Yesterday, I examined APB's core gameplay, and while I found it lacking, I hoped it could at least in part be made up for by the incredibly detailed customization system. With a series of in-game editors and marketplaces, you can personalize every aspect of your character, from what you wear and carry, to custom-designed vehicles and even hand-crafted signature killing tunes.
I spent about one-quarter of my game time hanging out in APB's Social District (a non-combat, free-to-play section of the game), trying to create some new clothing, shop the game's marketplace, and build some colorful wheels. Unfortunately, while APB's editors allow for a lot of creativity, Realtime Worlds hasn't implemented many ways to reward it.
If you want to create something, anything great in APB, the tools are there. There's an extremely full-featured symbol designer, and vehicles and clothing can be painted, logoed, and styled in any way you want. While most of the vehicles on the marketplace a week after launch consist of General Lee replicas and a disturbing number of "Pedobear Vans," I have no doubt that the truly creative among San Paro's population will be able to create plenty of distinctive items with these editors.
The music editor (all of the editors are accessed by booths in the virtual environment) is also surprisingly powerful. You can create MIDI tunes with multiple tracks that are played post-kill on opponents' screens, and the marketplace currently offers fan-made renditions of everything from Zelda to Rickrolls to Dr. Dre tunes.
The problem with all of these editors, however, is that you need skill to use them in the first place. Even 20 minutes in with the music editor, I wasn't able to put anything listenable together, much less a symphony worthy of my destruction. I tried to make a cool-looking version of the Batmobile, but all I ended up with was a black coupe with a Batman logo on the side. If you've got design skills, the editors will let you make some really great stuff, but if, like me, you're not a designer at heart, you'll be reduced to buying everyone else's stuff off of the clumsy marketplace.
Elsewhere in the social district there's ... not much besides promise of things to come. There are statues all over that will supposedly be replaced with images of top players. There are various cars set up for display, and so presumably cool designs will be highlighted there as well, but right now they're all under virtual tarps. There are a few bars and a movie theater, but even a week after launch, all of that is either roped off and inactive or empty.
The game does offer progression in the customization areas (you can level up as a "Fashionista" or "Tuner") but that's achieved by simply spending time in the corresponding editing screen -- in other words, standing around waiting for your level to tick up. No wonder the Social District is littered with people doing just that.
The game's clans are all but inactive as well. I tried to join a couple of different clans (basically guilds that can outfit their members with their own logos and designs), but trying to call up names from forum recruiting posts got me nowhere in game, and random callouts to the chat channel offered nothing either. I never saw a strong clan running around in game, flashing colors or running missions together. These things take time, of course, but a week after launch, it's disappointing to still see that lack of community.
If you want to look a certain way or drive a certain car in APB, you can. There hasn't been a more detailed set of customization editors in an MMO ever. But APB's gameplay doesn't really encourage that customization, and the editors are almost too complicated for the design-challenged. The Social District has plenty of potential, but Realtime Worlds hasn't delivered quite yet.
Tomorrow: Realtime Worlds' future plans for APB, and an overall rating for the game.