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Review: APB

6:00 PM on 07.06.2010   |   Jim Sterling

Review: APB photo

I remember a game called APB back in the nineties. It was on the PC and was a top-down cop car game. I only remember the vaguest of vague details about it, but I do recall one thing with clarity -- I had more fun with that than I did with this. 

This is APB, the luxurious opus that Realtime Worlds has been squirreling away on for years. A blend of Grand Theft Auto and World of Warcraft, this crime-flavored MMO has so much promise and so much potential, that I'm scarcely even surprised it's failed. After all, it's rare that great ideas in this industry ever pan out the way they were intended to. 

Surprising or not, however, APB still manages to remain disappointing from beginning to end, and by "end" I of course mean, "quietly choosing to never boot the game up again." Read on for our review of APB.

APB (PC)
Developer: Realtime Worlds
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: July 1, 2010 
MSRP: $49.99

APB is set in the fictional city of San Paro, a city that has been overrun by violent street gangs. In order to combat the problem, some genius politician decided to create even more street gangs, thus leading to a conflict between the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons. 

Players can choose to be an Enforcer or a Criminal, and aside from a few minor differences (Enforcers can arrest baddies, baddies can break into cars), your game won't really be affected either way. Set in a large open world populated by other players, but always managing to not quite be an MMO, one could best describe APB as Grand Theft Auto with human players acting as the cops. A fantastic idea in theory, but in practice, it's shockingly boring. 

APB's major problem is that there's simply very little to do in the spacious streets of San Paro. Players join different factions and perform missions for them, but the missions are limited, repetitive and nearly all consist of the same task -- going to different locations to kill each other until the game gets bored of making you run around the map like a headless chicken. With no story, no progression, no leveling and an extremely limited selection of rather dull missions, APB simply has nothing to offer in a world populated by more unique, deep, intriguing and far better presented games. 

Even worse for a game of this type is the distinct lack of impact you have on the world around you. There is no territory to claim, there is no real "war" between the Enforcers and the Criminals. San Paro is as static and unchanging a city as you could ever hope to find. Even if you kill one of the NPCs that pop in and out of the world like ghosts, no big deal. An Enforcer may be dispatched against you, and you'll either die or survive. Then it's as if nothing ever happened. APB is a sandbox in which the sand has been replaced by smooth round rocks -- unyielding, unable to be shaped in any way, and uncomfortable to sit in for too long.

Perhaps if the game mechanics were good, the combat exciting or even if the driving happened to be fun, then there might be something to keep players hooked. Unfortunately, APB's mechanics seem outdated to the point where even Grand Theft Auto III was tighter and more polished. Combat feels like something ripped from the days when developers were still struggling with third-person cameras. Fighting consists of running around and firing rather crap guns at each other, hoping against hope that more of your bullets hit the target than the opponent's. That is, when you're not fighting somebody who's spamming their grenades. 

Of course, money can be earned to buy better guns, and that naturally leads to a huge imbalance in the combat system. If you're up against opponents with the better weapons, you will die. Skill counts for very little when upgrades make the difference, and even if you want those upgrades for yourself, good luck finding them. APB is light on information and many in-store items are locked with no information given as to how one unlocks them. 

As far as the basic controls go, they are functional but not superb. Controls are rudimentary at best, doing just enough to let you run, aim, crouch and shoot. As far as driving goes, it's not the worst I've ever seen, but it's far from the best. Cars are just about acceptable in the handling department, although most vehicles tend to feel slow and turning corners is more a case of sliding than smooth steering. Again, it's nothing GTA III didn't already do, and do with far more style and elegance. 

San Paro itself is also very badly designed, full of dead ends, pointless roads that lead nowhere, and a series of small walls that can't be climbed or jumped over, boxing players in wherever they go. With mission objectives that randomly flit across the map at a moment's notice, being able to get from A to B efficiently is as important as it is impossible. Hammering home the archaic nature of the game's design is this total inability for player characters to deal with their surroundings. Players should be able to scale a four-foot high wall, but they can't, and we're expected to believe this is acceptable in a game that has been released in 2010. 

When players aren't shooting each other in the face (or trying to at least), they can hang out in the social district. There is an impressive selection of character customization where new clothes, accessories and hairstyles can all be obtained and tweaked with. Of course, as with guns, many of the options are locked out with no unlock information, meaning that you're going to have to ask around if you want that hockey mask. Many items can be bought with real-world money as well as in-game cash, and you can kit out vehicles, design your own logos, and do all you can to make San Paro feel like it's at least lived in. All this, of course, is mere aesthetic and thoroughly personal to yourself. Never once will you do anything significant in the world of APB

APB has a noble idea at its heart, and could have been something truly special. Unfortunately, the game suffers due to a complete lack of... well, anything. From beginning to end, the game is soulless and alienating, with a sterile city that lacks energy, a grindingly repetitive set of missions, and absolutely no effort made to let the player feel like they've accomplished anything. You get better guns and new clothes, but this vapid mass of stuff is no substitute for a real game with real objectives, real experiences, and real fun. It's the kind of thing I'd expect to see in a Bratz videogame, not a full-fledged attempt at a new type of game from a respected British developer.

It's as if the developer had this great concept and felt that the premise alone was all it needed, that making a city and a game that used the bare minimum was "good enough" to sustain such a terrific premise. It's not good enough though. Realtime Worlds is so much better than this, and it's horrible to see that years of effort have produced this substandard, outdated, thoroughly pointless game. 

You can't even shoot through windshields. 

Score: 3.5 -- Poor (3s went wrong somewhere along the line. The original idea might have promise, but in practice the game has failed. Threatens to be interesting sometimes, but rarely.)



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126 comments | showing # 1 to 50
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Sir Tobbii's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:02
Sir Tobbii
Fuck... I was really hoping this would be something to play, oh well... The Secret World better be worth waiting for or I doubt I'll ever play an MMO again.
Electro Lemon's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:02
Electro Lemon
I guessed the score! I feel proud. (This isn't me trolling or hating, I'm just surprised that I predicted the score.) Now to read the actual review.
Electro Lemon's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:02
Electro Lemon
I guessed the score! I feel proud. (This isn't me trolling or hating, I'm just surprised that I predicted the score.) Now to read the actual review.
Electro Lemon's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:03
Electro Lemon
I guessed the score! I feel proud. (This isn't me trolling or hating, I'm just surprised that I predicted the score.) Now to read the actual review.
Alfarin's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:03
Alfarin
In before shitstorm.

Solid review as always, keep up the good work.
Themightylebeau2009's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:04
Themightylebeau2009
I also remeber APB, but in arcades in the 80s early 90s....

This APB would seem to be a big pile of shit :-(
Oncomouse's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:05
Oncomouse
I don't envy you, Jim. You obviously do this because you love games. I can't imagine it's fun to write at length about the bad ones.
Technophile's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:07
Technophile
Well, that's incredibly disappointing.
Jim Sterling's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:07
Jim Sterling
Oncomouse: I've written three negative reviews over the past four days. I am counting the seconds until Dragon Quest IX arrives, because I'm now desperate to be able to praise something and I'm fairly certain that won't let me down.
Stevil's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:08
Stevil
@beau: I still have a copy of APB for my Amstrad somewhere. That game was amazing. Chasing after crooks on the highway and trying to get confessions out of suspects before the boss showed up = good times. Now it will forever be confused with this turd (which I actually had high hopes at one time). Oh joy.
Ganjookie's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:11
Ganjookie
Im in pretty much 100% agreement on everything Jim wrote.
Wodashin's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:13
Wodashin
I had a feeling this would be a dud. Good review Jim,sucks that this game was such a let down. So many games these days are just terrible. Great ideas with poor execution.
Xhumation's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:13
Xhumation
These guys should habe made Crackdown 2!
KingSigy's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:14
KingSigy
Sounds like Crackdown 2...interesting.
IroN1c's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:15
IroN1c
I found thisInterview quite interesting
The Young Scot's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:15
The Young Scot
I am not surprised.

Saddened, but not surprised.
Shane Davenport's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:16
Shane Davenport
The Beta Sucked so I am not surprised
n0brein's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:16
n0brein
Seems like real time world is a one trick pony, that's a bummer :/
EmptySilence's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:18
EmptySilence
Man, onother game that sounded super cool that isn't. I've seen so many original ideas lately that all ending up sucking.
Los255's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:18
Los255
Jim, try grinding the Mutated Spiders in the Downtown District. You should be able to get that shiny AK by then.

Seriously though, I heard the subscription process and even anything having to do with transactions is a pain in the balls. Ouch.
Alxariam's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:19
Alxariam
Guys, it's a FPS MMO. Did you really expect anything different? I made it a rule years ago to never touch another, unless it managed to become mainstream first.
RudyChan's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:19
RudyChan
I gotta agree with you Jim. I tried the beta and it sucked hard. So damn boring and repetitive. I'm just sad that all these years of development have amounted to nothing.
GodsAreMonsters's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:24
GodsAreMonsters
I've read quite a few reviews of this game and I have to say after being in the key to the city event RTW held. That you Jim and many of the other reviewers are dead on the mark. This game just plain wasn't done.
The thing that surprises me though is that in reading the comments for these reviews is that there is very little blow back from the readers. It almost feels like "yeah...we kinda saw this coming" is the prevailing attitude.
hpv's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:24
hpv
You expected more from Realtime Worlds? The guys who did that mediocre trash Crackdown?
Best Username Ever's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:25
Best Username Ever
DAMMITTTT! I thought this would actually pull through, after they showed off the customizing-ness a couple years back. I thought if it was going to be bad, it wouldn't be horrible, but I was indeed wrong. Good review.
Best Username Ever's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:25
Best Username Ever
DAMMITTTT! I thought this would actually pull through, after they showed off the customizing-ness a couple years back. I thought if it was going to be bad, it wouldn't be horrible, but I was indeed wrong. Good review.
somnambulist's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:29
somnambulist
I really wish I hadn't bought this game. It's not even that there's anything expressly bad about the game, it's just that there isn't anything even remotely good about it either. Even the customization isn't worth writing home about. I really, really wish I hadn't paid fifty dollars for this game.
Electrium's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:31
Electrium
It seems like the first time I heard about this game people were losing their shit over it...but I never got the appeal. Pretty sad to see they'll all be let down.

You'd think by now that people would know how to stop making shit open world games.
Electrium's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:31
Electrium
It seems like the first time I heard about this game people were losing their shit over it...but I never got the appeal. Pretty sad to see they'll all be let down.

You'd think by now that people would know how to stop making shit open world games.
prolifikstudio's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:31
prolifikstudio
If this game sucks so much why Am I having so much god damn fun.
Fleur's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:32
Fleur
I have the game and I'll be honest, I don't play it solo. It's quite boring running around by yourself, doing missions getting paired with complete tards. But I do play with my roommates, and that's honestly when the game gets better. Doing 4v4's brings some much needed excitement to the missions, not to mention the household yelling when you run one of them over with a minute left until the mission end.

If you want to play, get a few friends who'll play with you or find a clan ingame to play with.
Rizno's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:32
Rizno
I'm actually enjoying APB right now. It's just pure fun, minus the depth of MMO's such as EQ2 and WoW - but adding other aspects of gameplay. Paying for hours is a big bonus, as I can't really play this as an MMO, but it's something fun to put on for a couple of hours, or more, a day.
I'm hoping big updates come rolling in soon, though.
Kraid's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:35
Kraid
I had one of my friends explaining how great the game was going to be. But for me, it was Tuesday.

This is a move along, nothing to see game.
Further validating my first impressions I had from what I'v seen of it.
HawtPawkitHero's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:38
HawtPawkitHero
I'd have to say I'm on the boat with prolifik and rizno. I'm having a boatload of fun in this game... It does seem that all the reviewers are tending to play solo. To be honest, I won't even log in if my buddies aren't on. But when they are... god dammit we have fun.
rsquad's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:38
rsquad
Arcade APB (back in the 80's) was the bestest. How dare they soil its wonderful name.
PenKaizen's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:43
PenKaizen
"I had one of my friends explaining how great the game was going to be. But for me, it was Tuesday."

You're an awesome human being.
glitznglam-style's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:47
glitznglam-style
Jesus christ, Crackdown 2 and now APB?

PS: I like both. Way more than Jim. Crackdown 2 is a better game, though.
ndschroede23's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:51
ndschroede23
@hpv

I've never seen someone combine the words "mediocre" and "trash" before. Are you sure you're saying what you mean?
Xzyliac's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:52
Xzyliac
@prolifickstudio
Because what sucks and doesn't suck is 110% objective.
Xzyliac's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:53
Xzyliac
Wait...or subjective.

You get my point. Opinions and shit are different and shit.
DaedHead8's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 18:55
DaedHead8
"APB is a sandbox in which the sand has been replaced by smooth round rocks -- unyielding, unable to be shaped in any way, and uncomfortable to sit in for too long."

That's quite probably the best analogy I've ever seen you make. Great review Jim, shame this turned out the way it did.
carg0's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 19:02
carg0
it's a shame but, at the end of the day, this couldn't have ended any other way as Realtime World's had no business trying to make a subscription-based MMO. they lacked the necessary experience to make a game of that scale.

let this serve as a harsh reminder to other young studios thinking they can cash-in by creating an MMO.
Azzurus's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 19:02
Azzurus
I was so excited to get into the closed beta, then I actually played the game. Sad to see it hasn't improved at all since then.
seanileus's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 19:08
seanileus
Nothing gets past Jim Sterling :D
Turbofail's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 19:14
Turbofail
I've been watching Steam popup as one of my friends plays this. I've seen it popup for about 10 minutes each over about 3 days. Since then, nothing.

I really wanted this game to be good, but jesus, I dunno if what they made could even be called a game.
spiderguy1337's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 19:25
spiderguy1337
You are the parasite that is holding down this site Jim Sterling.
The Silent Protagonist's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 19:28
The Silent Protagonist
I was worried about there being a review of an MMO, but this game doesn't even seem to reach for the bar it set for itself. MMOs usually aren't the same game upon release that they are months down the road, so reviews are never as definitive as they'd like ot be.

That said, it sounds as though APB needed a few more years in the oven to become a complete game of any kind.
Naim Master's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 19:31
Naim Master
I'd buy it if it didn't have monthly fees, it's barely a MMO, it's just a TPS with some big lobbies.
Hiltz's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 19:46
Hiltz
Man, the video games of July have been crap so far.

Crackdown 2
APB
Tournament of Legends
Naughty Bear
stretch's Avatar - Comment posted on 07/06/2010 19:53
stretch
Internet thugz will like it.
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