almost instantly 150 feet away from where you died, so it is easy to get right back into the game. Enforcers can also use non-lethal weapons to subdue criminals. This results in the criminal being arrested - out of the game for 15 seconds - which, in this fast-paced game, is much more of a penalty than being killed. Arrested criminals can be rescued, however.

If things are going very badly, either side can "call for backup". This increases that side's maximum team size for the mission, allowing other players to join in. "Calls for backup" can be used incrementally, resulting in a maximum of 20 players on each side per mission.

There are many ways to die in APB. During the ensuing firefight, I saw many players get run over. Being hit by a car kills you instantly. There is also friendly fire. And cars will explode if shot enough times - if you are inside a car that explodes, you die. However, there is no melee combat.

Eventually, Dave's criminals managed to spray all six locations and won the mission. As the demo wrapped up, Dave also stated that players can take part in other activities, like hunting down players who have bounties on their heads. There will also be full voice-over IP.

So what did I think of it?

The game appears to be quite twitchy - a world apart from DIKU-style auto-attacks and abilities that many MMO players will be used to. This will attract FPS enthusiasts in droves. Action is fast paced and brutal. The environments (a combination of cramped interiors and elevated positions along with wide-open areas) allow for lots of team strategy. Players don't have dozens of abilities to manage - it's just point and shoot. There's no ability-activation patterns to learn. No classes. Instead, the learning curve is based upon FPS, not MMO, principles. Most of all, it looks FUN.

What role "gear" plays throughout is still uncertain. While the aesthetics of what the player looks like are handled magnificently, I still have no idea how weapons work. While I saw lots of different weapon types being used, I have no clue whether there is any weapon-power progression or if all shotguns do the same damage. My hunch is that APB is not a game where power=gear (like WoW, for example), but is a skill-based game where all weapons are on equal footing. I have no data to back up this assumption, however.

There was also no indication of how the player-level progression works or how it impacts gameplay. Did being level 328 mean that Dave had a bunch of passive abilities that we didn't see? Or any other advantages? I don't know.

The feel of combat is similar to a scenario in WAR. Missions are ten minutes of intense combat based around completing specific goals. APB feels like it will be a great game for people who just want to log in to do some PvP.

I would guess that there were perhaps eight or so players in the demo, which ran very smoothly. Whether the game can support a hundred players per district and thousands of PCU per server is still an unanswered question.

While clans (guilds) were mentioned, we weren't given any real information on how they are handled. Good Clan-based systems will be crucial to APB's success.

It should also be noted that while APB is a massively-multiplayer online play space, it is not a virtual world. It's not trying to realistically emulate a city-based urban experience. It's more of a mechanism to enable PvP. It's definitely not GTA Online. It looks like an online FPS with all the features turned up to eleven. Players who are looking to make a deep attachment to the game's lore, the world, and the NPC characters in it will be disappointed. However, Players that want to be able to participate in "true" self-expressive crafting, and adrenaline-filled bursts of intense PvP action, will be delighted.

From the look of the demo, APB looks like a really REALLY fun PvP game ... with guns.

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Guest Writer