All Points Bulletin
Now, being a slightly greying games player, I'll hold my hands up and admit that I'm not usually one for this newfangled MMO thing, much preferring to exercise my penchant for gaming via strictly single-player experiences. It's not that multiplayer doesn't hold an attraction, but rather that I find most persistent worlds to be the land of the uber geek... and that's one border I'm not willing to cross.
However, today's frantic shenanigans at the GamesCom trade fair involved spending a little quality time in the company of RealTime Worlds' new urban online world APB (All Points Bulletin). And now I can honestly say that I'm inching ever closer to making a genre leap and PC hardware upgrade from which they may well be no return.
Showing lucky press representatives the world's very first in-game footage of APB, RealTime Worlds' community relations manager Chris Dye talked me through a (sadly) non-playable early build demonstration that promised to deliver worryingly irresistible inner-city action wrapped in a quite stunning mission-based persistent game world that's positively teeming with both gamers and NPCs.
While first impressions suggest a clear nod of appreciation in the direction of Grand Theft Auto IV (don't all free-roaming titles these days), APB actually retains some of the glisteningly clean beauty first realised in hugely underrated open-world adventure Crackdown, which is also a product of the RealTime Worlds stable.
Powered by the Unreal Engine 3, the recorded demo footage was played and voiced by Epic Games boss Mark Rein alongside RealTime's Chris Collins, and showcased various appealing elements that are likely to assure APB tests its creators' servers when it's unleashed on expectant PC owners in Q1 of 2010.
In terms of standout features, APB's online world offers two clear-cut approaches for up to 100 players per 'district' (or server) in the form of the Chaos Ruleset and the Standard Matchmaking Ruleset - where the former provides strictly 'law of the streets' anything goes, no holds barred action, and the latter enables players to call for assistance from other 'matched' in-game users.
In outlining the various ways players can tackle APB's missions and environment through the stat-tracking Prestige and Notoriety system, Dye explained that straightforward gunplay tactics are just as efficient as a stealthy approach, but both garner distinctly different results.
For example, steal a car or kill someone in the world without being seen and the player can escape without worry. However, be caught in the act of rushing guns blazing and an APB is dispatched to all players within the district and the player's defining icon changes to define their wanted status. Hunt 'em down, take 'em down, and reap the rewards.
Also, should the player amass sufficient Prestige or Notoriety during a single session of play, their actions will merit a temporary five-star rating, at which point a 50-player "free-for-all" will begin whereby 50 other district users will be dispatched to your location. The player's decision is simple: Run until the rating subsides; or take on the horde and keep hammering the stats to retain a full rating and a glowing badass reputation.
Performance wise, the demo ran smoothly and its vehicles moved with believable weight. Characters were perhaps a little jerky, but it's still early days and animation smoothing will likely be dealt with before the game's retail release. Environments were drawn without any obvious form of pop, but it's worth noting that the demo did not showcase vehicles travelling at high speed over long distances.
Interested PC owners will also be glad to learn that APB boasts fully upgradeable weaponry and a fleet of vehicle options just waiting to be adorned with decals and performance-enhancing goodies - before they hang out of the windows blasting at passing foes. As an additional point of interest from a presentation angle, APB also includes access to in-car music that differs from the likes of GTA insofar as it directly channels track content from the player's account on popular music streaming service Last.fm.
Recent rumours regarding APB being canned for the Xbox 360 were not only denied by Chris Dye, they were granted no quarter at all, as he quickly pointed out that APB is a PC exclusive IP and RealTime Worlds currently has no plans to transfer the game to Microsoft's console. However, he did concede that the future is full of possibilities.
Bolstered by constant score and stat tracking and, of course, ego-stroking online leaderboards, APB is presently in a "friends and family" beta stage and is expected to reach full open beta by the close of 2009. Sign me up.