Is It 1995?
You can run solo in APB, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Not because it’s dangerous, but because running with friends or even strangers can be so much more fun. Also, it’s generally safer. Just because you want to run solo, doesn’t mean the game’s matchmaking system won’t send in a couple of the opposition after you on a mission you hoped to do unopposed. During non-peak times it might be an okay idea to run solo, as you’ll likely be unopposed or find yourself mostly matched up against other solo players. But again, at least in my eyes, it’s just less fun. The game is built for team play and even with strangers on your side it can be a real blast. And when in teams, it’s important that you play smart. Different weapons do different damage, and those players who might have far more time on you (especially if you’re just beginning) will likely have much stronger weapons than you. It’s not long before you can afford the automatic guns that will help even the playfield, but the truth is you’ll need to remember to keep your wits about you and use cover… and here’s where one of my biggest gripes comes in. There’s no real decent cover mechanic in APB. In most of today’s modern third-person shooters, it’s become standard practice to use context sensitive cover for shootouts. In games like Uncharted, Gears of War, GTA IV and even Read Dead Redemption you press a button to slide in and out of cover from numerous types of barricades and structures that are placed specifically for this purpose. In APB, the game gives you plenty of places to use cover, but doesn’t ever really give you the same control that some of today’s best games offer. You can crouch, and while in aim-mode (right-mouse click by default brings the camera close in over your shoulder for better aiming) you can peak around corners with the Q and E keys, but it just feels so dated and cumbersome. Some might prefer the old-school controls, but in a game that is so reminiscent of an online GTA, I feel a little cheated not to be able to use cover more naturally. The shooting does work fine otherwise. I’ve come up against my fair share of completely fantastic opponents, and plenty of morons like me who struggle to keep a 1:1 kill/death ratio, but for the most part it’s a very serviceable shooter. You need to use teamwork, you have to keep your eyes open not just on the ground but in the air as well, and the different weapons ranging from stun guns (for the Enforcers) to rocket launchers really up the mayhem level of the combat. I just feel that if it’s not going to be a true FPS, it could have been greatly improved by retaining some of the staple mechanics of the TPS genre. It feels… outdated.
Like Driving a Zamboni Over Tar
The other main mode of play in APB’s action zones is driving. You can deploy your own purchased cars from specific kiosks found in garages, which can only be driven by you, or you can steal/commandeer any vehicle on the street so long as it’s not another player’s owned car. Cars do take damage and will explode if they take enough of it, making taking cover behind vehicles a dangerous notion, and it also makes sure drivers try to be careful when on the run or the chase. The problem is that every single car I’ve driven in the game thus far has handled horribly. I’m not the best at shooters. But I am damned good at racing games. I take pride in my skills in that genre. Handbrake or no, the driving portion of APB leaves a lot to be desired. Every car feels like it’s an elephant sliding on ice, and there’s no real sense of speed in most vehicles either. It can be exciting in a shootout with three of your friends hanging out the window, but for the most part driving in APB is lackluster. I pray that the game’s later cars earned through the progression system make up for those that are available on the streets and early on for purchase, but I’m not holding my breath. On top of the bad controls, I feel this has to be mentioned. So you see your enemy get into a car, and you decide that’s fine you’ll just shoot him through the windshield. I mean, it’s glass right? Apparently it’s bulletproof glass, and every car in San Paro has it. You can’t shoot through the glass to kill your enemies. Unless you blow up the car, cars are safe-zones for all players. On more than one occasion I’ve seen matches change hands entirely based on whether a player can make it to a car in time or not. This creates some tense races sure, but it totally pulls you out of the game’s living city approach when you lay fifty bullets into a window and nothing happens.
What Does It All Mean?
In the end, some of these glaring gameplay problems could be overlooked if there was something epic and profound holding the entire experience together. It’s a city locked in a battle between the just and unjust, but what it really feels like is one giant lobby you run around in between matches which you play only to get more money to spend on dress-up items. There’s no real statistical or otherwise progression for your character, which leads to me feeling a sort of disconnect from my character in the first place. Then on top of it all, there’s no permanence to any of your actions. It works really well as a sort of playground, but a sandbox it is not. There’s just not a lot to do in the city beyond customize your looks and play cops and robbers. The upside is that Realtime Worlds has already promised a type of Turf Wars content is on the way in which both factions will fight over control of areas for different rewards. This will go a long way towards adding a reason to all the madness on the streets of San Paro. Right now what the developer has a promising shell of a game. The customization is great, but the gameplay and content is lacking cohesive direction. If the controls of the cars are tightened up, more meaningful consequences are added to the whole “Cops n’ Robbers” motif, and they somehow make character progression actually matter outside of unlocking slightly better weapons and cars, then I’ll gladly eat crow. If they throw in a real serviceable cover mechanic for my benefit, then I’ll be overjoyed. APB is a very fun game marred by undercooked ideas and badly implemented controls. There’s a lot of potential here, but it needs to realize some of it before I’d willingly recommend the title to anyone but the most hardcore and diehard fan of competitive shooters.