R.I.P. A.P.B.

Oi.  Its hard to say goodbye to a game.  For me, I’ve only really had to do it once before, with Shadowbane.  And that was perhaps a bit easier because I only joined in once it went Free To Play, and wasnt actively playing in the set that was happening when they announced its closure.  Still, I mourned its loss, and saved large chunks of its Wiki to my hard drive because of the lore.  I even went in and took a few last screenshots of my characters and the (admittedly dated) world before it dropped. 

So when I read that APB would be closing its doors soon, and that by soon they really meant, “could happen at any minute,” I dove back into the game this morning after I saw the kids off to school to do the same thing I did with Shadowbane – log a few more screenies and say goodbye in my own way.

My new ride - aka, my last ride.

I guess the good thing about knowing a game is going kaput is that it frees you of any need to save your money.  The streets of San Paro were a regular riot as people – even enforcers, took to shooting off spare ammo, buying up new goodies, and general having one hell of a send off.  People were not messing with each other really, outside of some destruction derby style smashups (I saw multiple scrolling text of “x has completed y missions in a row” where y was not less thant 5).

Even worse: just before the end they started charging you $$$ to spawn your car.

There’s been lots of conjectures about what went wrong with APB:  Some said it was the hit box (or lack thereof) that drove people away.  Others said it was the frustration of wonky matchmaking.  Still others contended that it was because the game was released while still very much in a beta state.

They are all wrong.

The hitbox was fine for everone but those who played shooters.  And even they were mostly okay once they figured out that there were no head shots.  Only uber-leet shooters got mad and went elsewhere when they realized they couldn’t one-shot their way through life anymore.  And guess what?  They weren’t going to stick around anyway, because all they care about is the shooter lifestyle, which is better served by *not* having RPG elements attached to it.  Purists want purity, and this game was anything but.  Still, it was a fine combat model for the average player.

The matchmaking system had its faults to be sure, but so did Halo – and Halo 2 – and Call of Duty – and…you name it.  I spent hours dying when I started Halo2 online because high level players would suicide themselves through the floor of the ranking system – thereby killing that game experience – and then proceeding to kill the game experience of genuine low ranked characters.  Admit it, we were lucky to get one good match per night.  And that’s basically what APB gave us as well.  Again, fine for the average player.

And don’t give me any crap about the launch as beta idea.  Name one MMO that has not launched while basically still in a Beta set.  Its all but expected these days.

APB - you have no one to blame but yourself. Yet, I have sympathy.

I really think that APB failed because it wasn’t marketed correctly – or at all.  I’d like to think I keep fairly abreast of new MMO’s here at HarbingerZero.  I also read alot of blogs and I play alot of games.  But I only first heard of APB when the Keys to the City beta invites went out.  Up to that point, the game had pretty much been getting attention from console sites and former/current Grand Theft Auto junkies.  It also tried to label itself as a shooter.  All of these things attracted the wrong sort of crowd  for the game – the very people who could not appreciate what it brought to the table. 

But worst of all, the failure of APB means that from now on, it will be that much harder for a first time, or small, or independent developer to get backing for an MMO they want to make.  And it will be that much tougher for them to convince a player to shell out to play it, even if they do get the backing.

So whether or not you were/are and APB fan…take off your hat, put your hand on your heart, and offer a moment of silence.  Because the whole MMO genre will suffer from this.

Location, Location, Location

Yeah, that’s my symbol.  It took me awhile to figure out how to get it up there.  Maybe one day I’ll write up a guide on it.  Muhahaha…

Don't let the midrange Threat Rating fool you...I own this town.

 

What? I grafitti'd our headquarters, thats totally non-criminal...

APB: They Fight Crime!

“She was six feet of black dynamite. He was a short Hassidic Jew!”

~ Kentucky Fried Movie

Okay, well maybe it doesn’t quite describe our characters exactly, but we haven’t really fleshed out our backstories yet, so it will do for now.  Yep, last night the Combat Archeologist himself and I put our guns together and laid down the law in the land of APB.

This is not what it looks like, I swear...

With the help of a little start up cash and a favor from the wrong side of the tracks, I started the game with a nice rifle, the NTEC-5 (an AK knockoff), which has rapidly become the go-to weapon for Enforcers and Criminals alike.  We won some and we lost some, but at the end of the night, we had a nice wad of cash and a few new achievements under our belt.  And a feeling of reinforcement around our initial impressions of the game.

It starts at the bottom, with the little things.  The first time we commandeered a car as Enforcers, the NPC got upset and started yelling about writing down our badge numbers.  You can imagine where the PC dialogue went from there…

Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges.

Animations are fine-tuned, from fence hopping and ladder climbing, to watching your character actually *drive* inside the vehicle.   The pacing of the game is nice, with new unlocks coming from virtually every night of play.  Combat varies a good bit too.  At some points last night we were fighting probably 10 on 10 (or more) on missions as various teams came together, and other times it was 2 on 2.  Our one frustration was that some of the locations (the casino and the parking garage in the Financial District for exmaple) are tough nuts to crack, and so its hard to win missions that require VIP kills there, where you can stash the VIP and force suicidal assults into a well laid out killzone.  But even the, the game moves fast enough and missions are varied enough, that you try your best, collect your cash reward (yep, you get money even when you lose), and move on to the next thing.

And I’ll say this now, perhaps with regrets later – I *like* not knowing everything.  With most MMO’s I can pull a wikia up and find out what and where and how and who.  Last night, we were asking other players if they knew how to unlock such n such achievement, or how did they pull off a particular character look or get said vehicle unlocked.

And that continues to be awesome.  The customization and, yes, I think its fair to call it crafting, element of the game is just unreal.  Remember how I told you about the A-Team van from Open Beta?  Check it out:

I love it when a plan comes together.

Yeah, that was built with the powerful designer tools that come with the game.  And then the player, if they like it, can duplicate their stuff and put it on the market.  Already there is a few well known clothing designers that are doing things I hadn’t even thought of before for outfits.  One guy last night had a full-on prison guard uniform on straight out of Shawshank Redemption or The Green Mile.

At the end of the night, we packed it in, and chalked it up, as a great experience.  I’m sure at some point today or tonight, we’ll log into the social district, tweak our characters and buy some new guns or upgrades or vehicles and be set for tonight.   All without eating into our play time, since the social district is not on a timer.  I’m wondering if its even on an active subscription – something that would have both advantages and disadvantages I suppose.

Though you may think me crazy, there is a solid comparison to EVE here.  The game is sandbox, PvP oriented, with a player driven economy.  And it looks deceptively easy on the service, but the real complexity comes in the game itself, from the interaction of the human an nonhuman elements.  If you don’t believe me, then you haven’t heard anyone complain about EVE being a game of pushing a button and then watching two ships circle each other until one dies.  EVE vets will tell you that’s what it looks like on the surface, but the reality is much deeper than that.  APB is the same.  On the surface, it looks like an odd duck shooter, a limited game with the veneer of an MMO.  But once the sirens come on and the guns come out, it seems like anything but.

APB “Review”

ETA:  Wow, so apparently *alot* of you are looking for APB reviews right now.  Good.  I added some screenies for you and will write more detailed impressions later this week.  For the new people, welcome to my internet home…

The nice thing about reviewing APB from the open beta is that you all know exactly how long I played the game for, and that I got the same amount of time as everyone else.  And, better than that, APB has conceded that this is the amount of time you need, as a player, to draw some conclusions about the game.  Because if they thought you needed more than that, they would have handed out more in the open beta.  So as usualy, here’s the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (though I’m going to do them out of order this time to reflect my experiences).  The tl;dr version:  APB is a fun game that strikes a unique balance between MMO and RPG that led me to give it a thumbs up.

The Bad

My first night in APB was absolutely terrible.  The editor, while very detailed and capable, takes some getting used too.  Since each mouse button serves a different function, I sometimes found myself trying to zoom out to look at the full body and instead gaining a quick forty pounds or so, all because I mixed the left and right button function up.   Also, while extremely detailed in some places, its extremely limited in others.  The “quick random” body, for example, will not auto update the current model.  Like what you see but want it in a different skin color?  Tough twinkies!  You have to switch to the detail editor and craft that change by hand.   I was also disappointed by the initial lack of options in the social district.  If you are thinking you will have any flexibility in the initial look of your character beyond body type, think again.   Variety comes only with experience in this game (which, on a side note, makes the preorder gifts that much more attractive, especially considering your starting bread box…err, car).

My personal breadbox - the Jackrabbit Special

On the game side, the tutorial is…a complete waste of  time.  It taught me to push the F key when I wanted to activate something.  It neglected to tell me how to find the options page, how to zoom when shooting, how to sprint, how to change key bindings, what keys did what, how to interact with kiosks, how to repair my car, how to steal goods/mug people/make arrests…well, the list goes on.  It does though, give you a nice starting arena to get a feel for the game but…it needs to be so much more.  So then, when you get the real game itself, and the game suggests that you let it find a group for you and not to go solo, you will be tempted, like me, to tell it to shove off, I’m better off on my own thank you very much.  And you’d be wrong…just like I was.  Do not solo in this game.  Trust me on this.  You will end up dead in a frustrating and repeated manner.

The Good

On the bright side, the pick up groups you will get are good.  The game is a shooter at its mechanical heart of course, and shooters don’t seem to attract the same number of goofs that standar MMORPG’s do.  And if you do have a deadweight in your group – drop em and move on.  The game is fluid enough that it won’t make a difference.   There is something very awesome about the wolfpack mentality of the missions, either trying to stop criminals or disrupt police operations.  And the death penalty – the standard ten second time out from your childhood – is bearable.  Especially since they will respawn you just outside the current conflict with a minimum of fuss to get back in the action.   Weapon variety is standard but gives a nice twist to tactics.   Perhaps the best tactical edge will come from getting to know the city itself.  Knowing where you can hop a fence, climb a ladder, or run through a store to cut off a fleeing enemy or get ahead in a chase is invaluable.  And the city is marvelously interactive and alive.  Ever play a game and want to be able to wander in and out of the buildings and stuff?  Well virtually every location in the city has a way through, over, or around it.   You’ll be suprised at the number of stores you can run through, alleys you can cut down, and roofs you can climb over – or hide on.  To be honest, its just plain – fun.  It brings the shooter to a new place, and for me that was good.  I guess you could technically call the majority of missions timed team deathmatches – but they sure don’t feel or play like it.

And those social district options?  Well once you have some hours under your belt they really open up for you.  The variety of cars and clothes is stunning.  And while the variety of guns and vehicles pales a bit in comparison, its still a good size, especially when you consider how many different customization options you have with those two areas between ammo types, upgrades, paint schemes, tune ups, etc.  In fact, the game rewards you for playing in those area kiosks.  Play with your car, design decals, change the license plate, put a new set of lights on it, and don’t be surprised to see a notation that you are now a level 2 “Tuner” and then squeel in delight as new options have unlocked and – wait for it – money has been desposited in your account.  Yeah.  You get rewarded for being creative.  For crafting in a sense.  Because you can turn around and “manufacture” your modded cars and clothes on the market.   I kid you not.  Some genious in the open beta had modded a General Lee Dukes of Hazard car and a version of the A Team van in the marketplace.  Awesome.  Just plain awesome.  And, unlike any other game out there except – oddly enough – EVE, you can sell your online creations for the RealTime points to pay for your sub.  Its like mini-plexing on a daily basis, if you are an EVE vet.

I could tell you about how awesome it is that one of the kiosk/crafting/social areas is a music maker to create your own personal theme song, but I’m not sure I can convert the awesome into words.

"You...light up myyyyyy lliiifffeeee....."

The bottom line is that APB brings a great balance of RPG into the MMO.  In some ways, its more RPG than some of the standard fantasy fare that’s out there.  And given the emphasis on personal reputation and creativity and such, don’t be suprised if a mission creator gets added to the game  at some point, because it is well set up for such a thing to happen.

The Ugly

Raving aside, it does have some glitches and bugs.  I encountered some horrendous lag once, which coincided with sound glitches.  But that was not the norm, and I didn’t see any jumping or game indications of people being out of sync outside of my one experience.  Almsot all of the previews don’t load, and I swear the decal creator/designer gets confused and befuddled sometimes.

There are some balance issues as well.  Since matches are based more off of Notoriety/Reputation level than the are your Rating (“level” loosely speaking) you can get some mismatches in terms of weaponry.  However, they never seemed to be game breakers.  In one combat, our main opponent (a 5 star rep “VIP” as they call them when they max rep) had a *very* nice automatic rifle that was stitching us good.  But with some nice coordination, we were able to bait him out several times and neutralize his advantage in arms with good tactics.  And, whether you like this or not may be a taste thing, even the most blatant of direct hits on the enemy will not usually kill them off at once.  I haven’t seen any one-shotting, at least not with weapons.  Now, if your opponent runs you over in a car, or you are standing next to a vehicle that you grenade…well, that’s another story.  But no worries about stepping out from around a corner and getting no-scoped by an ace  shooter.  It just doesn’t seem to happen.   I liked that, but I realize that hard core shooter types may not like that.

Really the biggest issue right now is the car chases.  There is so little variation between the speed of the vehicles that it is hard to catch up to a fleeing opponent.  You absolutely must get someone shotgun with you to shoot up the opposition vehicle, or its probably a lost cause.  One the other hand, what this does is essentially allow a survival tactic for assassination missions and makes them that much more difficult and valuable.  In any other mission, they can run around if they want too, but it will mean failing their mission as well, which is a victory for you.  Oh and as it stands now – being an enforcer and running over people drops your reputation.  Well since that is a good way to match yourself up against lower ranked players, expect that mechanic to eventually be fully exploited and then changed.

The dressing rooms could also use a little tweaking.  Twice in the beta, I clicked the wrong place on an item in the store and purchased the item rather than previewing it.  That’s not going to be fun as things get more expensive.

And finally, I put this here rather than bad because to me its not a bad thing, but I do understand the gripe.  While the social district is pretty wide open, combat districts are zoned and limited to 100 players each.  I’m fine with it, but other people think that means the game only rates as an MO rather than MMO.  YMMV.

The Tilt

I’m actually going to be buying APB.  The subscription structure is nice I think, and a concession on their part that this is not a full MMORPG.  With that concession though, I’m going to applaud them for the amount of RP that they facilitate in the game and the amount of creativity that they have placed in the players hands.  Overall I think its a nice little game with some interesting touches.  Kudos to the devs for putting it all together.