APB: Reloaded Closed Beta Preview
Almost 12 months ago the online world celebrated the much anticipated release of Pay to Play MMORPG All Points Bulletin, A.K.A APB. It was the first of its kind; the first ‘Grand Theft Auto’ clone to make the jump to the persistent online world, and boasting ad-hoc group creation and mission activation, a choice between playing as a criminal or a police enforcer, and an enormous, life-like city to traverse and destroy it promised to be every GTA fan’s MMO wet dream. To the disappointment of many, it was not.
Developer bankruptcy combined with technical issues and a number of gameplay ‘let-downs’ left APB alone in the dark after only a few months online, and before long the servers were shut down and the development office doors permanently closed. It was a sad day for the MMO industry; a careful reminder of the perils new MMOs must face when breaking into an overcrowded industry.
But surely it wasn’t the end? APB might have had some issues, but it wasn’t a bad game. What it needed was a little TLC. What it needed was someone to take it into their arms, caress it against their warm bosom and breath into it new life. What it needed was someone to make it Free to Play.
ENTER APB: RELOADED
Meet GamersFirst, publishers of Sword 2, WarRock, Knight Online and now, you guessed it, APB: Reloaded. Realising the massive opportunity for gaming glory (read: potential profit) that the original APB clearly missed, GamersFirst gave the world exactly what it wanted: APB: Reloaded, the fixed and free to play MMO masterpiece that APB should have been from the beginning; the real MMO equivalent of Grand Theft Auto 4.
Launching with a traditional MMORPG character creation, you’re asked to choose between two warring factions, the Criminals or Enforcers. Choosing to side with the Criminals will, as expected, open the door to a life of crime and carnage, whereas siding with the Enforcers will yield the opposing experience, a life of tracking down Criminals and obedient driving restrictions.
One of APB’s most obvious flaws, and too, one that hasn’t yet been adjusted, is that your choice here is largely unnoticeable from a gameplay vantage. Cop or Robber, you’ll be playing the same game in every way that counts. On the bright side, character customisation is amazing, and will keep the average gamer busy for their first hour online.
NEVER A DULL MOMENT
After an entirely MMO-inspired character creation you’ll be thrust forward into another MMO favourite; the Tutorial District. As the name suggests, it’s here that you’ll learn how to get the most out of APB: Reloaded; how to accept missions, join groups, steal cars and check your mail are included; how to leave a group, change the radio station, upgrade your weapons and put on a new pair of shoes, are not.
This is something of a critical oversight, as it’s the tutorial element of a game that often makes or breaks the experience. While some elements are covered in details, others are omitted entirely making for an occasionally frustrating learning curve. Can you press F1, open a web-browser and painstakingly search for an answer? Of course, but it’s 2011. That’s not how we roll.
Moving on, we arrive at the end of the tutorial, where you’re asked to choose a ‘real’ district to join which will represents your little slice of the city. There are 3 to choose from, 2 offer open-world PvP and group-based missions, and one is a safe haven that will allow you to do your shopping without being shot from a rooftop across the street. Regrettably, none of these districts are very large, and as combined they make up the entire game, there’s a lot less city than you’d probably expect. That said, this isn’t such a bad thing. In GTA4 it was quite common to find yourself pointlessly traversing an oversized city to complete you mission; not in APB. You begin in the action, you end in the action. Never a dull moment.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Then, you play. The city is your playground, literally, and you’ll have unlimited access to it. Buy a car and upgrade it, or steal one and drive it into a wall for a laugh; run half-naked through the streets with a simple pistol, or purchase a rocket-launcher and track down your enemies; sign-up for a mission alone or click ‘looking for a group’ to have the system find one for you on the fly. It’s really up to you. Your only goal is to earn money and use it to get stronger; how you do it is entirely up to you.
The open-world, ad-hoc mission system is a stork of pure genius. In short: you press ‘K’ to signal the system that you are ready, your group-mates do the same, and the system creates a mission for you to complete. It’s usually something simple like steal a car and drive it to the safe-house, or protect the safe-house from a criminal assault. The cool part isn’t the mission design (in fact, that could use some work), it’s the interactivity between factions that makes it great.
You see, there’s a waiting period between missions, they don’t become available the moment you press ready, you’ll usually need to wait a minute or two before they activate. You’ll usually spend this time shopping, exploring the city and hunting down other players that have made themselves too noticeable by being playing too good or bad, but you will almost always need to wait before you can being a new mission. Why? Simple. The system needs to find an even group of players in the opposing faction for you to compete against. If your mission is to raid the supply house, theirs is to defend it. There will always be competition. There will always be PvP. There will always be carnage.
As it stands, APB: Reloaded is the highest-quality free-to-play MMO on the market today, but it’s far from perfect. It’s fun, but not forever. The open-world PvP-centric environment is a blast for a few days, but it’s missing that ‘RPG’ backbone that should be holding it up.
There’s an obvious lack of ‘things to do’; you can steal cars and kill pedestrians and chase down enemy players and complete repetitive PvP missions, but where’s the player-driven economy (ala Black Market)? Where’s the territory control system, or the team-based and single-player missions designed to ‘grind you up’? Is PvP really the only thing you can do? Right now, yes, and it’s be nice to see some additions planned for the future. That said, APB: Reloaded is as good as it gets in the FTP market, and I can’t think of a single reason why you shouldn’t be playing it as soon as the Open Beta begins.