Realtime Worlds has an extremely ambitious plan to bring an enormous sandbox world full of customization to the PC player at home, and creative director Dave Jones is calling APB "The game he wanted Grand Theft Auto to be." Although we imagine those 1997-era graphics and the top-down view would have limited it somewhat. They've more than made up for that in this new game, which has some pretty slick built-in design tools .. but no cohesive story.

That's one of the things that causes the hair on the back of our necks to rise, and probably those of the marketing team as well. When asked about the game, Jones said "Well, we don't really have an overarching story." In fact, their website's FAQ will tell you, "What will the outcome be? The great thing is, we don't know." We don't know either. But if you want to find out what we do know about the game, head beyond the break and give it a peep. Here's a teaser: They could release this tomorrow as Back Alley Tattoo Artist and it would clean up.


We were only treated to an extended version of the APB trailer while we sat and spoke with Dave Jones and EJ Moreland from Realtime Worlds, but the video was pretty telling. The developers have poured a lot of time and energy into the design tools inside the game, but they haven't constructed a story that really ties everything together, which can be dangerous in an industry that keeps hammering home how important the story is, even if your graphics aren't astounding, i.e. Braid.

The tattoo and clothing editors are also extremely robust, and we could easily see spending hours creating custom designs just to see how they'll look.

That's where APB is trying to set itself apart. It does have amazing graphics in the "in-game customisation studio." The player is given a huge level of control over the character they create, right down to the crow's feet around their eyes. The tattoo and clothing editors are also extremely robust, and we could easily see spending hours creating custom designs just to see how they'll look. They showed off a character in a black suit with a "Can We Build Him?" sign stuck to his back ... and when he turned around it was an in-game Obama model, complete with a "Yes We Can" badge. Really impressive character modeling.

However, once you drop those characters into the game (which also features a similarly supercharged vehicle design editor), are players going to find enough material to keep them engaged? They can't live by design alone, although the game includes an auction house trading depot for designs, where players can sell their creations to other players for a price. Beyond that, the game is pretty much an advanced version of cops & robbers, which the developers claim focuses on creativity (designing characters, clothes, cars, etc.), conflict (Criminals vs. Enforcers), and celebrity (or "status").



Both cops and robbers can be tatted-up, leather-wearing, firearm-brandishing hardasses who blow people away on a daily basis.

Instead of a traditional MMO that has you questing across a mythic fantasy land, APB drops you inside a massive city and lets you choose whether or not you want to be a Criminal or an Enforcer, and the only thing that separates the two is that one wears a badge. Both cops and robbers can be tatted-up, leather-wearing, firearm-brandishing hardasses who blow people away on a daily basis. If you're a Criminal, you try to commit dirty deeds like robbing banks and killing Enforcers, and Enforcers try to maintain the peace by stopping Criminals with extreme prejudice.

We weren't shown anything live in-game, everything was running off a video, and the gameplay has a fairly traditional GTA open world feel to it. There's a lot of gunplay and driving, and yes, you can run pedestrians or opponents down. We didn't get to see the promised bank heists just yet, although crime will definitely be a part of the game. Criminals have the option of taking out other criminals, teaming up with them, or fighting the Enforcers, while Enforcers only face off against Criminals.

That's pretty much it right now. There's no massive boss you're trying to slay, no raids to lead your party into. Just your highly customized avatar and you, cruising around and stirring up a lot of trouble that involves firearms. From what we were shown, the Criminals have a lot of different activities they can choose from, and Jones said that they were inspired by Michael Chiklis in The Shield for the Enforcer's role in the city. Phone book beatdown minigames, perhaps?



You can also compose "death tunes" that other users will hear after you annihilate them.

The game runs on the Unreal 3 Engine, and features things like last.fm integration: if a player drives near you and they're playing a tune you have via last.fm, it'll start playing on your in-game radio. If you don't have the same song, they'll use the last.fm music servers to identify something close to it. You can also compose "death tunes" that other users will hear after you annihilate them. They game will be out in 2010 and they said they're pursuing a "non-traditional subscription model," and we aren't quite sure what that means just yet. They're also "considering" console options, which we imagine to mean "We'll see how this does on the PC first."

APB still hasn't given us any real gameplay that we can wrap our heads (or fingers) around just yet, so we'll be eager to find out more in the coming months. But if we could play with their design editor and start making a tatted-up Chris Grant avatar, we'd be all over it immediately.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.