All the best games were invented in the playground. Cowboys and Indians, Cops and Robbers, Doctors and Nurses – their names are legendary. Few, however, have ever made a pure transition into gaming. So while the world holds its breath for Stuck in the Mud Online we’ll have to make do with APB – a near-perfect recreation of Cops and Robbers.

APB’s city, San Paro, will contain thousands of civiliansin each of its initial two districts – the Financial area (skyscrapers, alleys) and the Waterfront (water, boats, open roads). Players will be split between the criminals and lawmen (known in-game as Enforcers) and depending on what you get up to, the game’s clever match-making system will ensure that you get a fair fight.

Say you’re a criminal en route to committing some mischief for an NPC, and are stealing a car to aid you – if your crime is witnessed by civilians, or the alarm goes off, the authorities will be alerted. If you’re a proficient player with lots of big guns then the game might summon five or six player-controlled Enforcers to deal with you, or perhaps just one of a similar level and skill.

In terms of the missions handed out by NPC bigwigs (a chap called Zombie of the G-Kings for the bad guys, and LaRoche of the Praetorians for the Enforcers) they appear to be of a GTA flavor. A good example would perhaps be an Enforcer asked to escort a truck full of rich stuff to a bank, and thereby being extra careful not to attract the attention of nearby criminal minds who wouldn’t mind half-inching it.

Successful completion of tasks like this will grant you unlock rights to the 30 cars in the game, money to buy boom-sticks and even more extravagant ways to beautify your avatar. Which leads us onto another remarkable achievement of APB. You see backing all this up is an astounding character creation system that goes far beyond the usual “I’ll make the nose... very big” slider bars. Body weight, vein protrusion, height of Mohican spikes: the works. You can even design your own tattoos, and choose patterns and fabrics for your own clothing. Cars you unlock can also be modded in similar ways.

Hell, if you want you can even record your own theme tune in an in-game MIDI suite to play as you squat upon a deceased foe’s corpse. Should you become especially good at any of the above then there’ll even be an auction house where you can sell your wares and become a local celebrity artist.

If this isn’t mind-blowing enough (and to be honest, it should be) there’s even more cleverness afoot. Say you’re driving along and playing some music in your car, running over civilians and giggling. When an Enforcer or two turns up to dish out some on-the-spot justice, if that song is in the library on their hard drive, they’ll hear it booming out of your vehicle. If it’s not in their library, then tech borrowed from Last.FM will analyze the closest match you have on file and play that instead. As for hearing other players’ chitchat, well if you have the option turned on there’ll be VOIP that gets louder and softer however far away other players are standing.

There’s little doubt that APB was one of the most original, daring and exciting multiplayer projects we’ve seen in quite some time.

Jul 17, 2009