The city is overwhelmed with thugs; gangs roam the streets with impunity and endanger the lives of everyday citizens with their criminality. The only answer? Deputize the entire population and give them guns—lots of guns. At least that’s what the mayor of the city that APB: Reloaded is set in decided to do in order to get a handle on crime in her city.

Did it work? Well, the jury’s still out on that one—but it does provide the backdrop to explain the faction mechanics in game. Players are given a choice between Enforcers and Criminals. Essentially making APB a glorified game of cops and robbers played out in the virtual realm. Imagine a sort of collision between Grand Theft Auto and Crackdown. Raids, robberies, car theft and driving, and city maps to run around on. As a game, the PvP aspect rules all and the quest mechanics pit cops against robbers in a grueling match for control of the turf.

As a game, APB started as a pay-to-play MMOFPS but after the failure of that model, and a little shifting around of management, it was re-released as APB: Reloaded by K2 subsidiary Reloaded Productions through GamersFirst and Steam unto the unwashed masses as a free-to-play game.

Looking at the box office for this game, it seems to have done extremely well for itself, netting over 3 million registered users in one week. This makes it the second most popular game on Steam this week—the original release of the pay-to-play game only managed to reach 130,000 players. Jumping into the free-to-play market may have saved their title, much like it did for T3Fun’s Hellgate: Global.

Gameplay: Glorified game of cops-and-robbers maybe doesn’t do it justice

In this game, it’s fun to be a cop (Enforcer) or a robber (Criminal.) In fact, while their quest mechanics differ slightly, the gameplay is virtually exactly the same across both sides and the mission structure also leads to similar clashes between the opposing factions.

If you’re a veteran of FPS games, then APB will come to you quickly. The only difference from the usual is that your character stands off to the left side of the screen although the crosshair indicator is in the center. The result is that sometimes I found myself firing from-the-hip and missing entirely because my brain told me the gun must be pointed elsewhere; of course, this quickly goes away in live fire situations because the whizzing bullets and the crosshairs become the only indicator I needed.

There’s a considerable number of weapons in the game but they seem to manage the normal, staid FPS setup: assault rifles, sub machine gun, handgun, shotgun, sniper rifle. Different types of ammo are available from vendors that add effects and extra damage, but come at some expense. There’s also grenades if you happen to find yourself finding someone with good cover or who has holed up around a corner.

In the game, you can hijack cars.

It’s an interesting gameplay element because some missions basically require a bit of coordination with your team to actually get things done. In fact, cars are instrumental to finishing collect-and-deliver missions anytime there’s more than 2 items to deliver. During these missions, the enemy team is trying to prevent you from making a delivery so having a car to speed 3 people carrying loot to the drop-off point is safer than trying to fight through the city streets.

Oh, and you can lean out of the window with your gun and mow people down as you drive past.

Driving in the game, however, could use a lot of work. Personally, I am a terrible Grand Theft Auto player because I cannot coordinate car physics with game physics; but I can drive reasonably well. In APB, driving a car is a lot like trying to pilot a Zamboni (although the guide does tell you that “drifting” around turns is ideal.) From what I understand the diving system used to be much worse; I am just a bad driver.

Fortunately, it’s just a learning curve problem more than anything else and other players will often gladly jump into the drivers seat and take the lead chauffeuring you around and giving you curb-side-service to the curb-stomping site.

Ordinarily, enemy faction players cannot just shoot you down in the street—although APB does run on a world PvP concept. Only when they’ve been “dispatched” against your team will they be enabled to PvP you and often this is because they’ve been given a competing mission (i.e. you’ve been sent to do something; they’ve been sent to stop you.) However, being too good a player can also get you targeted—if you manage to get enough prestige in the game you’ll be bonded for a bounty and suddenly everyone (well all the enemy faction) is after you.

Graphics and Sound: Buckle-up and customize, then it’s time to get your VoIP on

Character customization for APB is amazing.

When making a new character, the number of sliders capable of changing appearance is nothing short of daunting. There’s probably more than three dozen hair styles and other feature manipulations. For people who really love putting personality into their characters, they will love exploring all the minute fiddly-bits for their persona before leaping boots-first into the fast-and-furious world of cops and robbers.

I went with a weedy girl with spiked up purple hair and dark eyes for my character; however, there’s a lot more ways to infuse some personality into the character. More than once did I fall to a rain of bullets fired by a berserk afro-wearing Criminal (I recall this vividly as I’ve watched him walk over my lifeless corpse more than once during one particularly lopsided raid.)

APB runs on the Unreal Engine 3 so it’s nothing to sneeze at when it comes to graphical quality; although there’s a certain edged quality to most of the visuals, and especially the characters. This is mostly some gritty environmental decisions made about how they display, and probably a reduction of their total polygons so that it runs smoothly even on slightly older computers. The result produces something that one still expects out of games like Grand Theft Auto.

The sound fits pretty much any given FPS game. The cars vroom there’s sirens and horns available (in fact that’s a favorite method to tell a teammate to get in the car!) Gunfire can give you a good idea of where the firefight is taking place and how to home in on the bad guys to support your team.

Then there’s a VoIP. At first, it caught me by surprise; it’s integrated directly into the game. The default setting is press-to-talk; but it makes for an interesting affect if you just turn it on. Most people are mute—however, the game works so that when two factions are fighting during a PvP match nearby enemy players can also hear you. So sometimes they’ll taunt you.

Of course, with 3 million players some foulmouthed slangwhanger will pick up the mike; but this was not my experience. Everyone that I played with who put on the headset was polite—although often drier in wit than I’m used to—and focused primarily on the game and tactics. Your experience may vary.

Freemium: Most of the item shop is affordable, but the good stuff gets expensive fast

Much of the in game gear is obtained by leveling up with in-game contacts who then give you aesthetic outfit components and gear. It may take several hours of play and multiple wins, but there’s always something more interesting down the line and further contacts to move out to in each city borough. When that’s not enough for a free player, there’s a microtransaction item shop to purchase items from.

The item shop is called the Armas Marketplace. The transaction currency is the G1 Credit bought from GamersFirst. G1 credits run exactly 1.25¢ each.

In the market are premium weapons (that can be bought for permanent or for a short duration for a huge discount), aesthetic gear (including fonts, dances, emotes, etc.), and even cars. The costs for these vary widely but for the most part they seem pretty affordable. The marketplace even sells extra character slots for a modest price—the free-to-play model only supports two slots without purchasing the expansion.

For example, a sweet premium gun could cost you 4999 G1C ($62.49) for permanent or 719 G1C ($8.99) for 30 days. Not exactly the most affordable gun ever…but I guess nobody said that a N-HVR 243 Scout PR2 would be cheap. On second thought, anything that costs around $60 sounds unsatisfyingly expensive no matter how much bang-bang it has.

The game also offers a sort of premium subscription that gives greater cash and prestige rewards for the duration—the bonuses are quite considerable from 90% extra contact experience, 125% more cash from missions, and 20% off the Armas Market. It costs 999 G1C ($12.49) for 30 days.

Conclusion: APB has all the hallmarks it needs to be a really fun competitive cops-vs-robbers MMO

The original APB suffered horribly with a reputation for bad mechanics, poor gameplay, and a seriously hacker ridden demographic of players. I am not a veteran of the old game, but it looks like GamersFirst has put the screws to many of the old problems and they’ve worked hard on the game mechanics to make this a fun, and eventful game.

In fact, the almost-invisible team-choosing aspect that throws you in with a lot and then lets alerts crop up for you to run PvP missions together with your newfound team makes this game interesting and compelling. Although sometimes you might want to know what you’re doing before your rush to the location of the marker, most of the time all that worry is cast aside as a hail of copper jacketed death flies from nowhere when you stumble upon the opposing team.

In this faction, APB has created a deathmatch style game without having a lobby. The teams engaged in deathmatch and mission games are out in the city as you’re driving and running around—except that they’re “instanced” to each other in that only they get to kill one another when they’re dispatched against one another. It generates a much more compelling experience of gameplay than a game that throws you and all your enemy onto a given map.

As a result, I can see further mission and even event content being added to the game that would affect the entire player base.

APB: Reloaded has a great deal of potential as an MMOFPS. Especially in the cops-vs-robbers genre that has been popularized by games such as Grand Theft Auto for consoles and CrimeCraft in the MMO industry.