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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published By: Electronic Arts
Developed By: Realtime World
Genre: Persistent Online Action
Rated: M Mature)
Release Date: June 29, 2010
Screenshots: Link
Amazon: Buy Now!
Written By: Christian Higley








June 20, 2010M - I spent way too much time with Realtime Worlds' new massively multiplayer shooter, All Points Bulletin, for me to adequately distill it all into a single preview. If I tried, I'd be here writing this all day. So instead, here's an easily-digestible list of highlights and (potential) lowlights.

THE GOOD
Customization

Though possibly debatable, I could easily make the claim that customization is half the game in APB. The range of options is staggering; you'll never see another "you" in the game (at least, not by chance). My tour of the customization feature started with a character designed by a previous attendee: a heavy set man with a preppy haircut, long goatee (comprised of a purple mustache and green beard) and a gaping mouth tattooed across the left side of his body, positioned such that his arm stuck out from it in place of a tongue. Rest assured, what I would leave for the next hapless media person would be no less horrific. Oh yeah, and the pupils of his eyes were red and heart-shaped.

First thing's first: designing your physical character. This includes their body, face, hair, scars and tattoos, all with their own sub-categories and distinguishing features, that can be adjusted with a series of sliders. There's nothing too unusual happening here -- if you've played any modern game with a character editor, it's all familiar -- but the range of options is enormous. More in the vein of Mass Effect than Oblivion, there are constraints to your manipulations. That is to say, you can make some gnarly looking mutants but you can't completely defy the laws of nature. I turned our heart-eyed husky prep-punker into a very unfortunate-looking Sean Penn, post-botched face lift, with snake eyes and a Bruce Lee body.



Next up: threads! That is to say, the clothing designer. Giving the player the tools to create their own unique look is a big point of interest for the developers. Whether a lone wolf whose skills and outrageous outfit turn you into an in-game celebrity or a clan who wants to create a distinguishable uniform or style, your avatar is very much a representation of your personality. In game, I saw everything from common hoods in sweatpants and wife-beaters to a disco-punker in a pink dress, wearing a hockey mask. I made a tubby thug wearing a bulletproof vest, super tight, mint-green jeans and big, steam punk goggles, strapped from shoulder-to-thigh in gun holsters. Hats, glasses, shirts, vests, jackets, pants, boots, belts, piercings -- all of which can be mixed, matched and layered in God-only-knows how many combinations and colors. Just about any style you want to make for yourself, you can.

Naturally -- APB being an open-world shooty, drivey game -- you can also customize your cars. I made a beat-up old muscle car with mis-matched doors and a frog decal on the hood but some of the stuff already in the game was jaw-dropping -- developers and beta testers just went nuts. They even took a design by one of the game's artists and put it on a real car, which was sitting pretty in the lobby of the convention center.

Tied to all of this is the design editor. If you're familiar with the Adobe suite -- especially Flash -- you should feel right at home. It's probably the best, most versatile vector-based graphics creator I've ever seen in a game. You can use your designs as tattoos or decals for clothes and cars. I just made a quickie combination of some basic shapes and arrows, but with some simple re-sizing and applying a hand-painted effect, even my five-minute creation turned out kind of cool! Obviously you get what you put into it -- again, some of the developer and tester-made stuff was stunningly sharp -- but it's accessible enough that you can throw something together with little fuss.



Finally, there's even a simple MIDI music editor. The patient and/or extremely skilled can make entire songs that can be heard in-game, but the more practical application the developers talked about was using it to create a theme for your character that plays when you kill an enemy -- and that enemy hears it too. It becomes your calling card -- a way to taunt your defeated foe that's a bit classier than teabagging. However, another theoretical use is blasting it from a car with an upgraded stereo to drive another player out of cover through annoyance, like a form of psychological warfare.

Music
APB has probably the most diverse list of licensed music I've ever seen; there's literally something for everyone. But if you still aren't satisfied with their offering, you can import your own music into the game using Last.FM. Hold tight, because I still haven't gotten to the best part. If another player shares your taste in music, and has the same track that you're currently blasting from your car stereo, they can also hear it! Or, if they don't, they'll hear the "closest thing" to it. No word on what parameters the game uses to find the "closest thing," but considering the way musical aesthetics have been data-mined in recent years, the concept doesn't sound far-fetched. Your music is just another way that APB wants everyone to have a unique identity. Theoretically, it also creates a great way to meet new people in-game; with how many people in real life have you bonded over a similar taste in music? I know that for me and my friends, it's often the first and biggest thing we have in common.

Real-time Match-making
If APB was just an everyone vs. everyone free-for-all all the time, things would be a bit out of hand. That's why the game uses a match-making system like many modern shooters but without the need to queue up or wait in a lobby. As you run around in the game and get missions, the game will match you with allies and enemies of similar skill levels who are on the same mission. Players you aren't matched with appear as neutral -- you can't hurt them and they can't hurt you. They're all matched with other players and doing their own thing, giving the world a chaotic, unpredictable feel that doesn't result in lots of cheap, random deaths.



Incidentally, this approach to PvP also makes for some interesting co-op potential. As your group is matched with a rival group, you're each strategizing against the other, pulling off complex maneuvers and tactics in a game of wits and skill.

Open-ended Encounters
The open world and sometimes random aspects of the game can combine to create some genuinely interesting encounters that encourage you to think a little outside the box. I had one mission to chase down a criminal player holding an important briefcase. We engaged in a prolonged game of cat and mouse, in which I chased her through alleys and parking structures, winding our way through the labyrinth that is a modern metropolis. Another mission found me chasing a couple of hoodlums up the scaffolding of a construction area, only for them to jump to the ground, double-back the way we came and steal my car in a daring escape -- I was genuinely out-witted.

THE BAD
Buttered Roads

For a game that focuses largely on driving, it can be a bit frustrating. I've seen worse -- much worse -- but I still didn't feel that the driving mechanics were quite up to the tasks demanded by the game. The roads felt slippery and the cars themselves had very little weight to them, leading to a lot of missed turns and ramps that shouldn't have been.



Very Static Environments
This is probably a consequence of the necessities of MMO design, but for an action game it was pretty disappointing to drive full-speed into a wire fence and come to a dead crash. Aside from that, there's no way to quickly, easily distinguish which doors can or can't be opened. This confusion led to some frustrating, "oh COME ON!" deaths as I thought I was making a daring escape, only to run into a door decal.

Repetition
I had fun with the hour I spent playing the game but I question its longevity. To be fair, with the very late-game character I was playing, who had already completed the possibly more interesting, faction-based missions, I did not get the full picture. I only got to play the random missions and bounties that pop up based on the actions of you and other players, but they were all basically the same: capture/defend a point, kill X number of characters, escape from X number of characters -- the usual stuff.

APB looks pretty cool at a quick glance. I got a fairly small picture of the actual game but the basics were solid enough. Fans of the paper-doll effect will go crazy with the game's various editors. I'm not exaggerating when I say you could lose hours, days or weeks in that alone. Allowing the player to completely project a personality onto their character and maintain it in the game world is a strong draw that should feature in more online games. As a huge music fan, the fact that you can represent yourself not just through clothing, but also through your music, made me downright giddy. Additionally, the music component opens up wide new doors for in-game socialization, which is good for mostly solo players like myself, as it creates an automatic topic of conversation. I'll be very interested to follow how APB and its community evolve after the game is released for the PC on June 29th.


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