When I met with COO/CTO of Reloaded Productions, Bjorn Book-Larsson, at E3 2011 to discuss the upcoming launch of APB Reloaded I started off by sharing a quick anecdote from the original launch of All Points Bulletin last summer. Fresh out of the tutorial district, the Ten Ton Hammer editors formed a criminal posse and set out to cause some mayhem around the Financial District. Shortly thereafter we were automatically placed in our first missions against enforcer teams, and a comedy of errors quickly ensued.
We immediately realized that our starter vehicles werenÂt up to the task of providing proper transport to our mission objecties. For starters, they only seated 2 of our 4 team members so weÂd have to split the team to get anywhere. Secondly, they were just too slow and the opposing team beat us to mission objectives every single time. So it became apparent from the word go that weÂd have to borrow vehicles from the districtÂs wealthier NPC inhabitants to even stand a chance.
The real fun, however, kicked in the moment we arrived at objectives. Here we were armed with the basic pistols and rifles that all players fresh out of the tutorial start off with only to discover we were going up against a team armed to the teeth with rocket launchers, sniper rifles, and a wide assortment of grenades.
Needless to say, our first matches were downright frustrating, and we werenÂt alone in thinking the matchmaking system needed a major overhaul.
While the matchmaking system, shooter gameplay, advancement systems, and slim selection of gameplay types werenÂt the root cause of APBÂs rapid-fire inclusion on the shelf IÂve lovingly turned into an MMOG graveyard here in my office, for APB Reloaded to have any kind of impact for the gameÂs rebirth, they would still need to be addressed.
Bigger, Badder, and Better than Ever
In his report from E3 last week in ReloadingÂ Jeff gave our readers a quick rundown of the games weÂve nominated for our Best of E3 2011 awards. APB Reloaded is easily one of the most deserving nominees on the list in a category weÂve dubbed ÂBest RespawnÂ. Mind you, our awards nomination process was pretty intense, involving everything from inter-dimensional travel to some moments that would have made Fight Club enthusiast proud, so each nominee greatly deserves its inclusion on the list.
However, APB Reloaded is one of the truly standout titles from the event and absolutely worth a second look if youÂd perhaps experienced your own comedy of errors such as the one described above, or maybe you werenÂt sold on other important aspects of the game in its previous incarnation.
Having spent the past few weeks playing on the beta servers, I can honestly say that the game has improved in all the ways that count. To give you some idea of what that means, hereÂs a quick rundown of some of the most significant changes in the current beta build, as well as some notes on areas that Reloaded is actively working to address before the official launch in August.
Vastly Improved Matchmaking
The original APB used a pretty odd algorithm to determine who youÂd go up against during missions. This system has been vastly improved so that you should only be facing off against players of a similar skill level. To take this one step further, the game will suggest specific districts for you to join, again based on the concept of keeping players of similar skill levels in the same district. That way, when you opt to run missions you wonÂt have to worry about getting steamrolled constantly and can progress at a meaningful pace.
Perhaps one of my favorite changes to matchmaking is that you can now tell the game whether or not youÂre ready to run missions. In other words, the mission system is essentially opt-in which is a vast improvement. So just because you have a high threat level, that doesnÂt necessarily mean youÂll be pulled into missions regardless of being out of ammo and on your way to resupply.
This affords you the opportunity to browse available unlocks from your contacts, check your mail, mug locals for extra cash, or even socialize a bit more easily while in the action districts without constantly getting placed in missions that you may or may not be prepared for.
Sounds great so far, right? But what about the shooter gameplay? IÂm glad you asked.
Badass Shooter Gameplay
The basic shooter gameplay has also been greatly improved. Instead of weapon drift while aiming, each weapon now has a fitting amount of recoil making for tighter control across the board. This may seem like a small change, but during my time playing Reloaded I've noticed a significant boost in my overall accuracy since IÂm not constantly fighting against my own weapons.
A smaller, but very welcome cosmetic change has also been made to the animations when shooting from the windows of vehicles. Previously youÂd see your character contort in all sorts of bizarre positions when panning around to shoot in different directions. While it was pretty humorous to watch, it also got pretty annoying, so while a small fix itÂs greatly welcomed.
Another thing I was informed is currently being worked on is the graphics for missed shots. Due to the sheer volume of gunfire happening in a district at any given time, missed shots are given a lower rendering priority out of necessity. The downside is that it gives the appearance of your opponents effectively one-shotting you since you donÂt have the visual feedback of how many shots they took that didnÂt hit their mark. This may seem like a small thing, but it's one that I personally can't wait to see addressed moving forward.
On the Horizon
A number of new additions are also being worked on that will be rolling into the beta over the coming weeks leading up to the August launch for APB Reloaded. Here is a quick rundown of some of them that I learned more about during my discussion with Bjorn at E3.
This week marks the beginning of closed testing for what I believe will be one of the most welcome additions to the core gameplay that APB Reloaded has to offer: the Clan Warfare system.
Up until now, having a clan to play with in-game is a nice perk and a handy way to socialize with your friends, but doesnÂt really offer any real incentives for players to utilize it as a feature. Clan warfare will turn that on its ears by opening up a third action district that players will fight to control. Running missions against enemy clans is one thing, but being able to see your custom graphics displayed on buildings throughout a district under your control adds a much greater sense of ownership to the core activities found within the game.
Clan warfare will allow between 8 and 20 clan members to fight one another in ranked deathmatches in the new Clan Districts being added specifically for the new gameplay type. Not only will this add a much-requested gameplay mode into the mix, but it gives clans more purpose since youÂll be able to fight your way up the clan ladder and rankings. The Reloaded team is currently deciding whether or not same-faction clans will be able to battle it out, but discussing it with Bjorn we both agreed that it would be pretty cool to have criminal vs. criminal or enforcer vs. enforcer warfare, though we'll have to wait and see if that's implemented in the official release.
The original action districts, Waterfront and Financial, are expertly crafted, but a greater variety is another oft-requested feature. This is where The Asylum District comes into play.
While exact details of what The Asylum will bring to the table are still under wraps, itÂs described to be more of a close-quarters combat area just outside the city limits. Criminals and Enforcers will vie for control over an abandoned facility which sounds as though it will play host to some truly epic shootouts. This focused area gameplay will be a welcome addition, and provide a nice contrast to the vastly larger action districts currently available.
Did Somebody Say Death Race 3000?
A common complaint when it comes to vehicles is that even the fastest currently available in-game donÂt seem to move as quickly as they should in the action districts. As I learned at E3, the reason for this is a core limitation of the Unreal engine. In a nutshell, the engine literally canÂt render the game fast enough if vehicles were to move any faster than the current top speeds. So itÂs not so much a design decision as it is a technical limitation of the engine.
ThatÂs where the new Racing district will come into play. Bjorn described this to me as Âthink of the movie Death Race 3000 and that will give you some idea of what to expectÂ.
The racing districts are not only being crafted in such a way that the engine has less trouble rendering the environment quickly enough to see some truly epic vehicle speeds, but theyÂll also add a whole new layer of depth to creating custom vehicles.
As the description implies, the races will be true to the concept of death races in that blowing up your opponents will no doubt prove to be as vital to being first across the finish line as your driving skills. So players will have an entirely different meta-game to chew on when it comes to collecting and customizing vehicles, and itÂs a system I honestly canÂt wait to dive into.
The Price is Right
Of course one of the biggest changes for the launch of APB Reloaded is that it will be free-to-play. Before you start listing out all the usual complaints about item shops and nickel and dime shenanigans, donÂt let the business model be a deterrent from checking the game out. From what I learned at E3, the item shop is largely going to consist of cosmetic unlocks, as the Reloaded team is adamant about keeping player skill the number 1 determining factor in your successes in the game.
If all of the above additions and improvements still havenÂt sold you on the fact that you really need to give APB Reloaded a closer look, you can dive into the open beta and decide for yourself. You can sign up for a GamersFirst account and dive right into San Paro at the official APB Reloaded site. Please note that some of the new districts mentioned above, like the Clan Warfare district, are currently being added to the beta for closed testing but should make it into the open beta later this summer prior to the August launch.
In the meantime, I thoroughly encourage you to give the game a shot and see for yourself why itÂs been nominated for one of Ten Ton HammerÂs Best of E3 2011 awards. YouÂll no doubt thank me later.