One of the first lessons I learned while speaking to Realtime Worlds is that APB is not Grand Theft Auto as an MMO. The comparison was met with more than a few eye-rolls and sighs. Yes, it is a massive game of cops-and-robbers in the modern world, complete with carjackings and shootouts, but such unsavory activities are only a fraction of what APB has in store.
Players choose to don the personas of criminals or enforcers, to cause chaos or be the hands of justice. As a criminal, you receive a myriad of missions, from breaking into buildings to merciless assassinations. As an enforcer, you receive warnings when something big is about to go down, and it’s your job to make sure the criminals don’t succeed by using with deadly firepower.
I first landed in the Financial Distract just as an outlaw where I was swerving wildly through the streets, blindly firing at the police cruiser heading up the rear - a foreshadow of things to come. My first mission was a simple break-in. I ripped a pedestrian from his car and drove smoothly to my destination. There were a few locks on gates to pry open, but I made it into the inner-courtyard of an office building with ease. I hadn't noticed the enforcer in the corner, waiting for me with the sights of his AK-47 lined up.
The twitch-based firefights are judiciously brutal. Players have access to a vast arsenal of pistols, assault rifles, and explosives for purchase, but strategy and reflexes often outweigh statistics in this third-person shooter. I deftly vaulted a series of low walls and kicked open gates in my desperate bid to escape the enforcer, but I couldn’t outrun a bullet in the back. I was a little more prepared on my second attempt, but so was the enforcer, waiting to run me down with a car he had wedged into an alley.
Life in this violent city begins with extremely robust character-creation. All the staples, such as gender, hairstyles, and faces are accounted for, but the differences are in the minute details. You can be fat, skinny, muscular, and go so far as to add scars, moles, wrinkles, and the prominence of veins. With our without fresh threads and weapons, the chances of finding a look-alike are almost zero.
The world is split into the Social, Waterfront, and Financial districts. Each instance of a sector can hold up to 100 players, with up to 10,000 players on a single server. One hundred players doesn’t sound like a lot, especially if you’re accustomed to thousands of players roaming the landscapes of MMOs such as Champions Online or World of Warcraft. Unlike the aforementioned games, crossing paths with another player isn’t a possibility. It is a certainty.
Theoretically, players will never have a hard time finding the action. As long as criminals keep looking to score, the enforcers will always have their hands full. This brings up the concern of faction-imbalance, but Realtime Worlds is adamant that imbalance has not been a problem in beta, and will not be a problem when the game goes live, although no systems for controlling populations were detailed, other than good fortune.
Lead Designer EJ Moreland says, “Throwing some RPG elements in an action game always sounds like a good idea, but rarely ever is.” This view is why APB is neglecting the classes and levels of traditional MMOs, and is allowing players to express their individuality through much more materialistic means. Nearly every player-related object, from guns to socks, is customizable through skins and powerful tools for graphic design reminiscent of ModNation Racers.
It is wholly possible to make a name for yourself in APB without firing a single round. Custom skins are exclusive to their designers until they decide to sell them on the marketplace. Designers retain full control of the quantity of designs available, what they can be placed on, and whether or not they can copied or resold. Equally exciting is that designs can be sold for APB-cash, or Realtime Worlds Points that can be used to purchase game time. Think about that - a game that physically rewards you for actively participating and making the game better for others.
Realtime Worlds has some exciting ideas for the future of APB, including new rulesets, such as the upcoming, free-for-all Chaos ruleset, live expansions, deals with artists to create limited-edition items, and a wealth of non-violent activities that I am not yet able to reveal. Whether you want an action-packed alternative to the click-and-wait combat of other MMOs, or an expansive platform to express your creative side, APB is definitely an MMO to watch out for this summer.