How the combat has developed in APB & APB: Reloaded

The combat in the launch version of APB was weak. The design team knew, the QA team knew and the beta players knew. Unfortunately that wasn’t enough to get it fixed. After receiving massive criticism and scathing reviews, it has been addressed. This article will look at the changes in the two months following the launch of APB and the further changes made in APB: Reloaded.

The weapons in 1.1 weren’t perfectly balanced with nearly everyone using the NTEC once unlocked and upgraded weapons bossing the districts. In truth they weren’t completely unbalanced, however because the Ntec was classed as being over powered by some of the players, everyone started using it. As such when a newer player was killed, chances are that it was by this weapon. Whilst any balancing changes can be tweaked and improved, there were more fundamental issues with the combat. The audio was lacking and without recoil or any graphical effects when shooting, firing your weapon lacked “oomphf” and didn’t feel as solid or gritty as most modern shooters. Whilst this isn’t entirely a game ruining thing for a fast & fluid action game, especially compared to the opposite end of the spectrum, it didn’t create a good impression for new players.

Within a few weeks of launch the development team at Realtime Worlds already had completely overhauled this with recoil, post processing effects and much beefier sounding audio. Suddenly the game felt a lot newer, a lot more modern. Whilst I don’t think that it substantially improved the core experience, the benefit to those initial impressions would be immense. These changes managed to make it to the mainstream and were very well received. It wasn’t perfect but it was good enough that people returning would be impressed and anyone new to the game wouldn’t be put off as before.

Combat isn’t just limited to weapons. There were many other flaws such as too much text in the messaging, level design was god awful and spawning was terrible. Add in the deathscreens, taunting you that you were killed by a player with better and more upgrades. The later APB patches did see the messaging get revamped. Whilst this may seem minor, it can’t be underestimated. Knowing what is going on around you is important and the original idea within APB was to tell you EVERYTHING going on. APB quickly became an essay and just like the tutorial messages, messages were ignorable. Players were then left wondering why they didn’t know that the stage was finished, whether they got the kill or assist or that their team mates were dead.

Post launch messages were added providing kill, stun, arrest and assist notifications with a nice clear icon and text. The sizes and colour of some messages were adjusted to differentiate them, although without an update to add a shadow effect they aren’t entirely clear. Another positive addition was the changes to the top right, the Action HUD. Finally catching up with the 21st Century, kills are now displayed in the simple but effective <name> <weapon> <name> style. Clear and lets you know exactly what’s going on, although I would have liked it to be a bit bigger! Whilst some messages were removed and some shortened, there was and still is too much text in the game. I’d strongly encourage the Reloaded chaps to have another pass and try to remove more and more of the text. You do need to strike a balance of informing the player of what’s going on, from combat to progression to the celebrity that APB pushed whilst ensuring that messages aren’t too frequent, making them ignorable or just taking some of the impact out of key messages.

Combat improvements haven’t stopped with APB, but APB: Reloaded includes further improvements. I can’t comment on weapon balance as I’ve not had enough experience but there are some nice changes. The radar now shows your team mates (strangely removed during development), providing greater awareness of what’s around you and dying has been revamped! This was actually a change by RTW but I don’t believe it saw light of day until Reloaded got everything back up and running. Now the camera pans away and a message, similar to the kill notifications appears with the weapon icon. This gives players a chance to see what is around them, maybe explain how they died and rather than showing all the upgrades, its just the weapon. This was quickly put together the day before Realtime Worlds went into administration and disappointing it is using the same weapon icons as I put in for playtesting, awaiting new ones from the UI art team.

Spawning was a major issue with players spawning miles away or at the same point. Whilst this has supposidly been massively improved (according to patch notes), during my games so far it doesn’t seem the case as I’m still spawning in the same spot over and over. The jury is still out on whether they’ve actually made any improvements here.

From what I can understand, the Reloaded chaps are looking to make combat a lot quicker with just a couple of shots to kill. I can see where they are coming from to some extent. Games like Modern Warfare thrive on being able to quickly down your opponent so to attract the modern FPS player, surely it should be the same? However I don’t think APB is suited to this style of combat. It could be, but not with the current level design. There are lots of wide open areas that the player must cross with little cover, if any at all. For a half decent group it is very easy to hold a position and slaughter anyone approaching. A complete overhaul of both spawning and level design will be required before this is a viable combat change. Given it takes at least a year to build a full district and the current two aren’t flexible enough… don’t get your hopes up. The other level design issue, camping, was somewhat addressed by the RTW team but it is still an issue.

Finally a big topic. Headshots were never included in APB and I can’t see that changing in the foreseeable future for APB: Reloaded. There were two reasons why this decision was made. First of all, aimbots. Whilst it certainly didn’t stop aimbots, least the effect was a little bit neutralised. The second was to create a more even playing field, making it easier for less able players to compete. When I look at some of the older FPS titles on the market, they are impossible to get into because of experienced twitch players dominating so for APB to live a long healthy life, it had to be possible for a nub to stand a chance. To be honest, it doesn’t bother me as APB is much more about tactics and movement than twitch skill. Maybe locational damage will come in a ruleset but I’m quite happy to let those obsessed with their own ability to move on and let APB have a more accessible combat system.

On a fairly unrelated note, I think I’m starting to learn something about the success earned from different approaches. When working on APB pre-launch changes were decided by those in high positions, often on a whim with the rest of the team (including design) having little say. The end result was little positive movement and a “no risk” approach leading to a failed product. Post launch saw everyone scurrying around making changes, then asking for the approval. Whilst this did lead to major improvements, it was still rough around the edges and required code & design’s equivalent of duct tape to patch it all together. The Reloaded chaps seem to be quite happy to play with things when and how they feel. End result is they seem to make and break things but ultimately iterate towards a net gain. None of these are a good approach and I hope that either I’m wrong, or the Reloaded guys are working on a long term strategy.

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