APB review

  • Fantastic character editor
  • Great concept
  • Pure PvP
  • Driving controls
  • Shooting controls
  • Painfully repetitive missions

Dave Jones is the face behind Grand Theft Auto I, II, and Crackdown. He’s the man who spent his career in the Nineties churning out classic Lemmings titles before becoming the High Muckety Muck of street crime games. For the last five years he’s been working to take this self-styled gang warfare to an MMO platform, but don’t let the happy Scottish face fool you: Jones might have the smiling eyes of a kind uncle but he’s the guy who made a career pin-pointing exactly what makes crime so awesome. His games are so reliably destructive and fun that it only takes looking at his newest title All Points Bulletin to ponder “Gee, I wonder how many cars I’ll explode this game?”

The studio calls Counter-Strike one of its primary influences but the game really is a flipbook through Jones’ career. Like GTA you peel NPCs out of their cars. Like GTA you’re driving through a modern-day city and dodging bullets shot by the trigger happy. Like Crackdown's Pacific City, APB is infested with roving gangs and putter-putter noises from assault rifles. The place seems so familiar it's like boarding a bus from Compton and then getting off in the rough part of the Bronx. Sure it's a different state, but Christ, are you sure we haven't been shot here before?

It’s a shame that none of this is actually gratifying in APB. The game might dole out guns and free vehicles but it also takes away the most necessary attribute of any MMO: incentive to actually play the thing. San Paro is a PvP gangland with no levels, no talent trees, no story, no territory to claim or any legitimate war between Enforcers and Criminals beyond its shoot-and-drive missions.

It’s an awkward attempt to make changes to tired traditions. MMOs are often reviled for the grind, the perfunctory level system, and the players to name but a few reasons. And naturally APB tries to abandon some of the genre’s deadweight tropes. So the traditional XP leveling system is gone and replaced by a ranking system of Notoriety and Prestige; essentially it’s a morality rating that rewards you for playing your role accordingly. A rank will rise or fall depending on how successful a Baddy is at stealing stash out of a building, or how successful an Enforcer is at picking up packages.

Unfortunately even as opposing factions Enforcers are pretty much in the same moral gray area as the Criminals are. Baddies will drive down a local main street in a stolen ambulance like petulant teenagers in a Volvo. Enforcers, APB’s vigilante-justice force, drive down the same streets in a 2-door piece of tin stolen from a criminal during a previous mission. The clearest difference is that Enforcers are encouraged to swerve when pedestrians intermittently dive in front of their vehicle and Criminals, on the other hand, are meant to keep their feet planted firmly on the gas.

The carrot on the stick is money and weapons that you can accumulate through hours of play. APB is asking for your time, not your talent, so where most games encourage you to at least perform or hone a skill the work you put into APB’s missions doesn’t correspond to the reward they give you. In fact, with most objective points generated minutes away from where you are, a mission will have often already moved to its second stage while you’re still diddling about in an intersection, catching up to teammates who had been closer to the objective begin with. It’s a strange and unfair silver lining that you still get rewarded regardless, along with the rest of your team.

But when a mission actually goes to plan the game can be a beautiful thing. A player might sound for backup on a mission and you’ll receive a notification requiring your help. Accept the mission and you’ll sprint down to the objective point to help shred the opposing faction or complete staged objectives. It’s the most exhilarating aspect of the game when it goes smoothly: a strategic online game of cops and robbers that requires legitimate interaction between players. The social aspect of APB is quite literally built-in with VoIP integrated into the game from the moment you join a group, building lines of communication between the lot of you.

In fact, the game is full of impressive, player-centric ideas. The customization suite alone is incredible for how much license it gives players to design their own characters, right down to self-designed clothing and short musical themes that play to opponents you kill. It offers the possibility of recognizing individuals entirely by a personalized van or their clothing. “The one in corduroy,” you’ll say “that’s BaseballFury,” which is a brilliant concept in a 100-man district. Unfortunately, APB’s bright ideas are all stuck on to a sinking foundation of basic in-game issues that should have been dealt with before anyone sat down to innovate.

Realtime Worlds might have desperately been trying to market this as a Persistent Online Shooter, not an MMO, but it still offers the simple and methodical repetition of every standard quest in an MMO of the last decade. Get across town within five minutes to steal a car. Work your way across the street in five minutes to pick up a parcel. Follow your map to a building down the block to clean a wall. But worst of all is how APB continuously manages to cripple the play of its own PVP missions.

Enforcer-vs-Criminal missions inevitably boil down to which faction can get to Objective A the fastest and as an added kick in the teeth, running happens to be the easiest form of transportation. Even after hours of practice, driving handles like you’re steering a mattress down rapids, forcing you to plan your turns entire yards before you get to an intersection. It’s erratic and requires an exorbitant amount of effort just to use a basic aspect of the game.

Unfortunately San Paro is prime real estate for anyone that comes to an MMO to camp on a roof, which becomes the primary tactic for any faction that reaches the significant point first. With no cover system in place, group-work on these missions is more or less a matter of hiding behind an object or shooting downward. Sure there is some gem of PvP in there somewhere, but you have to work far too hard to get there.

Jul 13, 2010

More Info

Release date: Jun 29 2010 - PC (US)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PC
Genre: Action
Published by: WEBZEN
Developed by: Real Time Worlds
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Drug Reference, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence
PEGI Rating:
Rating Pending


  • Waarde - August 9, 2010 9:09 a.m.

    I remember discovering this game thanks to a very early preview I read on here a long time ago. I remember how excited you were about it, saying it was an MMO with better graphics than WoW (or something similar). Guess this teaches us to never judge a book by its cover..
  • Wizrai - July 15, 2010 8:10 p.m.

    I was looking so much into this game and for so long, yet I was so dissapointed!! Not just because of the beta, the way it all turned out, even the difficulty... and they just finished it off by adding the fees they were 'not' going to use. Such a shame!! >.<
  • Spybreak8 - July 15, 2010 1:29 a.m.

    Oh snap, that totally sucks. So much potential, dang this game and Crackdown 2 both disappointing.
  • JayBeat - July 14, 2010 8:48 a.m.

    I could have sworn this game was going to be a 10 from the previews, very very disappointing.
  • Jacko415 - July 14, 2010 1:46 a.m.

    i dont agree... it deserves at least a 7. i'd give it 8. yes the shooting isn't great and the missions are repetitive but its a lot of fun. and the driving controls are actually some of the best out there... you just have to get used to using a 'light touch.' give it a year for it to develope and get patched up. maybe a few DLC's or expansions too. this game is worth it for me. reCaptcha: Was Freeman
  • 435 - July 13, 2010 10:43 p.m.

    Also, minor error. WEBZEN and RTW parted ways a while back. EA is publishing the game.
  • 435 - July 13, 2010 10:42 p.m.

    @CH3BURASHKA: Alas, we roleplayers don't get a lot of time to do it. Pay by the hour action districts are kinda ._. I kinda regret getting it. I regret it more because I didn't have much of a choice, as I had gotten heavily involved with an Enforcer clan prior to beta and became the one in charge of it's existence soon after. There are plans to fix some things. But at least I can still make characters and clothing for fun and profit in the meantime.
  • Ampatent - July 13, 2010 10:38 p.m.

    I'm not sure I can agree with this score. I played the beta for a few weeks and thought the game was quite enjoyable. I will admit the missions were rather repetitive, but for me the joy in the game was from the bare-bones Cops and Robbers style gameplay. The shooting is indeed atrocious, but the driving is easy to get used to once you've found a vehicle with good response. The heavier and more muscle style cars aren't the best for running but they work for showing off and carrying lots of people. APB is probably meant for a specific crowd, and that crowd may be me, but I think anyone who enjoys chases, cops and robbers, and the BEST customization I've ever seen in a game should definitely give APB a try.
  • CH3BURASHKA - July 13, 2010 10:01 p.m.

    Ouch. I just saw the GiantBomb QL. It's amazing how bland and empty the world is. I imagine that it will appeal to role-players, though not me.
  • theemporer - July 13, 2010 9:46 p.m.

    I'm glad I hate shooters.
  • WillisTron - July 13, 2010 8:53 p.m.

    Not a PC gamer anyways
  • RacoonHail - July 13, 2010 8:50 p.m.

    After spending sometime on my friends beta account I have to say I agree with this review, especially the driving controls, every time i got behind the wheel i felt like it was clunky and uncontrollable, a serious let down when one considers games that came out over a year ago (GTAIV, Saints Row 2) have much much much better driving controls. One would think their driving controls would be a template, instead of ignored.
  • Hydrohs - July 13, 2010 8:35 p.m.

    I played the beta, I was really looking forward to it. Boy was I let down.
  • msg - July 13, 2010 8:02 p.m.

    Not surprised, really. The whole thing seemed pretty meh and mediocre. And add that to the bad pricing structure...well there you have it.
  • Mcan50 - July 13, 2010 7:58 p.m.

    What a bust this game turned out to be.
  • Benjamin333 - July 13, 2010 7:56 p.m.

    Whoa, I can't believe it either! You're actually first!
  • BlindMarksman - July 13, 2010 7:47 p.m.

    Hmmm... I expected a "SUPER REVIEW" WHOA! FIRST?!?!

Showing 1-17 of 17 comments

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