E3 2009: APB In-Depth Preview - Thug Life MMO

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APB has been described by Realtime Worlds boss, Colin MacDonald, as the “the bastard child of everything we’ve been striving towards over the 15-20 years that Realtime Worlds, DMA and David Jones have been making games” and finally at this year’s E3, we got chance to check out the street style MMO in action. The title bases its foundations on what Realtime Worlds like to call the “three C’s; creativity, conflict and celebrity,” and these three C’s form the foundation of the game.
The city you are thrown into has two classes of people; the enforcers and the criminals, and all you have to do is pick your side. The criminals will prey on the city and its civilians, and the enforcers will prey on the criminals. The criminals aren’t invincible (or the enforcers for that matter) and can get arrested by the enforcers (which is harder to do because you have to incapacitate them with non lethal weapons and the action can be disrupted by fellow criminals, but it’s obviously more rewarding) which can take you out the game for up to 30 seconds, and you can get killed with respawn times of around 6-8 seconds. 
The character creation system (the creativity aspect) is pretty damn detailed and is possibly one of the most diverse and immersive systems that I’ve possibly seen in a video game to date, allowing players to create their player exactly as they would envision them. From the realistic facial creation, right the way down to the custom made tattoos; APB is a canvas for your creative talents. The PC system currently uses a drag and drop system to manipulate the body parts, and when I say body parts, that extends to include protruding veins in your character’s biceps, as well the more common aspects like hair length and style. So if you want to run around with a skinny Britney Spears who’s blessed in the upper extremities, that’s pretty much possible. Realtime Worlds’ demonstrated the extent of this by showing off their carbon copy of Barrack Obama that they had created using the system, and I must say, the similarity was uncanny! The customisation doesn’t stop there though ... in fact, it actually starts there. You can even add scars (and age them), add fashionable eye liner, add freckles, moles, and again, we’re only scratching the surface here.

APB includes a simple designer, like a Photoshop type package, using simple shapes and over lapping them while adding after effects, so that players can design their own logos, symbols and graffiti emblems that they can use for tattoos, or even to place on clothes and cars. As far as clothes go, players can tuck them in, change the stitching, change the material types, layer them, emboss your created logos on them, and so much more. You can effectively create your own fashion brand and label and sell the clothes through the game’s inbuilt eBay style marketplace (offering auctions, a buy it now option and get licenses on the use of your artistic pieces of work). It’s all about expression and creating your own identity and your gang/group of friend’s identity. Player’s can then share that identity with as little or as many people as they see fit.

As far as the car aspect of the title goes, you can customise the body parts, colours, interior, tune them up and then even trade/share with friends. You can even go so far to “recreate the Italian Job” scene according to Dave Jones if you so wish. Of course all the cars are fully damageable but if needs be, there are repair shops situated around the city to fix them up if you get involved in a kerfuffle. Realtime Worlds pointed out that APB was the first real MMO to have such a strong driving aspect built into it.

When asked how this drag and drop system would translate on the Xbox 360, Realtime Worlds commented that they were concentrating on the PC at the moment, but were confident that they could translate the system to be compatible and effective with a controller. The system is pretty smart, in-depth and intuitive, and the possibilities are endless, but I suppose they need to be if Realtime Worlds are aiming for a city full of unique characters. Where Far Cry 2’s map maker astounded us at Leipzig last year, APB took home the prize for astounding us with their character customisation system at this year’s E3.

Enough of the customisation and the setup, you want to know about how this works, and what you’ll be doing around the cities, i.e. the second “C”, conflict. As mentioned in EA’s press conference at the show, there will be 100 players in each of the fairly large and dynamic cities which are purely server based to improve the player’s experience. The action in APB isn’t really story driven either, and Dave Jones pointed out it’s “all about the players doing what they want to do.”  The city as a whole will be broke into two areas; the social area; where players can congregate, purchase clothes, weapons and equipment, use the customisation editor and generally relax. Then there is the action area, and this is where the mayhem starts.

In the action areas criminal players for example can get involved in general open world activities, like stealing cars, mugging people, but also get involved in more scripted activities that can involve story characters and can be more varied in type. In all, there are about 20-30 activities that the criminals can partake in, whether it’s bank jobs, grand theft auto, breaking and entering, arson, mugging civilians and so on. Whether you choose the enforcers or the criminals, players can still get specific mission assignments and whilst the criminals might be casing banks, the enforcers could be escorting VIPs or valuable items (with criminals being tipped off as to what they may be escorting and where to, to make the proceedings a little more interesting) and patrolling areas to prevent crime.

What you do is up to you though. If you want to steal a car to get some money for it by selling it at the chop shop, go right ahead, but be prepared to shake the heat if you get seen stealing it and if the crime gets reported. If you’ve not been seen, you could get away with it, but it’s this “have I been seen?” aspect that will add to the tension of the play. If the first grand theft auto was part of a wide scale operation or something bigger, expect the enforcers to gain momentum and assistance as you proceed on with your objectives. The matchmaking present in APB is entirely dynamic, so if you’re a veteran and established criminal, you can expect similarly matched opposition in the terms of an enforcer, or even better, a crew of less established and fairly inexperienced rookies. All you need to do is load the game up, pick a side, and then the world is your oyster. No hanging around in lobbies thankfully.

As far as the soundtrack goes ... there isn’t one. Thanks to a deal with, players can sync up their music collections to play their own MP3s. The clever aspect of this is that if you have a passing car that is playing a song that you have in your collection, you will actually hear it as they pass. The same will essentially works with the voices as well which are all based on proximity, so you could hear someone clear as day stood next to you, but if they are a street away, you’ll hear the muffled, distant voices.

The sound aspect doesn’t stop there however, and APB even includes a music editor so that players can invent their own “kill tunes” that will activate when you kill someone – not only will you hear it, but they will also – a sort of gloat factor if ever there was one. Realtime Worlds demonstrated the depth of this simple editor by showing their previously created content including, Another One Bites the Dust by Queen and the theme tune from Dexter. The best thing is you can make it whatever you want, although Realtime Worlds have limited it to 5 seconds at present to prevent it becoming too annoying and outstaying its welcome.

The third and final aspect of APB is the celebrity aspect and this in effect is a combination of the two previous “C’s.” This can relate to your identity with your unique looks and brands, or can be tied to the games hundreds of leaderboards. You don’t have to be a kill merchant to get on them either with players able to gain recognition for who designs the best clothes, biggest gangs, who owns most of the city, who has the best designer brands and so on. The stat system in the game tracks every little type of action and categorises them as well and while there are no classes per se, repeated actions will be rewarded accordingly.

Money earned from successful tasks can be spent on weapons, clothing, advertising your fame or even your gang on billboards, heck, you can even get a bronze statue of yourself made in the city if you’re feeling especially vain. Of course, some of the rewards are limited to good performance rather than just straight up cash, and these can range from unique weapons to unique cars. You know what they say, fame can’t necessary always be bought ... sometimes you have to earn it ... unless you’re Paris Hilton.

At present time Realtime Worlds stated that their “primary focus is PC”, but they assured us that they were confident and committed to delivering a similar experience on the Xbox 360. The recent partnership with and the Xbox 360 surely makes the music aspect possible and if Realtime Worlds can show the same commitment with the Xbox 360 that they have seemingly done with the PC, APB could be a fantastic MMO that maybe the Xbox 360 needs. The non-story driven narrative and action may put off a few players that crave for that sort of experience, but being able to take part in a mini war between the enforcers and the criminals in a massive open world and online environment sounds mouth watering. I know it might sound trite and predictable, but MMO GTA anyone? Oh, and the customisation system in the title ... wow!

APB is heading to PC in spring 2010 and Xbox 360 players can hopefully get in on the action before the close of that year.


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