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Cops and Robbers

APB is bringing the MMO concept to the third-person shooter.

Some of the more hotly anticipated massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) of the next generation are strangely absent from E3. Others, like The Old Republic, exist only in CGI form. But in their absence, Scottish developer Realtime Worlds has used the conference as a coming out party for its MMO third-person shooter, All Points Bulletin (APB).

There are many reasons why we should be excited about APB. Realtime Worlds’s founder is industry stalwart David Jones, whose company DMA Designs delivered some of the great titles of days gone by. Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto were the two enduring memories left by DMA design, who became Rockstar Games about the time that Jones left. After a stint at the ‘style over substance’ developer Rage Software, he founded Realtime Worlds in 2002. The company has released one game to date, the well-regarded Crackdown for Xbox 360.

APB initially sounded like a massively multiplayer version of Crackdown, but this has largely been down to a general lack of information about the game. Unlike games in the fantasy-dominated, massively multiplayer online role-playing game genre, APB is likened to an MMO Counter-Strike – the emphasis is on player versus player gunfights rather than scripted bosses.

The game’s structure involves cities, each with 10,000 players (think shards or servers in other MMOs). These cities are broken down into districts that hold 100 players. Players can choose to either join forces with the cops, or become criminals. The gameplay emerges as a kind of dynamic matchmaking – criminals commit crimes and the game sends APBs to those on the law side to stop said crime. Criminal gangs can also take on other gangs, creating plenty of spontaneous combat opportunity. The focus is more upon skill than traditional MMO leveling, but there is promise of progression both in notoriety and in character development terms.

While the meat of gameplay still remains a mystery, E3 demos have given a deeper look into the insanely customisable characters. As the below video shows, the options are broad, ranging from the ability to customise tattoos and clothing, to altering body shape, size, and colour. This should allow for unique characters, and from what Dave Jones has been saying about the game and its focus on notoriety, appearance and gang colours will likely become an important part of player interactions. There is also the ability to customise vehicles to a similar level.

APB is on track to launch early in 2010. While that particular time frame looks increasingly crowded with MMO releases, APB’s competition looks to be titles more like Left 4 Dead 2 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 than traditional MMOs.