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Games Review 2010 – Part Three: The Ugly

Games Review 2010 – Part Three: The Ugly

Games Review 2010 - Part Three: The Ugly

Games Review 2010 – Part Three: The Ugly

With the Christmas and New Year bender now coming to a close it’s time to look back on 2010 and the one game I felt deserved the title of "Ugly". The last two articles I’ve written have listed a number of titles and focused on the good and bad parts of each, this time I’ll be going into a bit more detail as to why I think it deserves the title of the worst game of the year – in my humble opinion. It’s not so much that the game was extremely bad, I mean, it would take some doing to be worse than Dead Or Alive: Paradise, or the debacle that was Final Fantasy XIV Online. It’s just that this game had so much potential and could have been incredible, yet playing it left me so disappointed I found it hard to understand. Like an eight year old kid asking for his favourite toy from Santa only to be told he doesn’t actually exist, and that his parents can’t afford it, then punched in the stomach by his bigger brother.. You get my point. The game I’m talking about is none other than APB: All Points Bulletin.

Before getting into the game and how grotesquely mediocre it was I’ll provide some info on it’s early development and the expertise behind it – one of the reasons I’m baffled as to why it was so bad. Back in 2005 APB was the pipe dream of David Jones, creative genius and owner of the then newly founded studio Realtime Worlds. Jones was no newcomer to the industry and was in fact one of the key men behind the development of the now world famous and critically acclaimed title Grand Theft Auto, playing a major role in the earlier titles which helped shape the game into the multimillion pound franchise it has now become as part of the Scottish video games developer DMA. On release, Grand Theft Auto attracted widespread criticism from many reputable media outlets thanks to the extremely violent content, something which helped the game achieve a state of notoriety and most definitely helped it become the success it now is. I don’t need to explain how the game worked as anyone reading this will be more than familiar with the GTA series and what it has now become.

Shortly before DMA was sold to Rockstar North – the company which would go on to transform the GTA series – Jones left, setting up his own company which would later become Realtime Worlds. Questioning the pedigree of the development team would be preposterous as their achievements speak for themselves. This tiny Dundee based firm had helped develop one of the biggest ever console titles and a game that has since won a number of awards and broken numerous records as well as one of the most fondly remembered and loved games of yesteryear, Lemmings. Realtime Worlds first major release was the Xbox 360 title Crackdown, a 3rd person shooter modeled on the GTA series but with added twists. It’s reported that development on the game began as soon as Realtime Worlds began trading, back in 2002 and after its release in 2007 became an instant success, garnering widespread critical acclaim for brilliantly worked "Comic book style" graphics and gameplay.

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And then came All Points Bulletin. When the planned idea for the game was announced it sounded as though it could have been one of the greatest games ever made. Imagine the immersive and devilishly fun experience of Grand Theft Auto, combine it with the fact its played on the PC – with potentially limitless hardware capabilities which would make the game look astounding – and the fact it was a massively multiplayer online game and the ingredients were all there for a masterpiece. Yet what we were given on release left a bitter taste in the mouth, too much vinegar in that recipe I think. Described at the time by Realtime Worlds executive Colin MacDonald as being "the bastard child of everything we’ve been striving towards over the 15-20 years" the game was in development for five years before its release in 2010, focusing on the vast open world and allowing people to play alongside many other players at any one time. The initial response from the closed beta – which ran from October 2009 to 4 June 2010 – was one of great hope that, despite having plenty of good points, the finished product would offer a more complete and enjoyable game and as changes were made the open beta soon followed and ran for another two months before the games full release in early July, 2010.

That’s where things turned sour. On release the general public were promised a game jam packed with brilliantly worked features and some of the best gameplay around, yet on booting up the game it soon became clear that something had gone horribly wrong. First up was the tutorial – if it can even be called that – which swiftly ran through the basics, and I mean the bare minimum, before sending you out into the mean streets of San Paro, practice mode of course; the developers aren’t that cruel. But when thrown into the real battle the learning curve can be deadly, literally. After getting to grips with the basics of the game it became clear that, tutorial aside, Realtime Worlds had put a hell of a lot of effort into making the game one of the most in-depth available on the market, with literally thousands of customization options to keep players occupied for hours. Think your character needs to shed a few pounds? Easy, new coat? Some ink? The possibilities are almost endless and that’s before players even get to the car customization which allows you to change parts or respray it. Hell you can even have your own "Kill Tune" so you can feel just like the hero in an 80’s action movie.

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After a few hours of playing the game though it soon became clear that the massive amount of detail put into the customization elements was merely a clever ruse to keep players distracted from how horribly it actually played, like the first time golfer turning up to the course with a gleaming new set of PING clubs. The goal for players is to collect as much stuff as possible in a bid to make their character stronger, faster and better than their opponents – be he in the enforcer or criminal side. Yet doing so means working through some of the most soul destroying missions anyone could imagine. Considering the game had been 5 years in development, you’d think they would have put a bit more thought into making it enjoyable. Players drive somewhere, do something, drive somewhere else, do something extremely similar to what had just been done before; all the while the opponent tries to stop them. In order to complete the missions there will come a time when players need to kill the opposition, that’s when it gets really bad.

It’s not that the games mechanics were inherently bad, the developers just slipped up – rather hugely – when it came to planning some of the most fundamental things in any sort of competitive game. One such thing was balance as players would be thrown together at random and told to duke it out against opponents who could – and normally would in my case – be much better equipped to take you out. The only way to better equip yourself against the onslaught was to die repeatedly until enough pennies had been saved to upgrade weapons, which of course couldn’t be done because the tutorial didn’t tell you how to.. Another major slip-up made was the fact that there was no way to take cover from any oncoming fire meaning the players best hope was to run behind something and pray that it was big enough to stay hidden behind. Not only that but most battles would turn into complete stalemates in which the first team to get to a certain point would lock down the area and stay holed up until the other team got too bored of trying to break down their defence.

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All in all it felt that despite being in the making for 5 years APB was woefully under developed and released much sooner than it should have been. The idea was brilliant – any gamer in the world would be excited by playing a WoW/GTA hybrid – and some of the features were truly fantastic but with a lack of many features vital to the success of such a game then it’s little wonder the reception was so negative. Sadly we will never get the chance to see how far Realtime Worlds could take the APB title as a little over two months after the games release it was announced that they would be shutting down the APB servers for good. That news was followed up by the announcement that the company would be going into liquidation, selling the intellectual property rights of the game to online games company, K2 Network for a reported $1.5 million. Since then a press release stated that the game would be renamed APB: Reloaded and released as a free to play title in 2011, lets just hope they put some work in first…

Part One: The Good

Part Two: The Bad

About Author

Stuart Davidson

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