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PC Preview - 'APB: All Points Bulletin'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on July 23, 2009 @ 9:00 a.m. PDT

Realtime Worlds' latest project takes the universal theme of Criminals and Enforcement and brings it to a persistent, open world multiplayer setting in a modern, crime-ridden city.

Genre: MMORG
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: Realtime Worlds
Release Date: March 2010

For those who enjoy MMOs, there's a fairly limited selection of types to explore. Certainly, there are as many MMO as there are stars in the sky, but they tend to fall into only a handful of types; the vast majority of MMOs are sword-and-sorcery types, occasionally broken up by a superhero game or a title with futuristic space warfare. There's not much in the realm of "modern day" MMOs, and most of the attempts at making one have failed. Realtime Worlds, developers of the excellent Xbox 360 title Crackdown, are looking to change that with the upcoming All Points Bulletin, or simply APB.

For a lot of players, the appeal of an online game is in creating their own custom character. In games like City of Heroes, players can spend more time building a unique character than they do actually playing that character. APB is shaping up to blow all those other games out of the water when it comes to character customization. Even in the brief E3 demo we saw, the possibilities seemed overwhelming. You can customize every aspect of the character's build in agonizing detail, from all of the common traits — hair style, eye color, etc. — to the size and shape of their eye sockets. The character model subtly adapts when these changes are made to prevent the character from getting the bizarre inhuman look that many character creators end up with. One good example of the detail that the creator can go into is with scars. You can give your character a scar, sure, but you can alter the scar and even "age" it, so it can be a fresh wound or an old battle trophy. We saw a few examples of how far you can go in creating characters, and most of them looked amazing, right down to a perfect Barack Obama.

The customization doesn't stop there. While there are a ton of options for the character's faces and body, those choices paled compared to what you can do with clothes. The idea behind creating clothes is very interesting. You begin with very basic kinds of clothing, and from there, you modify, adapt and change it until it looks the way you want. You can alter the material, texture, color or style, and you can add zippers, buttons, logos or various other bits of flair to really bring out the clothing's potential. Every aspect you add is also fully customizable, allowing you to re-create any clothes that you can think of.

You'll also be able to create custom in-game symbols to serve as logos, tattoos or any other sort of iconic image you wish. For obvious reasons, the developers are not allowing you to import your own images; instead, you'll have an icon-creating feature that allows you to use various 2-D shapes to form the icons you want. This may sound limited, but the customization options allow you to basically create any image under the sun. We got an example of this when the developers called in one of their staff members to show us how all of her tattoos had been re-created in perfect detail in the game. Once an icon has been created, it can be placed onto the surface of your character and will adapt to seem "proper" for the surface you put it on. An icon placed as a tattoo on a human will look different than a company logo placed on a leather jacket.  In the aforementioned Barack Obama example, he was wearing a suit that read, "Can we make him?" on the back and "Yes, we can" on the front.

This level of customization will extend beyond just your character, however. There will be plenty of ways you can use this customization to benefit yourself in the game world. For example, you can customize cars in the same excruciating detail, from its rims and coloring to the words on its license plate. You'll also be able to create an entire line of designer clothing using these mechanics. You'll then be able to sell those clothes to other players in-game, which will earn you money and fame.  As bizarre as it sounds, players who fancy being fashion superstars could make a name for themselves in the world of APB by using a sewing machine instead of a submachine gun. You can even create a custom theme song that will play whenever you defeat an enemy.

There are two factions in the world of APB: the enforcers and the gangs. Enforcers are the police, government agents and mercenaries; they're the ones who uphold the law. The gangs are the ones fighting against the law. It's basically cops-vs.-robbers on a citywide scale. Players choose to side with one faction, and once they do, they're on that side for the entirety of the game, so it's an important choice. The game takes place in large free-roaming city areas, where both the enforcers and gangs roam. While this may sound odd, the "action" areas in the city are sort of live-action matchmaking areas. For example, if a gang member decides that he wants to steal a car, he can do that. This triggers a behind-the-scenes matchmaking segment where an enforcer of similar level is paired with him. That enforcer gets the APB call, and the game begins. In the regular base game mode, these two groups are in their own little world, and other players can see the game being played but cannot interfere. In Chaos rules, enforcers or gang members who want to butt in can do so. Those uninterested in combat can relax in the game's social zones, where players can talk to one another, buy new clothes or relax between crime sprees.

The overall goal in APB isn't just to win fights against the opposing side but to make a name for yourself using the game's Celebrity feature. Everything that occurs in the game is tracked, from the number of enemies you killed to how popular your clothing line is. This is listed on a leaderboard, showing the overall popularity of the players in the city. Players who are celebrities may find themselves earning rewards or prizes for their popularity, but they'll also find themselves at the center of attention. For example, the most wanted criminal in the city may occasionally see that he's the target of a tremendous cash bounty, where every other player in the city is tasked with killing him. If he can survive five minutes, he'll gain a special reward, but every other player will be out to take him down and earn the bounty.

All Points Bulletin is shaping up to be an amazing online game. The character customization options alone are almost worth the price of admission, and gamers are sure to spend countless hours trying to come up with just the right outfit for their characters. The game world sounds interesting and unique, while still allowing players a lot of freedom. One player may spend his time stealing cars and robbing banks, while another can whittle away the hours designing fashionable clothing and stylish cars, and both will be rewarded for it. If the actual gameplay lives up to the amazing customization options and the unique design, then APB will have gamers glued to their screens.


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