The massively multiplayer online market has a lot of games in its diverse log books, with many hours logged for most of them by hundreds and thousands (if not more) players. Some of these games, however, aren't met with as favourable a launch reaction, or run into problems with owning companies go under (such as Hellgate London). In the curious case of APB, it started as a boxed purchase game, has issues that caused it to go down, then was later adopted by GamersFirst as a F2P model game (that's Free to play). I've spent about three days on and off with it, and I'm ready enough to give you an impression of the game and what it happens to be all about.
Have you ever wondered what Grand Theft Auto would feel like as a MMO? Well, as far as I can tell this would be the closest thing to it. Here, we start with a basic premise - the city of San Paro has gotten so criminally active, the police have started using what equates to "sponsored gangs" to help the law enforcement out and giving them jurisdiction to simply blast the criminals as they see fit (although they would also appreciate a more professional arrest manner). This opens up the first choice you get in the game - join the criminal side, or join the enforcer side.
This choice dictates what kinds of mission parameters you will be getting as you play - criminals usually do something less reputable like stealing or preventing enforcers from their goals, whereas enforcers might be sent on raids. These missions are relatively dynamic, in the sense that what you are given will change between the list of available options and come in 5 or so stages usually per mission (sometimes you will be tasked with a raid as an enforcer, then maybe getting intel to a drop location, then defending a location from criminals and so on), and although these missions may start as an easy task, sooner or later a team made of the other side will be called out to hinder your goals. The main mechanic here is player vs player, and that direct conflict between the enforcers and the criminals during their missions is where the fun of the game will come from.
That being said, that PvP aspect is also where the game has its greatest shortcomings: as far as I can tell the game doesn't take into account much when it pairs up opponents (it forms groups on the fly, which players can decide to stay with or leave at the end of each mission), and in those 3 days of play it wasn't uncommon for me to suddenly find myself fighting a team of RPG packing criminals with shotguns and LMGs, while running around as someone who can't even afford to rent one of the guns available to me through the unlocking process (due to lack of in-game funds and "standing" with various NPCs that unlock them for purchase). This might lead the game to be pretty frustrating to some people (I die so frequently, it's a good thing that respawn screen only takes 10 seconds otherwise I'd probably have spent more time watching that then playing the game), so that is something to take note of.
Beyond that, we need to get into the other details here, because although the PvP is a double edged sword (for someone like me who prefers to be working as team against an AI menace, it can get a bit frustrating) there is still a lot of features available in this game that may have some folks wanting to try it anyways. First off, the character creation in this game is pretty top notch - to the point that you will find yourself having the option of playing with individual lengths of hair (bangs, sides, back) through a sliding box mechanic that really allows some diverse options. This is pretty important, as being a 3rd person game, you are going to be seeing your character essentially the entire time you play it, so you want them to look as you want. Surprisingly, you don't run into as many half-naked women with the boob sliders maxed out as one would think given the environment, which is a great bonus to the fact that the creation tools are so advanced people feel compelled to play something outside the normal stereotypical characters.
Beyond the intense character customizer, when you get in game you slowly unlock clothes, and patterns that you can then attach to the clothes - to anyone who has ever happened to play a wrestling game in the last decade, you should be familiar with this and love the idea of what I just said. Again, this makes it very easy (over time) to make your character look incredibly unique with such options as various coats, vests, hats, gloves, shoes, glasses, and even body armor. The biggest shortcoming being that it can take a while to unlock any of the items you specifically want (each NPC needs to be pledge too, so that you can earn respect - "levels" if you will - before you unlock the next person in the chain), and without looking up a guide you won't know who half the people who unlock items are until you proceed down one of the three to five NPC paths.
The game also lets you import music from your computer, so you can have a custom soundtrack as you walk around in the game (or if you'd prefer, only when you are in the car). The audio from the cars is also audible to those around the cars (although I am not sure if this is the case with custom soundtracks). Also on the note of music is the "Theme" song options. This is a little jingle that plays every time you kill someone (for the person who died) , and can really help alleviate some of the frustration of death (for a short period). An example here is that while driving on my way to a mission (with an assigned group member riding shotgun), a RPG comes from out of left field, blowing up the car with me and teammate in it, treating me to the sudden appearance of the Inspector Gadget theme as I watch my exploded car for those few seconds before respawning. It's such a minute detail, and the novelty can wear off, but it really helps add another level of personalization and comedy to the game.
Cars are available here (and as an enforcer, it's bad for your reputation to be stealing everyone elses cars), and can be spawned at "parking" terminals. There is a decent sized selection of cars out there (some that can be customized and some that can't) each with their own stats and design, although just like the clothing options these are all locked behind progression with the specific NPC's (or your job, in the case of some of the cop cars). It's a nice feature to have, considering the pretty large size of San Paro's two explorable districts (where all the missions take place). Speaking of those districts, there is also one named "Fight Club" for people looking just to throw down, a shopping district (for buying items and changing your looks/graffiti/theme/loadout), and eventual plans to add one for straight up vehicle racing.
Weapons here are probably my biggest complaint against this game - any weapon outside of your default starting set is tied to a 10-day lease. To make it more aggravating you still need to purchase the ammo for whatever weapons you use, as well as use money to 'rent' the weapon in the first place. This can lead to some unbalanced play when it comes to the PvP side, as with the aforementioned RPGs vs starter guns situations. Trust me, it's not pretty when it happens, and it can lead to people getting frustrated pretty quick. Of course, the only way to make money is to do the missions and get the bounties, so you will need to at the very least suffer through a number of loses before you can afford to upgrade your weapons with rentals (as it competes with your money flow against upgrading your characters outfits, mods, and car).
The sound effects related to the game are pretty good, on par with or slightly better than the GTA games. The default soundtrack is equally diverse, allowing for a selection of playlists built in ranging from classical to metal (who wouldn't engage in a car chase with some heavy head-banging stuff playing?).
Graphically, the game is no slouch either. It looks incredible for the most part, with some exceptions on the cars (sometimes the model or texture takes time to load, and you end up driving around in a black box with unmoving wheels). The HUD doesn't detract from the gameplay, although that also means sometimes it's a bit hard in the middle of a firefight or defense to check how long is left on the mission timer.
Controlwise, it's as good as you'd expect on the PC. I for one could never get the shooting to work well, but I have issues with precise movements on mice that cause me to usually overcompensate of not effectively get enough movement out of it when I need it to. For those familiar with the mouse and keyboard setup, I'm sure they wouldn't have these issues. A note, however, to those who wanted to plug in their Xbox controller and play it with a gamepad - unless you want to do some heavy editing of three config files, the default settings (that will still trigger even if you manually remap them in the game's options) are hideous outside of the look and move tied to the joysticks.
The option screen, by the way, is heavy in the remapping department - really allowing you to get those keys bound to exactly what you wanted - but terrible in the graphics department (five or six auxiliary effects such as aliasing, and a generic "ultra, high, medium" style selector). The sound selection also lets you turn things off (such as ambient audio from car radios), which could be a bonus for people trying to tune it down and give their system a break.
All in all, it's a free game so I can't tell people they shouldn't go out and play it - I love free games after all. I would like to, however, make note of the fact that it's not for everyone. If you have the space, I would say the best option is to download it and give it a shot (since it is free after all), but if you are not a fan of player versus player games, you'd best stay away from this. If you aren't skilled with PC controls, also be prepared for a bit of frustration when you find yourself hitting that respawn screen a lot as well. If you love playing with character creators or trying to gun other people down in a Grand Theft Auto style environment, on the other hands, you should without a doubt check this one out.