APB E3 2009 Impressions

Customize your character to ridiculous levels in this online, open-world action game from the makers of Crackdown.

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Take the open-world crime genre that Grand Theft Auto made popular, add an online system that supports 100 human players per city, throw in some ridiculously detailed customization options, and you'll have a good idea of what to expect from APB. This online action game from Realtime Worlds, the Scottish developer behind Crackdown, made news earlier this week when EA revealed it as one of the latest members of the EA Partners program. Now, we've been given the chance to take a look at an extended demo to see some of the finer details of the game.

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At the heart of APB is a focus on giving players the ability to craft a character however they see fit. It extends beyond the character editor into clothing, their vehicles, the sort of group they roll with, and even the music that follows them around the city. There are a lot of options to take in, so we'll start at the beginning. The character editor in APB is absurdly deep, giving you the chance to design a person with all manner of modifiers that adjust basic features such as size and weight on down to the level of vein protrusion in their arms. Unlike so many character editors in which fiddling with too many sliders will often lead to a hideous abomination of a human being, Realtime Worlds has stated that it will be difficult to intentionally design a hideous person. In other words, the company wants the tools to let you make a believable avatar that matches your standards, not simply to take a template and scramble its features all over the place.

After creating a character, you can make his or her outfit. The options are so detailed that you essentially become a tailor, choosing patterns and fabric types for different parts of the same article of clothing, adjusting the way it's worn on the body, and choosing minute details such as stitch patterns and button types. Then you can create a graphic in the vector-illustration tool that you can slap onto clothing as a logo or onto bare skin as a tattoo. Some of the example graphics that we were shown looked awfully impressive, as did the way they looked distinctly different based on the material they were placed on, be it leather jacket or denim pants.

The customization options continue on with the type of car you drive. Players can take one of the 30-odd cars in the game and choose from a variety of body mods and kit types, then throw on some of those same custom vector graphics that they might have as tattoos, or just add sweet racing stripes and other decals. Once in the car, you can parade around town blasting music from your personal MP3 library, and if other players have the same song in theirs, they'll hear it as ambient sound coming from your car stereo. If they don't have the song, APB uses Last.fm to match similar artists in the genre to play songs that give off the same sound. If that's not enough, you can make your own theme song in a simple music editor to play as a taunt when you kill another player in battle.

Yes, there are a lot of choices to make in APB. However, none might be as important as which faction you join. The city of San Parro is basically torn apart by violence, with a struggle between the mostly benevolent enforcer faction and the gangsters. It's a distinction that boils down to police versus criminals when viewed in practical terms. There are missions that can be taken on from critical faction characters that exist within the world, but there's also a system that triggers conflicts based on your actions within the city. We were shown a scenario in which a group of gangsters were attempting to jack a car, but it turns out that it was rigged with an alarm that alerted nearby enforcers. They then rushed to the car in the siren-equipped truck as the criminals sped off in the hot car.

Another example described by Realtime Worlds would be a sort of escort mission while working for a bank. As an enforcer, you might take on a gig driving gold bullion to a bank in an armored car. Simply driving from point A to point B is likely to attract the attention of any gangsters who happen to be in your path, so it then becomes a choice of taking a sneakier route or just jumping headfirst into a high-speed chase toward your goal.

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The core mechanics of the game weren't really discussed, but the gameplay that we saw looked very similar to a Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row type of game--one in which a player's power is derived from the type of weaponry that he has access to rather than any superhuman powers. We're eager to see more examples of missions and gameplay, especially the way that the two evolve as you put more time into the game. We should have the opportunity to do that as we draw closer to APB's early-2010 release date.

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