APB delivers periodic awesomeness, but fundamental imbalances and repetitive objectives make this persistent-world shooter a tough sell.
- Fantastic customization options let you stand out from the crowd
- Occasionally incredible moments of team-based action
- The backup system is a great idea
- Rewards come at a smooth pace.
- Fundamental imbalances and flawed matchmaking lead to lots of frustration
- Missions get very repetitive, very fast
- Shooting and driving are both under par
- Broken voice chat.
APB is a fascinating, sometimes fun, and very troubled team-focused third-person shooter that occasionally drops moments of intense joy in the midst of its major flaws and frustrations. You may have heard it touted as a massively multiplayer online shooter, but that is somewhat of a misnomer: The maps you share with up to 79 other gun-toting urban soldiers are fairly large, but most shoot-outs occur on a small scale. APB's greatest irony is that its persistent MMO trappings offer more in the way of smaller, less invigorating battles than the larger, consistently exhilarating ones you encounter in more typical online shooters like Battlefield: Bad Company 2. That isn't to say that APB doesn't occasionally explode with intensity. You might chase an escaping criminal in a four-door sedan while three fellow law enforcers hang out the windows, taking down the criminal's reinforcements. You may create a tiny fireworks display by tossing a well-cooked grenade at a carful of rivals. It's just unfortunate that to discover these pleasures, you must tolerate frustrating, unbalanced skirmishes against teams touting more powerful weapons and monotonous mission objectives that do nothing to invest you in the crime-ridden but otherwise generic San Paro.
Well, almost generic. While the mark San Paro leaves on you is negligible, you leave an indelible mark on it--visually speaking, at least. APB features some of the most robust customization tools you've ever seen in any game. If this isn't clear from the moment you create your character and choose to play as a criminal or an enforcer, then it will be when you toy with the various terminals in the game's social district. Here, you and players of either faction can tweak everything from piercings and tattoos to shoes and underwear. But the options go far beyond your personal appearance. You purchase summoned vehicles in the two action districts and pimp them out using various decals and colors, Forza-style. You can create logos to paste onto your clothing items and automobiles. Using an in-game MIDI editor, you can even create a short theme that your victims hear when you drop them. As you play APB, you unlock new clothes, new accessories, new decals, and more, giving you a reason to head to the social district from time to time to tweak your stuff. APB's best and most fully realized facet is its outlet for unrestricted player expression. Of course, that means you may speed past cars decorated with human genitalia while marveling at the expletive-ridden trash-talk littering APB's chat channels, but such is the nature of unabashed freedom.
It's a pity that so much of APB's enjoyment comes from what you and other players contribute, as the action doesn't normally match your own creative energy. When you first enter one of the game's two action districts, you can pledge to one of various contacts spread throughout town, and in turn, that individual sends a steady supply of missions that you will accept or reject. Once you or your group leader accepts such a mission, you're off to complete a series of objectives (bash in a door, spray-paint a wall, capture a waypoint), and with good fortune, an opposing team will then be assigned to stop you. And of course, the tables can be turned, so your team members might be the ones protecting a VIP, rather than seeking to destroy him. This matchmaking system has some real benefits. APB will combine players into impromptu teams, and should your team be outmatched, you can call for back up with the press of a button, which will send out a notice to available players. You might end up in a larger-than-normal battle on these occasions--perhaps 10 versus 10 or even larger--though such occasions are uncommon. In any case, you and your buddies never need put energy into seeking out other groupmates and missions because the game can do it on your behalf.
Unfortunately, this system's drawbacks often outweigh its strengths. It's clear from the beginning that APB is unbalanced in fundamental ways. The first hours of the game are trial by fire. Early on, you will routinely find yourself and your starter weapons up against more experienced players who have improved their firearms with upgrades to rate of fire, accuracy, reload time, and more. All things being equal, a player sporting an N-Tec rifle with three upgrades has the upper hand over a player with the vanilla version of the same rifle. This disparity is even more pronounced because the ones wielding the better weaponry are those that have had the time to hone their skills. Obviously, skill is important; an organized team with unenhanced submachine guns can still overcome a disorganized team with highly customized loadouts. But with 40 players on each side, APB has only so many opponents with which to match you. You might be a lone criminal in your first hour facing a team of three bloodthirsty veterans, and that call for backup is not guaranteed to bring results. The game does an abysmal job of helping you get acclimated.
In time, your contacts will hand over new weapons that better suit your play style, and you'll learn that you need to be flexible, choosing weapons that best suit the situation. You spend the money you earn on new guns and slot in upgrades all while getting accustomed to APB's rhythm. And eventually, things come together naturally and you see brief glimpses of the game's fiery potential. You take a mission, and the APB siren signals that you've been matched up with an opposing team. A teammate spawns his Packer SUV in the underground garage and zips up to street level. You climb into the passenger's side and pop out the window waiting to take down your challengers while other members of the team follow suit in a sports coupe. You rush to fence in an escaping criminal while speeding through streets filled with other teams taking potshots at each other from either side. Catching up with your prey, you fire at his truck, forcing him out lest he get caught in a vehicular explosion. And as one comrade jumps out and brings down the fleeing felon with a few shots to the back with a shotgun, your driver mows down an assisting buddy by driving right over him.