Release: Out now
Publisher: Realtime Worlds
Developer: Realtime Worlds
You can learn a lot about APB by watching the movie Heat. In their epic game of cat-and-mouse, almost nothing goes right for Al Pacino’s hard-boiled cop and Robert De Niro’s master thief. The former is always two steps behind, outsmarted and outgunned. The latter has to pull chestnuts out of the fire as his heists go badly wrong. Yet still they come back for more, such is their thirst for “the juice”.
Nothing much goes to plan in APB, either. You’re dropped into missions already half-lost against foes you cannot beat. Getaways end with your car being T-boned by complete strangers, slaloming into a wall or flopping over before incoming grenades. A lack of zonal hitboxes sees enemies endure headshots while shooting you to death in the foot. And yes, you always seem to ambush the guy with the biggest or fastest bullets. That’s life, it seems, on the streets of San Paro – yet still you come back for more.
First, the basics. There are three types of people in this semi-stylised open world: rebels without a cause, cops without a care, and citizens caught in the crossfire. The Criminals like to mug and chop down pedestrians, ram-raid shops, set fires and conduct Project Mayhem-style sabotage for their Tyler Durden-style bosses. The Enforcers try to stop them and clean up the mess, chopping down pedestrians and pretending not to like it. The mission givers on both sides are glorified agents of a matchmaking system that keeps everyone fighting. There is no PvE.
Whether you pledge to a contact or not – doing so lets you level up your loyalty for greater rewards – your pager is always ringing. Most missions involve haring across town to protect, demolish, steal or intercept and the opposition depends largely on the population of your instanced district. Rank insignias tell you the number and levels of enemy players while leaving the most decisive factor to chance: their weapons. Reject one mission and another comes along in seconds.
Realtime Worlds has desperately promoted APB as a POS (Persistent Online Shooter, and a really unfortunate acronym) rather than an MMORPG, and justifiably so. But there are similarities, the worst of which is that every mission involves several rolls of the dice. You could, for example, be given waypoints so far away that the mission’s over before you get there, or be asked to hunt a fugitive who’s standing right in front of you. You could call for backup that never comes, or find yourself outnumbered by enemy reinforcements. And because this is an Unreal Engine game that’s still to deploy effective safeguards, you never really know if any hacks are being used. They seldom are, of course, but the uncertainty itself does damage.
Lowering these risks is just one reason why the game gets exponentially better as you build up your crew, which, to its credit, is just a matter of time. Flawed as it is, the matchmaking does a fine job of throwing you time and again into new groups of strangers. Eventually, something so stratospherically cool will happen that it binds those players like glue, and the game itself comes together. APB is entirely GTA-like in its dependence on chemical chance, and even more hilarious when the chemistry is right.
Examples might include the slow drift of a vehicle-shaped shadow over a gang guarding an objective, a poorly judged leap off a flyover landing the entire rival team in a skip. A good getaway driver holding a top-heavy 4×4 at the point of no return, passengers firing wildly as it teeters on two wheels. Objectives snatched in the dying seconds as a camping sniper gets bluffed by suppressive fire. Bullying a fugitive sideways into a bridge support like Jason Bourne, your fractionally healthier transit van emerging from the fireball. And the best, most repeatable one: a fight spilling from the alleyways into the street, combatants switching places and stances while emptying clips.