APB: All Points Bulletin sounds like such a great idea. The game wants to take the basic trappings of Grand Theft Auto (urban setting, driving, shooting, and free-form exploration) and mix in a little massively multiplayer online influence to create a unique cops-vs.-criminals environment where players can run wild with heavily customized characters. That might be a great playground, if the game truly worked.
As a shooter, APB faces immediate difficulties that it doesn’t overcome. Combat is prone to lag, and even when approached in deliberate, tactical steps, it doesn’t pack much of a punch. Vehicle-handling is better, but feels behind the curve drawn by Rockstar. Spend some time with the multiplayer in GTA4 before playing APB, and Rockstar’s 2008 game makes this one feel out of date.
More troublesome is a lack of overarching story or sense of import and persistence to the game world. Players choose a side (Enforcer or Criminal) and quickly find that, in spite of an intriguingly freeform approach to offering tasks, the game shunts everyone into repetitive “go here, grab that, run away” missions in which inexperienced, ill-equipped players are too often matched up against enemies with bigger, badder guns. If the core driving-and-shooting experience was more compelling, the dull missions would sit easier, but without those mechanics to fall back on, APB feels undercooked.
In lieu of a story, the game offers an impressively broad customization toolkit. Characters, vehicles, and even music can be tailored to player specifications. It’s easy to be reminded of the Guitar Hero music suite: These options are full of potential, but it’s a lot more fun to actually play a game than to bury yourself elbow-deep in detail-tweaking. In other words, without compelling core gameplay, so what?
Still, sometimes an evenly matched battle will turn into a tense stand-off or desperate chase, and the game’s potential is closer to realization. As an MMO, APB has the potential to show significant improvement over time. Some fixes have been made since launch, and developers are active in discussions about what the game could and should become. It currently feels like a first draft because from a certain perspective, it is. If APB can survive and develop over the next year, it could grow to be more like the game that occasionally peers through.