APB: All Points Bulletin Review

By Scott Alan Marriott - Posted Jul 14, 2010

APB is an MMO whose gameplay is MIA. Despite being crafted by a development staff whose members have notched the original Grand Theft Auto and Crackdown on their belts, APB ranks as one of the year's biggest disappointments.

The Pros
  • Extensive customization features
  • Supports up to 80 players per action area
The Cons
  • Tedious missions
  • Little sense of character progression
  • Poor shooting mechanics

APB: All Points Bulletin is an MMO whose gameplay is MIA. Despite being crafted by a development staff whose members have notched the original Grand Theft Auto and Crackdown on their belts, APB ranks as one of the year's biggest disappointments.

You don't get a second chance to make a good first impression, but more than a few online game developers haven't quite figured this out, especially those relying on subscription fees. Instead, it's common practice to send out games in various states of completion, with the hope that an eager audience will embrace the work-in-progress and subsidize future development costs. Yet if the game doesn't immediately impress, poor word-of mouth can make the goal of expanding the player base an uphill climb.

Early Release?

Sadly, APB feels like a game that was pushed out before it was ready, despite being in development for over four years. While it manages to skirt the typical problems associated with MMO launches, APB's chief problem is a more disturbing one: flat and unimaginative gameplay. For a title that relies heavily on player versus player interaction, this is a near fatal flaw.

As in games like Champions Online, APB features a robust character editor that lets you freely adjust an assortment of details to get your female or male character looking as goofy, cool, or as crazed as you want. From that point on, however, things start to sour. In APB, you don't level your character in the traditional sense. There is no class structure, and there are no skill trees to make your character specialize in a specific role. Progression instead primarily involves building loyalty with a contact by completing jobs or fulfilling the requirements of in-game achievements. The higher the loyalty, the more rewards you'll unlock, in the form of added customization or new weapon choices.

Law and Disorder

After learning the basic play mechanics in a social district, you will play as either a criminal or enforcer in a choice of two "action" environments, which are currently comprised of a seaside warehouse district and a bustling downtown, each supporting a maximum of 80 players. As in Grand Theft Auto, you'll notice pedestrians walking about and an assortment of vehicles to commandeer. If you play as a criminal, you can mug the pedestrians for some money, grab a car and smash into a storefront for money, or just shoot people for the fun of it (and money). Each crime causes your "notoriety" to go up during your session, which increases your mission rewards at the expense of alerting others to your presence. Conversely, catching criminals will increase an enforcer's "prestige" rating within a session, but these ratings reset after you leave the game.

Every major action you do outside of driving and shooting involves holding down the "F" key and waiting until a circular meter fills, with the idea that at any point, you could be interrupted by the opposing faction. So mugging consists of holding a key as a meter works its way around. You don't actually punch the people, the victim never puts up a fight, and the animation is exactly the same each time you do it. Stealing a car involves the same single-key system, and all of the jobs you'll take will test your ability to hold down the "F" key near an identified target. Exciting, it's not, especially in an action game.

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Prisoner of the City

Because San Paro, the city, offers little in the way of interactivity -- you can only climb certain fences or enter certain doors, for example, the jobs begin to feel like a repetitive slog as early as a few hours in. There are no NPCs to interact with other than the contacts, as APB expects others from the opposing faction to interrupt (saving you from?) your tedious work. This is why assignments consist of multiple steps. A criminal might have to hack an ATM, grab a van, and return it to a designated area, for example, all in one series. If one or more enforcers respond to the event, then the criminal can call for backup, giving other criminals in the area a chance to help out.

So the game completely relies on the interplay with other online users to derive its entertainment. It's certainly not in the missions, because they are rote and tedious – “hold this area, pick up this package, deliver it here” -- and it's not in the character progression, which is minimal at best. Yet the interaction with others isn't exciting, either. You can't enter an action area and immediately start shooting at everyone, for instance, as the world isn't set up for full-scale, player-versus-player mayhem, at least not yet. Instead you'll be involved with three-on-two, four-on-four, and similar small-scale scenarios, which begs the question, "why am I playing this game when I can get a better multiplayer experience from a slew of subscription-free titles?"

The shooting mechanics are not unlike the carnival game of firing a water pistol through a clown's mouth. There's no location-specific targeting, so a precise shot to the head is the same as shooting someone in the foot or knee. Shootouts involve jumping and zigzagging, while your targets, who are incidentally running around in street clothes, absorb bullets like a sponge. Are you hitting them? Are they taking damage? There's no visual feedback a la Borderlands or Lead and Gold, where damage numbers dance merrily above people's heads. Driving is about as enjoyable as the gunplay, especially if you enjoy the responsiveness of steering a rowboat or bathtub. There are chase sequences, but nothing remotely close to the smashing, exhilarating destruction offered by games like Burnout.

A Criminal Disappointment

As underwhelming as the game is, mirroring the emptiness of the game's featured city, things are not as bad as they could be. The level of customization is impressive, as players can design clothing, cars, and more to use for their character, or to sell to the rest of the player base for in-game cash or added time on their account. There are also plans for a free-for-all area that could give this game a shot in the arm, provided there are enough people still playing to partake in the madness.

As it stands, however, APB: All Points Bulletin is not worth the $50 asking price, let alone a subscription, which is currently $9.99 per month for unlimited play within the two action districts, or $6.99 for 20-hour blocks. Better to dodge this bullet than sign up for aggravated assault.