Let me preface this whole review by stating right off the bat, that All Points Bulletin is a whole lot of fun. I actually find myself liking the game, despite its many glaring problems, and that speaks loudly for the potential (yes I said it) Realtime Worlds’ sophomore game has at its disposal. Because despite the problems I have with the title, which we’ll get to in a bit, I really can’t help but enjoy the time I spend with it. I equate it to watching the film version of Mark Millar’s “Wanted”. I really hated what Hollywood did to that amazingly balls-out awesome comic, but at the same time on its own merits Wanted: The Movie was actually a fun action flick to watch and one I enjoy despite the fact that it’s not what I wanted it to be. That’s how I look at APB. It’s not quite everything I was hoping for, and it feels lacking in its execution in terms of gameplay and controls to boot.
Realtime Worlds themselves stated a while back that they feared critics’ views would be a mixed bag, and they were right. But it’s not just because some “don’t get” the game the team’s created. It’s because that game just doesn’t play as well as a modern shooter should, at least in my eyes. And yet despite all this, I keep having fun with the game, and I sincerely hope that I can revisit this review in a year and put all my complaints to bed. That said, let’s get to the nitty gritty.
A Customizer’s Dream
The first thing players will be tasked with is the creation of their character. However, unlike most games where you select from a few hair styles and basic facial looks, in APB if you work hard enough at it you can easily come away with a faithful recreation of yourself or anyone else recognizable. Oddly enough I accidentally made a white-haired version of my realtor… I don’t think he’d be too happy about me turning him into a lawless criminal who plows over pedestrians for fun, but that’s just too bad. Once in-game, and after earning enough funds and gaining some ranks in the game’s progression system players will be able to unlock and purchase plenty of new clothes and accessories which they can deck out with their own or others’ created emblems and logos. You can change the color of just about everything on down to the stitching of your jeans, and you even get to pick what kind of underwear you’re sporting beneath all your criminal or enforcer gear… or you could just go with the underwear as your streetwear, if you’re into that sort of thing.
But the game’s customization tools don’t stop at clothes and tattoos. The same rules for clothes can be applied to the game’s many purchasable cars. And what’s more is that the more musically inclined players can create quick little midi-files which players can have played after they kill someone in a fight. Yes that’s right, you can musically taunt your opponents in APB. The old days of “corpse-humping” are gone, for now you can deface your enemies with a segment from any one of your favorite show tunes. All of this creative stuff is handled in one of the game’s three districts. Two are specifically for the “action” and one is entirely for social purposes. No gunfights, just people milling about making things and chatting. The “lore” describes it as a place where both criminals and enforcers put down their guns for a bit and relax. Hokey, but it serves its purpose.
Realtime Worlds really did come through with its promise to have one of gaming’s most robust customization toolsets. There was a glaring problem where players could just leave their characters idle at the customization screens to gain ranks and thousands of dollars, but that has since been patched. Now to make money as a designer you’ll actually have to sell your designs in the game’s auction system. Sadly, I haven’t noticed many people actually making use of this, and I’m not sure there really is any economy in APB which is depressing considering the tools available for one to happen. Perhaps after all the free money earned from this early “glitch” has been spent players will actually make use of the marketplace. It’s wait and see there.
One more cool personalization detail: you can import all of your own music into the game as you drive about in your car, and if other players have the same song they’ll be able to hear it. There’s little chance you’ll ever run into your lookalike in San Paro, and it’s entirely possible that you’ll see more than your fair share of thematically clothed gangs running around and creating havoc. But how does the game actually play? Well, that’s where things go a little awry.
It’s Like Luke Before He Was a Badass
Remember how whiny and annoying Luke Skywalker was in “A New Hope”? You know before he went off, got trained by Yoda, and became the take-no-crap Jedi that he proved to be for the rest of the trilogy? That’s what the gameplay of APB is like. It’s like Luke Skywalker with that blacked-out helmet on, pretending he knows what the heck he’s doing with a lightsaber while a little floating orb shoots him in the nads with lasers. Let me get to why this is.
The basic set up is as follows. You can be an Enforcer (think deputy with the right to kill) or a Criminal (do whatever the hell you want and laugh the whole time doing it), and you pledge yourself to one of several NPC characters who will give you missions and as you do more for them they’ll open up new gear, weapons and other items for you to use. The game’s two action districts (Waterfront and Financial) offer different looks and atmospheres, but little else in the way they play. If you’re a criminal, the missions you’ll be assigned to will generally be to rob this, plant a bomb on this, or kill this Enforcer. If you’re an Enforcer, they tend to be to stop the robbery of this, disable the bombs on this, or kill this Criminal.
Maybe I should have mentioned it earlier, but the entire game is based on a clever and behind-the-scenes matchmaking system. Meaning, it’s all PvP-oriented. If you are the type who’d rather fight AI, APB really isn’t the game for you. The repetitive and simplistic nature of the game’s “missions” or match types can be forgiven if only because of the dynamic nature of competitive play. No one match will be the same as the next and for the most part in my experience the game’s done a decent job of keeping the numbers even on each mission.