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APB Reloaded Review (PC)

The story behind the development of APB is one of the greatest tales the games industry possesses. Full of big personalities, hubris, ambition, broken promises and tragedy of Greek proportions, its major twists and turns hold more drama and excitement than a hundred movies about Facebook. It’s also a very modern and relevant story; the themes of hard workers at the bottom of the ladder being ruined while high-ranking executives/creatives sail off in their proverbial yachts is a culturally relevant way of viewing the aftermath of the collapse of Realtime Worlds.

But is there a final, triumphant twist in this epic story? Has APB risen from the ashes: an unexpected success that clutches victory from the jaws of defeat? It’s a big ask for APB inheritor Reloaded Productions. Littered with crippling bugs and nearly unplayable at the time of release, APB was a disaster. Worst of all, Realtime Worlds spent most of its time arguing that the game was actually good, players weren’t playing properly and black was white.  Reloaded Productions had to do much better.

And with the community aspect they have done better. They provide reviewers with clearly written instructions on how to get into the game, respond to enquiries promptly and they actually seem to be taking the feedback of the community into account in the changes and adjustments to the game they make. There’s a real feeling of contrition and honesty about their interactions with the player base, and there’s even a nice wee “In memory of Realtime Worlds” logo when you first boot up the game. Clearly Reloaded Productions don’t want to steal the credit for another developer’s hard work. The sad reality though is that perhaps rather than worry about getting unwarranted credit for APB, they should be worried about taking the blame. Put simply, APB Reloaded is not a good game. Not yet, and maybe not ever.

The largest problem for APB “the game” is the “game” part. For those that don’t know the background, the whole thing takes place in San Paro where you play as either an Enforcer or a Criminal. Conflict is almost purely PVP, with human Enforcers facing human Criminals. Its great to see an MMORPG that doesn’t simply clone WOW, but its when those actual conflicts take place that problems arise.

The first, most obvious and by far the largest problem in the game is the driving. Realtime Worlds made great efforts to distance itself from the “Multiplayer GTA” tag that was thrown around, and with good reason. Driving in APB does not feel like GTA. It doesn’t feel like real driving either. Its more like….. I really don’t know what. Its terrible. I mean, really, really terrible. More descriptive terms fail me. Perhaps steering through treacle, or manoeuvring a submarine through custard.

I once heard that the cause of the terrible handling was the infrastructure underpinning the game. Apparently a lot of the game logic resides on the server rather than the client. This means that online latency results in control lag. I’m not sure of the details – or if this is still even the case – but I can say one thing: when I press a key it takes upwards of a second for my vehicle to respond. Imagine control latency of a full second when you are driving at full speed in the middle of a dramatic car chase. To put it in perspective, there are gamers  who consider a 16ms lag on a monitor display to be too much. A better net connection may help, but mines is decent enough and probably faster than most of the other players online. Looking at how others drive, zigzagging and constantly crashing, it’s obviously a problem felt by everyone and if it supposed to be better now, I dread to think how bad it must have been before.

The combat has its own unique problems, but is nowhere near as bad as the driving. It’s somewhat floaty and basic, with weapons very effectively eviscerating you at short or long range. For new players it can be uncompromisingly tough to score a single kill and although the base weapon is decent enough, snipers with good knowledge of the layout of the city will tear you to pieces for your first few hours.

Indeed the first few hours of play are a somewhat aimless, hopeless time where you feel abandoned and are unsure of what to do. It doesn’t help that the game feels so much like a standard MMORPG; you quickly gravitate to the nearest NPC to receive some kind of mission but you’re greeted by large blocks of terrible expositional text telling you about that NPC and no further guidance on what you should do. Despite the amount of guidance reviewers get in the form of fact sheets, it wasn’t until I read about the game on Wikipedia (of all places) that I got a clearer idea of what exactly APB actually was.

So what is APB (Reloaded)? Well its an open world game where you fight against human opponents in objective based gameplay. These objectives are supported by pointless backstory, but mostly amount to capturing a control point or stealing and escaping in a car or holding onto a briefcase. The confusing thing is that you fight against only very specific enemies. Only Enforcers or Criminals on the same mission as you can fight with or against you. This means that most of the time you are running past players on the opposing side, unable to interact with them in any meaningful way. Differentiating the players who you can’t kill from the players who are trying to kill you is a skill, but it’s also a big bag of no-fun. You never escape the feeling that you’re running from place to place trying to find someone to play with while the game stops you. At its worst, APB Reloaded feels like a big lobby with everyone waiting on something interesting happening; a funfair where all the rides are out of order.

When you are conscripted into a mission its a relief to be instantly killed by an opposing player who was far more prepared for it all to begin than you. It’s a release to break out of the monotony of wandering around the city aimlessly. The missions themselves were harshly criticized in Realtime Worlds initial incarnation of the game, but in truth they must be far better balanced now. Organisation and team work seemed to win out every time and I never felt like the confrontations were stacked in the other teams favour. There are also some districts that take you instantly into a combat scenario and these are welcome when the main city environments are too empty, but they tend to offer chaotic and very short-lived fun.

It was during one of these missions that I realised what a good game APB Reloaded could have been. I faced a team of well organised…. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. From their names (Donatello, Leonardo etc) to their player skins, to their car, to the tune that played each time they killed me, they were customised to be The Turtles in every way possible. It was ridiculous, hilarious and brilliant. The effort they had gone to craft their Turtles persona was wonderful, and they looked like they were having a great time.

And that’s the other aspect of APB that amazes. As terrible as the gameplay can be, the customisation options are equally great. The character creator is great fun, and if you’re willing to spend some real money you can craft an amazing looking avatar. The move to micro transactions means that now much of the customisation options are commoditized, but if you’re playing and enjoying the game then its hard to grudge paying money for these cosmetic items when they look so good in-game. It’s a shame that the rest of the game doesn’t look anywhere near as good as the character models with drab cityscapes and empty industrial wastes populated with level geometry that sometimes waits till you try to run through it before it is rendered by the game engine.

The polish of the customisation is apparent in other parts of the game too. An integrated music player is a nice touch, and the social district where you can buy and trade is much prettier and more alive the Sony’s Home has ever been.

As I played more and more of APB I found myself becoming acclimatised and even sometimes engaged by the shooting gameplay. The flighty aiming and imprecise hit detection coupled with a vicious and heavily armed player base was unwelcoming at first, but in time I learned some of the tricks and became somewhat effective within my team.

The driving however was something I could not acclimatize to. At one point, in a car chase where I was leaning out a window while my team-mate drove after an enemy, I thought I might be enjoying myself. They were so close. Shortly after that my teammate crashed for the twentieth time while driving down a straight road and any thought of an exciting, cinematic car chase was gone.

So where does that leave us? A multiplayer driving and shooting game where the driving is completely unplayable and the shooting is bad. Despite all the good stuff that surrounds the game, and the strides forward that Reloaded Productions have made with listening to the players, the core gameplay is still just not good enough. Zero points for the driving, two for the sub-standard combat and a bonus point for all the great customisation gives us a total of…

3 smoking car wrecks out of 10

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