Life in San Paro is pretty simple. Rob as a Criminal, or stop Criminals as an Enforcer. I chose to be an Enforcer, and after a short tutorial level, fell into the standard MMO grind -- go here, pick this up, go there, rinse and repeat. Unlike most MMOs, APB plays like a shooter -- there's a reticule, and you've got to line it up on your target to get anything done. But its "missions" are definitely MMO fare -- they're standard, multi-step and pretty interchangeable: hold this point, deliver this item, steal this car.
But here's how APB sets itself apart: while you play the game, you're constantly being offered missions and being grouped with people on the same job, but the other side is getting offers too. When they're paired up in the same mission you are, an APB goes out, sirens flash on the screen, and then it's on, one faction against another.
It's a cool trick, and it does add quite a bit of variety to the surprisingly small number of missions available at launch. In one night of play, you'll probably see the same missions pop up more than three or four times, sometimes back-to-back. The locations will be different, but the titles and objectives are the same. Despite the repetition, knowing that at any moment you'll have the opposing side breathing down your neck, or pulling into a delivery point only to find that they've camped it and are ready for a fight, keeps the game interesting for a while.
Sadly, not long enough. What APB's really missing in terms of gameplay is a real sense of progression. You'll be doing exactly the same task five minutes into the game as you'll be doing fifty hours in. While there are various sub-factions to earn reputation with that unlock bigger weapons, and a few stats (Notoriety for Criminals and Prestige for Enforcers) that go up and down based on your performance at any given moment, nothing really changes. No zones are conquered, no wars are won, no faction-wide rewards are granted. Even when you're doing it right, it's just mission after mission after mission, and while you are unlocking new weapons or bits of customization, all you get is a small text notice in the chat bar. Nothing about the gameplay ever changes.
Criminals can commit crimes on their own, stealing cars or holding up pedestrians for extra money and points. And Enforcers can "call in" crimes when they happen, or call out for backup (sharing the mission with others) when overwhelmed. And both sides can earn bounties by hunting down especially deadly opponents when someone does well. But the game is go here, and kill or be killed before the time limit is over. If that idea bores you, the game will, too.
I should mention one thing in terms of the controls: for me, they were laggy, and my shots suffered. This may not be all the fault of Realtime Worlds -- the game is loading a lot of things from moment to moment, and at 2gb of RAM in my PC, I was 2gb under their recommended system requirements. In my defense, almost 40% of PC gamers are in the same situation I am, according to the latest Steam survey, and there's no accounting for skill -- I'll admit that my K/D ratio isn't very high from mission to mission even without lag. But you'll need a nice rig to play the game, and some shooting skills along with it if you want to really succeed.
The APB mechanic of pitting players against each other works, and the issue of repetition could be fixed with a few updates (considering that they don't consist of much more than a paragraph of text and a few in-world checkpoints, I'm hopeful there will be many more added to the game). But MMOs are all about progression, and in that regard, APB's gameplay doesn't really go anywhere.
Tomorrow: Shopping, composing, and graphic design in the Social District.