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APB First Impressions: The Only Point That Matters

The All Points Bulletin "Key To The City Event" has largely gone off without a hitch, and while I respect that Real Time Worlds have asked that there be no reviews until release, that's not to say that first impressions are out of bounds, nor to say that many first impressions about the game from this event have not already been made.  Unfortunately, in this over-saturated Information Age, the first impression is often all you get.

APB "Key To The City" gameplay footage from TopZone.It on YouTube.

Now, I'm not going to come right out and say this game sucks because that's not a particularly fair observation.  Though I don't like how heavily instanced it is - 64 players per map does not massively multiplayer make - All Points Bulletin has some very cool features that MMORPGs are long overdue to implement, such as the ability to customize just about everything about your character's appearance and (more importantly as pertains to gameplay mechanic) quests that dynamically pit you against other players.

(City of Heroes might have had excellent customization, but they completely screwed the pooch in that they passed up dynamic player conflict quests at about the time City of Villains was released.   Granted, City of Heroes/Villains power balance was messed up in such a way that they were receiving every sign that would lead to a lot of frustrated players, but a ranking mechanism like APB features could have ironed out out well enough.)

That be said, though craftsmanship can be seen in All Points Bulletins, right down to its gorgeously animated loading screens, I cannot say that craftsmanship can be played in this game.  As you can see in the above video (particularly at about the 2:20 and 3:05 points) the centric game play task of shooting another player character is nothing less than an exercise in supreme frustration.  In terms of core mechanic, the problem can be broken down into several technical parts:
  • The Internet has latency.  Therefore, there will be a bit of a delay between what you see on the screen and what your opponent is doing.
  • The player characters have no inertia.  Consequently, they can jitter and back forth as quickly as you can tap the key.
  • While there is a cone of fire to the weapons, it's generally quite small, and consequently an extent of pinpoint accuracy can be expected.
  • Moving does not impact your accuracy nearly as much as not moving will enable other players to actually be able to aim at you for a change.
  • The difficulty to hit your opponent becomes worse the closer you get to them, because their position in the screen will require more movement of the mouse to compensate for.  (Due to the rapid movements required, it's possible that game pads will fare a bit better without that initial overcoming of mouse inertia.)
  • Close range combat is preferred because many weapons are quite effective at close range and fighting at long range often gives your opponent an opportunity to drop into cover and heal (which occurs naturally once you stop taking damage).
When you put all this together, what you have is a game that actively trains the players to rush each other and "spray-and-pray."  Attempting to use terrain to your advantage is more likely to get you eviscerated by people rushing you, because the main way to die in this game is to hold still long enough for aiming to work.  An adequately experienced player won't give you the chance: they'll jump around so much that aiming is done by guesswork.  Discovering your aim is useless is a very frustrating experience, and this first impression will sour many towards the game.

Technical achievement of what they've done aside, APB is just the lesser portion of Grand Theft Auto 4 (the multiplayer as opposed to the epic single player story), hacked off, polished to a lustrous shine, given a mechanic that matches up the players relatively fairly with objectives to do, given better appearance customization, and attaching various character perks to a grind.  The result is fairly good, but not a better overall product than GTA 4 was, and APB's multi-player focus has placed far too much importance on the often critically rejected shooting mechanic of GTA 4.

The first impression is enough to tell me that, while All Points Bulletin is a fairly cool game, it is not something I would pay 55 American dollars for and then pay them an additional 35 cents an hour or ten bucks a month to play.  If they completely redesigned the combat mechanism to provide an experience unlike a game I can already play without a subscription, then maybe I would feel compelled to cut them some slack of not including the epic single player story due to technical merits alone.  Until then, I'm waiting a few months, anticipating they'll eventually be forced to settle for a $30 box price that includes unlimited online time.

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