Few politicians decide that gang-violence is the only way to combat gang-violence, but in the city of San Paro somehow the bill passed. Enforcers work together to hunt down criminals and clean up the streets while the criminals of the world continue to do what they do best. Enter All Points Bulletin, where players can choose to be a thug or a very hip-hop oriented looking cop and start shooting just about anything that moves. That's the premise behind Realtime Worlds' first MMO, so how does it pan out?
In short: not well. It's not really an issue of a single mechanic either, but rather an entire collection of problems that keep APB from reaching its full potential as a large-scale sandbox MMO. Controls are relatively simple, and anyone familiar with basic computer gaming should be able to navigate their characters easily. Aiming has also been simplified to 'hit the target anywhere', with no damage bonuses for hitting the head (or any body part). The result is a game that removes quite a lot of general skill from the equation and instead heavily relies on equipment/weapons for the damage bonuses.
Questing is just as linear as the combat system. It mostly consists of missions that send you to a location in order to push the F key. This single button will do just about any task in the game that isn't movement, shooting, or driving a car. But the real challenge in ABP isn't completing a quest, but rather engaging in player vs player (PvP) combat. The entire game is really centralized around fighting rival gangs across the city, and objectives are intentionally made to cross over into one another. The hope is that players will come across one another, start firing, and instant fun is to be had. Unfortunately things don't work quite like that, as the only real goal that APB encourages is to 'win using any means'. Enemy players generally adopt the strategy of bunkering down into an area that offers only one point of entry and then blasting anything that comes into view.
It's easy to blame players that use this strategy for making the game less fun, but APB really doesn't offer any other combat alternatives. The world itself is bland, predictable, and poorly designed. Most games that encourage world combat have a wide variety of landscapes, and environments to choose from. Multiplayer games that don't have open world PvP will often, at times, designate zones specifically created to encourage more strategic combat. The entirety of All Points Bulletin takes place in the same city, which is mostly devoid of any recognizable landmarks or points of interest. The most interesting looking thing at any point in time in San Paro is the player, which also happens to be APB's only remotely decent selling point.Character customization is fun, detailed, and encourages a lot of creativity on the player's part. In fact, if half of the game was designed as lovingly as the character/car customization perhaps things wouldn't be so bad. Working together with friends to make a really unique squad/gang is fun, and certainly adds a nice spin on the typical clan customization options that online games boast. Weapon options are limited, and also hamstrung by a classic issue of online gaming. In short, players that have put more time in the game are exponentially stronger than anyone new, regardless of player skill. The problem is doubly noticeable in a game like APB, where combat consists of pointing and shooting.
These same character-based issues work their way into other facets of the game as well, such as driving. Cars, much like player models, have a ton of cosmetic options that can be poured into them for no other reason then standing out. They also feature simplistic controls, which (much like shooting) don't quite work out right. Turning for example, is a slow and laboured process that often results in smashing into other cars or pedestrians. The lack of solid driving mechanics makes APB feel like an incomplete experience, since much of the game tries to come across as a GTA-esque experience.
For all its flaws in game design the worst would have to be the lack of foresight when it comes to social interaction. Individually many of the concepts found in All Points Bulletin are quite sound. Questing, upgrading weaponry, character/vehicle customization, none of these things are bad on their own. It's the incoherent mixing of things that doesn't really make any sense. It feels like the developers just assumed everyone would have fun, would start fire fights out in the open world, and drive the game's content endlessly. It's something that has laid waste many other multiplayer game modes before, ones that assume that players will take a particular direction and never stray from the developer's vision. In the case of APB it's very clear that they assumed players would just 'have fun' in their world. Good in theory, but a bit far from the truth in practice.
Every time a good bit of All Points Bulletin shines through it's immediately hamstrung by a wide variety of issues. Uninspired world design, simplistic and combat, boring quests, and unforgivably bad itemization lay waste to any good qualities the game may have. It's unfortunate, because there are a lot of really fantastic ideas sitting around the world of APB, and perhaps with a bit more time and polish the game that exists now could be something fantastic. As it stands right now All Points Bulletin is a game that fails to amuse on many different levels, one of which is lasting entertainment value.