APB: Reloaded — Current State of the Game Review

apbreloaded

APB: Reloaded (All Points Bulletin: Reloaded) is a “free to play” game hosted by GamersFirst featuring real time cops versus robbers combat in a city-gone-to-hell setting.  GamersFirst also hosts other subscription free MMOs such as Fallen Earth, a post apocalyptic RPG mixed with shooter elements, Sword 2, Taikodom, and the upcoming Hailan Rising.  Originally, APB was a game created and launched by Real Time Worlds.  Although the game had plenty of potential, its economic imbalance, gameplay glitches, over abundance of hackers upon launch, and a plethora of other issues caused the game to be pulled a mere 72 days after its release.   Real Time Worlds folded with the game and GamersFirst picked it up later.

I was one of the people who bought this game prior to release, played at launch, and stuck with it until it was pulled offline.  The game lured me in with exciting trailers and included several key elements that entertained my interest:  immediate action, player versus player, character customization, and a modern setting that is all too rare in comparison to the staggering amount of medieval MMOs.

These days, GamersFirst keeps APB:R going with their own changes.  I emphasized the game as “free to play” earlier because the game is advertised as a download-and-go sort of set up.  After playing the game for a while you realize that you will need to sink money into weapons on the Armas Market, APB:R’s version of an item mall, if you really want to stay competitive.  There will always be “that guy” who will argue that if you’re good enough at the game you won’t need to spend any money on it.  Technically, there is nothing forcing you to buy weapons, but the truth is that doing so will make you a bigger and better fish on the streets of San Paro.

If you remain free to play, your contact standing will take at least twice as long to level up, and you will find yourself pitted against people with Armas weapons that are simply better than yours.  They will also earn more cash and standing when they annihilate you, whereas you will earn close to nothing regardless of mission difficulty.  While I have personally never purchased a weapon from Armas, I have paid the $10 to play as a premium member so that I could make progress with my contacts and unlock better weapons, modifications, and vehicles through the game itself.  It was definitely more fun to me as a premium member because there was more I could accomplish regardless of the players with rocket launchers, OCA Nano’s (a submachine pistol–secondary weapon–that makes little to no sound and has a surprising range and accuracy to it), and other fully modded or Armas weapons.  I found that without premium every once in a while, the game is not viable as a persistent casual play.

ocanano

“Make sure to pair this with an uber sniper rifle, like the NVR Scout from Armas, to make sure the poor trainee opposing you next mission has no window of range in which he can approach you from. Also, I got mine for $75 via paypal!” Said the APB player who felt that competition was a thing of the past.

If your weapons are not the permanent weapons purchased from Armas, which cost around 1500-3500 G1C a pop (this translates to anywhere between $20 to $50 real cash), they will decay within 10 or so days and you will have to buy another one from your contacts within game cash that you earn from missions.  So, if you’re only earning about half the amount of cash from missions while playing against people that are nearly impossible to beat with your current setup, thus earning even less cash, you can imagine how expensive it will be to a player who cannot spend a couple hours every day on the game.  It’s an annoying economy, but I understand that G1 has to make their money somewhere.  Unfortunately, this has opened the gate for the hardcore players to spend hundreds of dollars and high end weaponry and always have an incredible arsenal to use against other players.

“But I paid for the weapon, I deserve to use it!”  Yes, you do deserve to use it.
“And I worked hard to get to where I am in the game, I play all the time!”  Yes, you do put a lot of time into the game and you have the right to that.

The point I argue is that the APB:R’s current set up makes it extraordinarily unfair to  players who cannot sink the abundance of time and/or money into the game and even harder for new players to understand what is going on.  I used to play the game several times a week and I enjoyed it;  I maintained a gold rank, decent rating, and earned enough cash to keep me supplied on in game earned weapons.  Occasionally I would use the thirty minute free trial of Armas weapons to test them out, and a couple of times I won a temporary 7 day Armas weapon.  Altogether, I wasn’t bad at the game–I just certainly was not as good as the top tier of players.  For a while, I thought it would be cool to get to that top tier, then I realized another depressing point of the game: the community.

Before any avid APB:R fans and/or community members lash out at that statement, just take a step back and think real hard about some of the players you run into on that game.  Since the game offers a lot of freedom in character customization, a VoIP environment where players can freely talk to one another in game, and a report player system is all but intuitive, you end up with a lot of people who abuse the freedom the game hands them.

its-always-sunny-in-philadelphia-freedom-has-its-price

Sort of like the Always Sunny episode where the bar is open to a standard of “absolute freedom”; it started out great, but eventually the unsavory types of characters started showing up and ruining it for everyone else.

It is not uncommon to run into racist renditions of characters, characters with sexist/racist/gay-bashing names, and other forms of bigotry.  While some people may laugh at the face value of a female character named “WHORESLUT” dressed in nothing but nipple tassels, the over saturation of bigotry based avatars and hate slurs via the VoIP system or text  can really turn away a mature audience.  Ignoring them may alleviate the vocal and text-based harassment, but it will not stop the player from crowding your screen or ruining your mission by doing things like ramming their car into yours repeatedly.  I think most seasoned online gamers are used to running into immature players, but the fact that the report system is so primitive ensures that the offender can keep playing and get away with their behavior for an extended amount of time.

For example, if you are being griefed by a player in racist or sexist garb, you will have to start taking screenshots.  If the player is doing the harassing via voice, you will need to record a video with audio enabled.  This means either hoping the in game record feature works appropriately for you (it is buggy), or alt tabbing and opening a program like FRAPS.  Then you will need to alt tab again, register for the GamersFirst forums if you haven’t already, then poke around until you find a button that says “Ask a question”.  I shouldn’t have to elaborate on how ridiculous it is to put a report function under a question ticket category.  Attach your screenshots/videos, write the report, hit submit and wait for something to be done.  There is simply no in game option to report another player and the hassle of doing it in this poorly implemented, roundabout way is annoying enough to deal with then you’ve already had your game interrupted by the offenders themselves.

Combined with this poor report system, APB:R has a smaller population these days, so the few “bad ones” make the grief culture seem more prominent while giving the rest of the players a bad rep.

If all of this has not given the game a hard sell already, APB:R also suffers from broken patch updates and punkbuster issues that the players are fully responsible for fixing on their own.  At some point, there was a punkbuster malfunction that intermittently kicked players off of the game.  There was no patch to fix this, instead you were given a youtube video to show you how to override some files in your punkbuster folder. In other instances, a new patch will sometimes corrupt something about the way your game launches and it’s entirely up to you, again, to fix those files on your own.  While this sort of thing can happen in the world of PC gaming, it is all too common with APB:R.  All of this is very unattractive to a gamer who just wants to play the game and possibly spend some of their money on it.

To wrap up the negatives the game faces, another element that always bothered me was the lack of customization in the  options of the game itself.  APB:R is also one of those games with a minimum system requirement list you should never trust.  It’s listed to perform on low end machines, but to put it simply:  it won’t, don’t try.  Even on better PCs, the game can sometimes hang up.  There are not a whole lot of display/video options to customize how it runs on your PC, and the audio options are even more dismal.

So if APB:R has a pay-to-win setup, broken file patches, mediocre optimization, and suffers an immature community culture, then what is good about the game?

Things about APB:R that do not disappoint:

  • Competitive fun.  The game does offer hours of fun for those not too discouraged by defeat.  You win some, you lose some, and even if you encounter players with a $50 real cash arsenal at any given time, the challenge can be invigorating.
  • Character customization.  Whereas some abuse this to represent the inward reaches of their bigotted minds, many others use this as a form of expression.  Characters can be edited to an impressive degree, giving MMORPGs a run for their money on this detail.
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You can change body shape, facial shape, hair, makeup, skin tone, scarring. You also have the option of creating custom tattoos, decals, symbols, and patterns to place on your character’s skin, clothing, or vehicle. There is a good selection of clothing items and accessories that may be purchased with in game cash, as well as a few optional packs on the Armas market.

  • Immediate action.  I’m a big fan of games that don’t require a long tutorial or an immense leveling curve just to get started.  APB:R drops you into the fray and it’s not too hard to figure out what to do.
  • VoIP.  Again, I pointed out the abuse of this feature, but the feature itself is nice when used appropriately.  Expect light trolling, which is welcome when kept truly humorous and does not border the lines of griefing.  You can communicate with your teammates and your enemies in a localized fashion, leading to entertaining conversations.
"Psst...  wanna buy some kittens?"

“Psst… wanna buy some kittens?”

  • Numerous weapons and vehicles to choose from.  Customize your arsenal with sniper rifles, assault rifles, submachine guns, shotguns, pistols, and even tasers.  Yes, you can stun and arrest criminals as an enforcer, which puts them out of the mission for a tad longer but can be more challenging of a task to accomplish.
  • A focus on teamwork.  Sure, you can be the lone ranger in this game, but teamwork is vital.  Jump into your teammate’s vehicle and drive to the mission location, or engage in combat from the passenger side.  Communicate to one another via voice and lock down an item drop point to prevent the enemy from completing their task.
  • Environmental freedom.  Climb buildings for the perfect sniper’s perch or hide in the shadows for an ambush.  Commandeer citizen’s vehicles ranging from a soccer mom’s suburban to a slick low rider to dump trucks.  Each vehicle has its advantages and disadvantages; the dump truck makes a fun weapon of ramming power destruction.
  • Game developer activity.  The APB:R Facebook is updated frequently with dev hosted contests in events.  You might be lucky enough to score Armas weapons or premium game time from some of these contests.

Over all, APB:R is one of those “play at your own risk” games.  I used to recommend the game to friends, but stopped when the pay-to-win structure became overwhelmingly obvious and shallow.  However, this element of the game would not be such a bitter thing if it was not coupled with the lack of community moderating.  The mentality I’ve observed when a player is defeated by Armas weaponry in an uneven match often times falls along the lines of “Oh well, maybe next match won’t be so difficult and I’ve learned a few things to help me get better against those weapons.  Maybe I’ll get one or two of those weapons myself down the line.”  When coupled with being griefed by those enemies or even teammates, it becomes a question of whether or not it’s even worth it to keep playing, let alone sink money into it.

I believe that adding a functional in game report system that includes on the spot video recording and would solve a lot of the community issues APB:R faces.  It would give more power to the players that actually follow the terms of service agreement, and possibly result in less people leaving the game in rightful frustration.  This feature should be a natural right to a player, especially in the community of online gaming where anyone with an ounce of anonymity and a bad attitude can oppress others.

If you do decide to play APB:R, I suggest bringing a few friends with you, be ready to put a lot of players on ignore, and if you like the game it wouldn’t hurt to invest in some cheap premium time to give you a boost.  I do not believe a woman should have to hide her gender by never using the in game voice (It’s completely unfair to accuse a female of “asking for it” just by using the same game feature men can so easily enjoy), but if you do talk on there, be prepared in case you happen to be in the presence of the typical crowd of immature boys loaded with personal propositions and/or hate speech.

As always, games that include such violence are not recommended for people prone to anger or violence.  I do not recommend this game for youngsters who do not have solid parental monitoring.  Games like these, I feel, should only be played by individuals with a clearly drawn line between reality and fantasy, and therefore will not be influenced by its themes.

Photo/Video Credits:  IGN Entertainment youtube videos, GamersFirst, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s respective studios, and personal screenshots.

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