APB, Day 1

Today started “Early Access” in APB. I logged in this morning and spent some time making a character and a shirt that looks like it came from Woot and putting decals on a car. I didn’t get to actually play until later this evening.

APB is a pretty humbling experience, and I think Real Time Worlds is going to have trouble pulling in people once the initial sales taper off. The problem is that there’s no real way to balance things. When I started playing tonight, with my default gun and it’s very deliberate rate of fire, I was being cut down left and right by people with machine guns. I played for a while and earned enough cash to get a machine gun… and then started running into people with shot guns. Basically all night I felt like I was out-matched in the weapons department. And that’s after people I’m up against have been playing for 1 day. What’ll it be like for a newbie in 3 weeks?

There are only 2 combat zones in APB and there’s no sense of ‘levels’ in them, so you’re just thrown into the shark tank. In theory, I guess, the game will assign relatively equivalent firepower against you. Wait, let me back up…

Y’see, it’s full PvP (really it’s just a shooter). So I, as a Criminal, get a mission from a contact. Say it’s “Spray graffiti at these locations” and I get waypoints to head to. At this point there’s no opposition and no one can shoot me. But after the few seconds I’ll get a message that Enforcers (cops) have been dispatched to stop me. I *assume* the game is offering the mission of stopping me to someone relatively close to me in terms of gear, but I’m not sure.

Now what the game doesn’t know is that I suck at online shooters. It’d be nice to know there’s some kind of matchmaking that looks at my cumulative win/lose score and finds an opponent who’ll be an even match. It’s really too early to see if this exists or not. I hope it does.

My other concern is that defending seems a lot easier than attacking. So often, as a Criminal, I’ll be tasked with occupying a particular area. There’s a lit circle I have to stand in while a timer counts down. The Enforcers, if they get there first, will invariably get up on a roof. So in order to control this circle, I first have to get up onto the roof and kill the Enforcer. To get up onto a roof you climb ladders. To climb a ladder you hit a single key and your character ‘auto-pilots’ up the latter. And when you get to the top you immediately get a face full of shotgun or SMG before you’ve really reestablished control of your character.

I think the ‘right’ way of taking out someone on a roof is by getting up onto another roof and sniping him. If I had a sniper rifle. Long range gunplay is normally pretty ineffective in APB since if you start taking fire you just duck behind something and auto-heal back up. Of course while you do that, the other dude is healing back up as well.

Further on the ‘right’ way to play… get a team. That way while one of you is playing cat and mouse with the Enforcers, the other can occupy the target area.

Now for all that whining, there are moments when the game is really fun, too. And sometimes it’s fun just watching others play. You see these crazy firefights break out and can just spectate since you aren’t part of the mission, so their bullets won’t harm you (though explosions will still kill you, and anyone can shoot a car and make it explode).

So far my favorite missions have been those where I get called in as backup. If you accept one of these, you get stuck into a group with whomever is working on the mission you’re backing up. Then you can run in and help. Even if you suck (like I do) you can at least distract the other side.

I have a lot of fun just driving around causing chaos, too. The zones are pretty full today, which means you’ll get caught in the midst of plenty of chases and running firefights.

I’m liking APB so far, but mostly in short sessions. I get frustrated pretty quickly and need to learn to recognize that in myself and bail out before the game stops being fun.