Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Disappointment of APB

Very few games have disappointed me as much APB: All Points Bulletin. I was initially sold on the concept alone: a GTA-style MMO based around cops and robbers. It seems like such a great idea, and since it was being developed by Realtime Worlds, the company formed from ex-GTA staff that made the excellent Crackdown, I had a lot of faith that it would be pulled off. Add on to that a really complex system of character customization, and I was really excited for the game. When I finally played the game I was massively disappointed because it just isn't fun. The concept is still great, and I don't think the game itself isn't salvageable, but it will never be the game I wanted it to be.

I actually got into the closed beta of APB the first time around, and I was really excited until I tried to run the game. My aging PC just wasn't up to the task and even though the game loaded, it was completely unplayable even at the lowest settings. I decided to put off playing the game until I got a new graphics card. Between the time of the closed beta and my getting better PC hardware, which was less than two years, APB was released, it did horribly, it was shut down, Realtime Worlds closed, the game was bought up by K2 Network, it was given to Reloaded Entertainment to work on, it remade into the free-to-play APB: Reloaded, and I got a closed beta invite for that.

Since I finally had a machine that could play it, I figured it was finally time for me to try out this APB thing, even if I had heard it wasn't very good. Thanks to K2's GamersFirst program being terrible, I wasn't actually able to download the game client, so I still couldn't play the game. So, I gave up again and forgot about the game for a few months. For whatever reason I ended up decided to try the game again a while after the Reloaded version officially launched, and few years I was finally able to play the game and be thoroughly let down by it.

The funny thing is, most of what I was excited about APB for was already realized in a better fashion while APB was still in development. I wanted an online game of cops and robbers in a large, open world, and GTA IV did that really well with its various online modes. APB just has a lot to live up to, and sadly in most ways it doesn't. The shooting is okay, but the driving is wonky, the city of San Paro isn't very interesting, and game balance that it promised just isn't there. Really, the only things that do work are the more esoteric features that may make the game interesting to the Second Life crowd, but don't actually constitute a reason to keep playing the game.

APB was billed as the first MMO that is completely skill-based, where the player that is better will win regardless of how much the other player grinds or whatever. Since it was based around gunfights, and it didn't have a stat or leveling system that would turn long-time players into bullet sponges compared to new players, this rather dubious claim makes at least a bit of sense. A head shot is a head shot, and players can't buy special body armor that makes them arbitrarily better than other players. The mechanics of shooting are solid enough that this should be the case, but it is completely fucked by the way new weapons are earned.

The starting guns aren't that good (they aren't very accurate at distance, don't shoot fast enough, have low amounts of ammunition, etc), and new guns are unlocked by completing missions, after which they must be purchased, which is to say, they are unlocked by grinding. At first I was irked that the cops' starting revolver, the exact type of weapon I prefer, was useless, and I didn't like that I needed to use the starting sub-machine gun in order to keep up with the other players, but the game didn't seem horribly unbalanced. Then I had an epiphany while a rocket screaming towards my face: “this shit just isn't fair.” I had played the game for 10 or so hours and I had only unlocked the ability to buy one new weapon, and I couldn't even afford to buy it.

That is exactly the sort of crap that I don't like about the leveling systems of modern tactical shooters, but taken to an insanely drawn out degree. The idea of balance gets completely thrown out the window in favor of making people more addicted by having them accumulate higher and higher numbers, and that makes absolutely no sense in a competitive game. Imagine if the next Street Fighter a Ryu player would need to get fifty wins before unlocking the hadouken or shoryuken. A new player is fucked because they don't have the same tools available to them. Though the competitive fighting game community seems be a lot more accepting of bullshit mechanics in their competitive games these days, I'm pretty sure they would draw the line at something like this. Anyway, the point is APB isn't balanced, and, for a game that is supposed to come down to skill, it actually forces the player to grind a great deal, all the while getting his or her ass kicked, in order to compete.

The driving controls are bad. Granted, there are very few games that make driving a car an enjoyable experience with mouse and keyboard. Generally I would only want to play a driving game with an analog controller, but for games like this that would be annoying. Mouse and keyboard is still superior on foot for shooting, so the only choice would be to switch back and forth on the fly, which is something I tried to do with San Andreas and GTA IV on PC, but I find that I always end up just using one or the other. I guess it doesn't really matter because I hate the way cars work in this game. The sense of momentum, the level of handling for turns, the way collisions work, and just everything feels wrong. If I could, I would run everywhere, but sadly the game sets objectives too far apart for this to be viable.

It is strange how dull and lifeless San Paro seems considering that it is populated by more real people than most open-world games. The architecture just seems dull compared the the crazy stuff found in Crackdown, and the intricacies of the alleys and areas that the player often runs around are just bland. The cities in GTA games often feel dirty and lived-in, but San Paro looks too clean. The way games are handled within the world is interesting, though. For example, a robber is given missions that basically come down to robbing some place, and the cops will send other players to stop the robber. What ensues is sort of like a death match or capture the flag game taking place in a shared world, so when going about one match, a player might cross paths with a bunch of other players doing their own thing. Sometimes it can be awkward, since players in separate games can't actually kill each other, presumably to prevent griefing, but it is cool to think of all the different stuff that is going on at one time.

Sadly, the features that are the most well-executed are those that have no bearing on making the actual game any fun at all. The character creation is really great, allowing for some really unique and great-looking characters instead of the ugly mess that comes from Elder Scrolls games. Other customizations are equally complex, with the ability to add custom designs on the character as tattoos, as well as on clothing. This is also held back by grinding, with clothing similarly locked and very expensive. I guess that could be the result of it going free-to-play, made that way in order to make people want to waste real cash on the game, but that is the state of the game as I played it. Another interesting feature is the ability to import a music collection that can be played from inside the cars the player drives, and if other players have the same track they will hear it coming from the car, and if they don't they will hear similar music matched from Players can also create their own music using in-game tools to compose it and share it with others.

I just wish APB had turned out to be the game I wanted it to be. The idea of a big open world, populated with a ton of players acting like cops and robbers battling one another is something I could really get into, but it just doesn't do those things well. The way the player gets into missions and conflicts doesn't feel fluid, the combat isn't the balanced, skill-based game that it should be, and it just isn't fun. I find the entire experience of playing the game to be depressing and incredibly disappointing. On the positive side, I never had to spend money on it, so I suppose it could have been worse.

No comments:

Post a Comment