(Note: I also posted this over on Slashdot on the story about the fact that APB is to use in-game advertisements)
Having played the beta, my short review of APB is: “drive here, shoot stuff, repeat”. Oops! Seems like I broke the embargo on reviews which was initially set at 10 freakin’ days after release! To their credit (I guess), they rolled that back to merely release day.
A more nuanced look at the game shows they have in fact done some things quite nicely. The “All Points Bulletin” mechanic works very nicely. You’ll be doing a mission when up pops up a notification that a comparable group from the opposing faction has been sent to stop you. It changes the dynamic of the mission and gives you a jolt of adrenaline as you listen out for the roar of the car engine signifying your would-be assassins drawing close. However, these adversarial matchups aren’t without their problems. Say 50% of the time they work and you get a comparable strength team sent against you, resulting in a pitched battle that culminates in either narrow victory or defeat. Perfect! Well, the other 50% of the time you get a team that is woefully underpowered, say one wee neophyte against our group of four. Or massively overpowered, so you “call for backup”, which works maybe 10% of the time. Perhaps the opposition are a full map away and have no way of intercepting you in time. Or they are already at the objective and virtually impossible to budge. The latter gets irritating as there are a few excellent camping spots should you get a VIP ‘escort’ mission. Oh, and I lied about the proportions. Things go right about 25% of the time rather than 50%.
Despite these problems, the gameplay is fun if you have a good group that you are in touch with through some kind of voice comms. The problem is that there is very little variety. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by Saints Row 2 in this regard, but there seem to be about 3 basic types of mission which leads to the game getting boring quickly – pitched battles or not.
There is also a HUGE amount of customisation, if you’re into that sort of thing. I won’t say more about this as I’m not buying a game to play dress up…
…Which brings me to my next point: pricing. Pinning down the pricing details wasn’t easy, although I did eventually find it on Kotaku or similar. I’ll quote from RPS again:
You can purchase a retail version of APB either in-store or via digital download at standard retail price (SRP $49.99/Â£34.99/â‚¬49.99). The game includes 50 hours of action game play out of the box plus unlimited time in APBâ€™s social districts customising, socialising and trading on the marketplace.
Once your game time is up, you have flexibility to top up your action game time from as little as $6.99 (Â£5.59, â‚¬6.29) for an additional 20 hours, while more frequent players can switch to a 30-day unlimited package for only $9.99 (Â£7.99, â‚¬8.99) with discounts available for 90 and 180 days.
The retail package also contains a bonus 100 RTW points towards your next purchases.
An additional benefit to this evolutionary model is the ability for you to convert your own customisations and rewards to tradable products to give to friends or clan-mates or to place on the Marketplace to earn more RTW points (convertible to game time) or in-game cash. Check back later for more details
The problem is, you are paying full retail price plus a decent fraction of 10 of your local denomination (Â£/$/€) monthly, for what? Progression seems limited – you can gain prestige with local NPC types to do more missions, but your character doesn’t seem to get much stronger as with more traditional MMOs. It’s not even like EVE where you can claim a small section of the virtual world for your particular gang. Frankly, I’m not sure it is worth paying for a glorified matchmaking service, but that is a judgment call each individual gamer needs to make.
Lastly, technical issues. I left them till last as I don’t like bringing them up for a pre-release version of code, but they need to be mentioned. I experienced frequent crashes, something which seemed to affect a small percentage of users, mostly running 64-bit Windows 7. A redownload of the full 7 GB and reinstall *seemed* to fix it, although I did not have enough time to check this fully. I did experience some graphical slowdowns as well, even on minimal settings running on a PC well above recommended spec. Perhaps this was because optimisations had not yet been applied, again due to it being pre-release.
Lag was also an issue, which I mention in a separate paragraph as APB is a shooter after all. However, there were only 2 european servers up during the beta (EU1 and EU2, natch) and so this may not be a problem if they deploy servers widely. Except if you’re in Australia, it would seem. Sorry, mates!
In short, the game is quite fun in the short term, but I question its longevity and value. I won’t be getting it, but you might.