APB

Stop in the game of the law!

Mark Rein, star of the maddest thing we've ever published, is a lot of things. He's a former id Software play-tester. He's a vice president of Epic Games. He's a shameless promoter of Unreal Engine 3. He's a fantastic conversation. Today though, Mark Rein is a cop.

He's helping Realtime Worlds demonstrate APB, playing through a series of missions with the game's community officer Chris Collins, and everything's going as expected. He's wearing a grin, and a button-up shirt with a big Unreal logo stamped on the back, and he's drawing our attention to the fact APB runs on Unreal Engine 3 in his usual, friendly showman's patter - with the usual, inflected trace of apprehension, as though he can't quite believe he gets away with banging on about Unreal Engine 3 all the time without someone slapping him. The only difference is that he's leaning out of the window of a sportscar firing an assault rifle.

Because Mark Rein isn't just playing as a cop - thanks to APB's quite staggeringly awesome character-creator, he actually is the cop. The cop doesn't just look like Mark Rein, he's unmistakable. If I ever see Mark Rein climbing up a ladder to empty a clip into a gangbanger at close range in real life, this is what it will look like.

But I'm not here to see the character creator again, and I'm not here to see Mark Rein (who himself isn't here - he's in the 20-minute gameplay video I'm watching in a private EA theatre at PAX, but his voice is brought to us by a discrete audio track of him and Collins commentating on their actions, recorded previously). I'm here to finally see gameplay from APB - Realtime Worlds' 100 per cent player-versus-player MMO, where 50 Enforcers and 50 Criminals do battle in each 'district' of a 100,000-strong server, being constantly matchmade into battles against one another as their mission arcs are literally brought into conflict.

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The game will ship with three districts - financial, waterfront and social.

APB plays out like a standard third-person shooter. You move around and jump with the keys, hit an action button to enter cars, climb ledges and interact with things in the world, scroll through weapons with the mousewheel, right-click to zoom and click away on the left button to fire. The missions at PAX involve transporting briefcases to drop-off points in an armoured van, getting into gunfights amongst freight cars on railway sidings, and stuff like that.

APB, though, is clearly a thoughtful and accomplished shooter. There's a grand old full-screen map of the city, San Paro, but there's no need to show us this because the interface - uncluttered by MMO standards - directs you with an economy of widgets and gizmos. Accepting a mission is a simple yes/no prompt. The top-right of the screen shows instructions and how many stages there are to the mission. On-screen arrows indicate the position of team-members, relevant items and objective markers with unexpected clarity.

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