Impressions: APB


It's been a long time coming, but the first gameplay of Realtime Worlds' pseudo-MMO APB has been shown to the public. PAX attendees who stopped by EA's booth were allowed to view a 15-minute long in-game video demo of the title -- just for kicks, the player/commentator for the demo was none other than Epic's Mark Rein, creator of the Unreal Engine 3 upon which the title is built. Rein, who was playing as an Enforcer, was joined by Realtime's Chris Collins, who effectively played the Crockett to Rein's Tubbs.

What we saw looked less like an MMO, and more like a persistent online multiplayer cops-and-robbers game. Action isn't slow and meditated, it's fast-paced and twitchy. If you were expecting skill-filled hotbars, you're going to be disappointed -- APB is a third-person shooter, through and through.
As the demo began, Rein and Collins were already in one of the game's instanced "action districts" -- small, mission-filled areas with a maximum capacity of 100 players. They cruised around in Collins' tricked out street racer until they came across a Criminal. This demo took place on a server following the standard rule set -- meaning Enforcers can't kill Criminals until they actually witness them performing a crime. (Yes, there's also Havoc rule sets which allow for complete, unrestricted PvP.)

The duo trailed the criminal until the latter attempted to break into a parked car. Collins and Rein skipped the whole "Miranda Rights" business and quickly dispatched the would-be carjacker. There were no loot drops distributed to the Enforcers -- just the satisfaction that comes with preventing a deplorable act of grand theft auto.

The demo then jumped to a mission -- Rein and Collins were tasked with picking up an armored car, driving around to different drop spots and acquiring three briefcases, then dropping off the packages at a predetermined destination. As the players ran around to the different drop spots, they began to accumulate "threat" -- attention from the opposing team. When your threat reaches a certain level, an APB is issued, and anyone participating in your mission immediately draws the ire of your adversaries.

For our heroes, the APB was issued after picking up the last briefcase. As they drove to the drop-off location, Criminal players attempted to take the armored car out. The pair made it to their destination, and as Rein frantically ran between the car and the drop off location, Collins held the attackers at bay. After dropping off the final bag, the pair were tasked with one more objective -- kill five Criminals without getting killed five times. They succeeded, and Rein earned two new weapons -- a machine gun, and a non-lethal dart gun.


The demo then jumped to one last encounter, a mission titled "Redirection" that was singular in purpose -- kill Criminals without dying in order to fill a progress bar. This mission really showed how dynamic the action in APB can be. As Collins ducked behind cover, holding enemies down in a crowded train yard, Rein sneaked up a ladder, took out the Criminal camped out on top of a building, jumped down to a lower level, creeped up behind another criminal, and arrested her.

After completing the mission, Rein and Collins had accumulated "stars" -- a constantly shifting ranking which tells how well you're enforcing or criminalizing. More stars lead to better rewards, but reaching the maximum fifth star makes it so anyone on the other team can kill you without any consideration for the law.

Collins had reached the fifth star after completing the mission, and as the duo returned to their ride, they found themselves surrounded by a score of Criminals. Collins' character calmly lit up a cigarette, and ran in slow-motion into a glorious cloud of gunfire.

Okay
, most of that part was probably staged for the purposes of the demo. Still, with the dynamic matchmaking system (the titular "APB" alerts) in place, I foresee these types of encounters being commonplace. I mean, they'd have to be. The way that Realtime Worlds has blended traditional objective-based PvE gameplay with traditional PvP combat would kinda mandate the constant participation of both sides.

I'll reserve our judgment on how well this dynamic matchmaking system works once I get my hands on the game -- but if it does, it's going to be something extremely original and equally entertaining. Heck -- Mark Rein said APB was "one of the best games I've ever played," and assuming he's at least played every game Epic made, he's played a metric ton of games. I may not possess his certainty, but after finally seeing the game in action, I certainly share his enthusiasm.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.