First Impressions: A second look at APB on launch day

APB Relaunch day
On June 29th, 2010, Realtime Worlds launched All Points Bulletin, an MMO that was highly anticipated for its character customization options, open-world "gang warfare" PvP, and similarity to the wildy popular Grand Theft Auto series of video games. In fact, the original APB's lead designer was David Jones, creator of such classics as Lemmings and the original Grand Theft Auto.

But six weeks later, Realtime Worlds entered administration, which essentially means that the company was having financial troubles but was allowed to continue running while looking for a new owner. That new owner didn't materialize quickly enough, forcing the company to announce the game's closure during what may be the shortest MMO lifespan of all time.

But who should come to save the day on November 11, 2010? None other than K2 Network, parent company of free-to-play publisher GamersFirst, which swooped in to rescue the game under the new title APB: Reloaded.

Today marks the official re-launch of the crime MMO on Steam, and I've been spending entirely too much time with the game, rediscovering why I both loved and hated the original version. Follow along after the cut for our second look at a First Impressions of APB.

Now I realize that there are a few different camps of players approaching this relaunch of APB. There are those who played the original and loved it; there are those who played the original and hated it and are eager to see what may have improved; there are those who've never heard of the game and never played it; and then there are those who were scared away from the game by its reputation as a haven for aimbots and hackers.

I fall into the first camp, although the aimbots and wall hacks eventually drove me out. It just wasn't fun playing a game where starting characters were cheating so easily in every mission, so APB and I drifted apart. When I heard it was returning, I was very excited. If the hacker problem could be cured and enough people were in the game playing regularly, it'd be a really fantastic game.

So a few months ago I jumped back in during the closed beta, excited to get my hands on the game again. I found most of it to be exactly the same, which was a welcome sight for these cynical eyes.

That infamous character customization

Thankfully, GamersFirst didn't really touch the already-impressive customization in APB. Not only can you create a character whose features can be stretched and pinched exactly to your liking, but there are ways to change anything later on if you decide you don't like what you made the first time. Of course this comes at a price, but it's usually a better option than scrapping everything you've accomplished to start anew.

Not only that, but you can also write your own music, design your own clothes and tattoos, build your own hot rod, and sell them all to other players through the in-game marketplace. Through this customization and ease of selling, many players have established a name for themselves as the Marc Ecko, Kat Von D, or Chip Foose of the game. We haven't seen anything like this since the original EverQuest or pre-NGE Star Wars Galaxies. Yes, I went there.

Are there spells? Are there classes?

No and no. The first thing you need to do before you play APB:R is forget that World of Warcraft ever existed. Class roles, damage assignment, and any semblance of skills are all decided by your weapons and equipment mods. Want to be a long-range sniper? Buy a sniper rifle. Want to play a support role, buffing your group members during your mission? Invest in some good character mods. And if you get bored of any of that, you simply get a new weapon or mod.

This is one of my favorite parts of the game. While I do enjoy playing a role in certain games, it's refreshing to spend some time doing whatever I want. APB is not quite a sandbox, but you have options with your characters, and I love that.

But I don't like an open PvP world!

Don't worry! APB has this reputation of being one big PvP gankfest, but GamersFirst made sure to tweak a few of the original mechanics, allowing more safety for those who don't want to just shoot or be shot at all day.

As a criminal, you can rob stores, mug pedestrians, or steal cars for extra money, but you need to be extra careful about getting caught. You can't be harmed by other players while performing these acts, but if an Enforcer character catches you in the act, he can immediately choose to arrest you or take you down on the spot. So it's like a mixture of PvE safety, with the consequences of open-world PvP if you choose to break the law.

Mugging a pedestrian
As an Enforcer, you can be on the lookout for criminals in the act and choose to either use lethal force, like some kind of renegade cop from a '70s film, or use non-lethal stunning, which is unique to the Enforcer side. You can also recover stolen vehicles or help clean up the streets in missions. Plus, you get to drive around town blaring your vehicle's siren whenever you want. That, right there, is worth it.

Now that it's free-to-play, is it all about who has the most money?

Not at all. Sure, you can buy weapons, mods, clothing, vehicles and other advantages through the Armas Marketplace (RMT shop), but there aren't as many choices as in the in-game marketplace. These items in the in-game store are gated by both cost and player rank with certain quest-giving NPCs. So if you have your eye on a particularly pimp car, you'll need to check out which NPC offers that item, how much rank (reputation) you'll need with that NPC, and how much money you'll need to save or steal.

In-game item shop
Of course, player skill plays a huge part in character advancement. You can buy the best weapon in the game, but if you have a shaky trigger finger and the depth perception of a bat, you won't get very far.

So what's the final verdict?

Let's cut right to the chase, shall we?

  • Unmatched customization options in character creation, which persists throughout the entire game
  • Vast array of choices in the game, catering to any combination of good or bad ways to play both Criminals and Enforcers
  • Revolutionary open-world mechanics such as multi-character vehicles, friendly fire, multi-level explorable buildings, and more
  • Limited map sizes make for non-stop action from other players all around you
  • You can enter and leave PvP easily whenever you're ready
  • Combat is an excellent combination of player skill and weapon stats
  • You're going to die a lot before getting to the point of being any good
  • With customization being such a huge part of the game, there are microtransactions at every turn
  • The same two maps (not counting the social district) can get old after a few weeks
  • The general chat is seemingly un-moderated and is not for the faint-of-heart or those sensitive to political correctness
  • Not as fun for the solo player
  • Still some hacker issues with aimbots and wall hacks
  • Group matchmaking has improved but still has unbalance issues
The bottom line is that APB: Reloaded is mostly still the same APB we knew in 2010 but with enough tweaks and fixes to give it a real chance this time. So many common-sense improvements were made, and it seems that GamersFirst is dead-set on eliminating all hackers and cheaters, which is one of the main factors that killed the game in the first place. But what I like most about APB: Reloaded is that it doesn't apologize for what it is. It's a game where griefing is built-in, and you should expect to have your missions ruined every once in a while. Some people choose to play the game by completing missions for rank, some choose to rob stores and civilians, and others just want to piss on your day by driving a dump truck through the middle of your mission.

And that's the way it should be. APB:R isn't necessarily a "hardcore" game, but it can be for those who get into it seriously enough. It has a steep learning curve, but once you get it, you really get it. You can't jump into this game expecting to have your hand held and your ego stroked along the way. You'll start out on the lowest peg, humiliated and killed over and over again, but once you gain the skill and equipment to rise in rank, you'll be the one schooling the opposing faction and every noob running around with a store-bought shotgun. And it will feel great!

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions may be everything, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?
This article was originally published on Massively.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.