APB (All Points Bulletin) Review

MMOs are a notoriously difficult genre to assess critically. An MMO’s life is typically longer than your average video game and any MMO can be a completely different game a year after its initial launch. These games evolve and grow according to the developer’s vision or the audience’s criticisms. Issues or criticisms a critic may have can be changed or patched to make the game better.

The best one can do is take a snapshot of how well the MMO operates and plays at the time of evaluation and extrapolate what the game’s future will be. That is exactly what I intend to do with All Points Bulletin, or APB, Realtime Worlds’ newest MMO action shooter. The game takes place in the criminally infested city of San Paro. Gangs and thugs have slowly taken over the city and the newly elected Mayor Derren has chosen to pass a law that allows any individual who wants to fight back the ability to take up arms and arrest any criminal they see. What you get now is legalized vigilantism in the form of Enforcers who go to war with the criminals on the streets of San Paro. 

That means two different factions for the player to join, which goes beyond a cosmetic difference. Enforcers are tasked with keeping the city safe and the ruffians off the street. You can use non-lethal weapons to stun and arrest criminals or just outright kill them if you want. Enforcers can also report crimes they see criminal players commit, issuing an APB on the player that allows other Enforcers or the reporting player himself to take them down. Criminals, though, can do whatever they want to raise their ranks: rob citizens, smash property, boost cars…. The downside is that criminals are open to an APB at all times, always having numerous Enforcers breathing down their necks.

Me and my turtle van 

The game’s structure, no matter what faction you are a part of, is an interesting one. San Paro is split up into three districts at the moment, one Social District and two Action Districts — Financial and Waterfront. The Social District is a place where there is no fighting allowed and you can openly converse with other players without being offered missions. This is the place where you can partake in the game’s many creation tools. You can make custom clothes, cars, tattoos, and fully customize your character. The creation tools are deep and are on par with the layer system that you see in the Forza series. I’ve seen players run around with sports team logos, videogame character shirts, and custom cars, such as the General Lee or the A-Team van. If you can think it, you can make it here with some work and creativity.  

When you’re done customizing yourself or chatting, you can travel to the Action Districts, where the core of the experience takes place. Depending on your faction, you will meet contacts that belong to organizations. As you complete missions for these contacts, you level up your standing with their respective organizations and gain access to the different organizations’ exclusive brands of weapons, clothing, and equipment. If you want to concentrate on leveling up your standing with a certain organization, you can also pledge to the contact so only they are offering you missions.

Getting ready 

Missions appear randomly on your HUD as you play. This is where the game starts to break down. The missions, regardless of what side you are playing, boil down to "go here, take this, and protect that". One mission may require that you take an ambulance with black market organs to a drop-off point as evidence, and then return the ambulance. Another will have you break into a car for an item that you then have to deliver to a drop-off point. Such mission examples are different cosmetically, but boil down to the same principle. What’s worse is the same four to five missions will be sent your way every 30 seconds, making the repetition even more apparent. 

The game does try to spice it up by pitting you against Criminals or Enforcers during your missions, effectively turning them into objective-based multiplayer games. They do get more interesting and fun here… if the matchmaking wasn’t broken. Matchmaking is based on each player’s threat level. The higher your kill/death ratio is, the higher your threat. This tells the game how skilled of a player you are so it can match you against a player who is of equal level. The problem, though, is that it never does. It either matches you against someone of a low threat level, so you easily mop up in the mission, thus boosting your threat level way beyond your own capability, or it matches you against someone of such a high level that you are dominated and has no chance to succeed. 

The game will try to correct this by bringing in players to aid either side in the fight. The theory is that players will accept what are called "Calls for Backup" or "Dispatch" missions that pop up and allow them to jump in and help. Again, this doesn’t work as the developers intended. Players will see the opposition, since it displays the opposing teams’ threat levels, and decline to help because they feel the enemies are too high or low a level. This leaves you waiting desperately for help as you are being constantly killed. On the flip side, if a player does respond to the backup mission, he can still choose to not even join the actual firefight. The game may also have them join with seconds left in the match, making everyone lose anyway, even the new players who just jumped into the match.  

It’s a broken system that only manages to work as the developers intended rarely. When it does work though, the game can be great fun, and you can see what Realtime Worlds was aiming for. Having an evenly matched team as you fight in the streets or chase crooks through the city while leaning from a car window, especially when you realize every one is a person. It’s like playing a city-wide version of Cops and Robbers with 100 people all in the same mindset.

Chasing a criminal 

This is a rare occurrence, though, and the game’s problems just overwhelm any sense of fun or achievement you could gain. It doesn’t help that the game is overly confusing and unhelpful. The tutorial is bare bones and only teaches you the basics, leaving the leveling systems and mission structure unclear. They never explain Ranking, Threat Level, or the organization levels and how to raise them effectively (Ranking determines what weapons you can use).  

The weapons are also unbalanced, and there is no location damage on character models. Using a sniper rifle to score a headshot does not kill your opponent. All the weapons do not perform how you believe they would or how their own stats indicate they will. It has boiled down to a few guns being proven to work, leaving any new players out in the cold as they grind boring, repetitive missions to try to get them in order to be competitive. 

APB has a weird graphics issue where your character and creations look excellent in the editor, but once they are populated in the world, the rendering takes a dive. This goes for the entire city. Using the Unreal Engine 3, the same texture pop-in and streaming loading is present, but it’s not optimized. Your custom car will take a few minutes to load, leaving you driving around in a black box with wheels. Characters use a stock model as they load into the world, too, making players all look the same for a few minutes. Buildings will be missing sections if you drive ahead too fast, and lag has gotten worse since launch. Slowdown is present and the game sometimes will grind to a halt, with you dead when everything resumes. 

It pains me to write this because I was very much looking forward to APB. The pedigree of Realtime Worlds as a developer along with the idea of a GTA MMO was something that left me excited and hopeful. It has a promising future — one look at their plans to fix the issues shows that — but only if Realtime Worlds can deliver on the promises. In its current state though, APB is a mess, plagued with broken core systems that don’t work as the developer intended, leading to a game that is more of a chore you have to deal with than it is a game that is fun to play.

2 out of 5


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Author: Matt Erazo View all posts by

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