There's also a 'heat' gauge, which sounds like checks and balances for the 1-15 rating level. If you're on a really hot streak as an Enforcer, for example, you fill up a badge icon on the left of the HUD. This gives you a single star. Fill it up a few more times and you can get to a maximum of five. When this happens though, the server green-lights you for the whole district, and 50 rather bitter Criminals are alerted to your location and given the right to run you over or shoot you as they please, whether you're matchmade with them or not. You can log out for a while, or visit one of the non-violent districts (the social one, or one of the spawn areas) to cool it down again, or you can get killed, which does the same.
Tough it out at five stars and the rewards are much greater when you complete missions, and it's these rewards - cash to spend on customising things, patching up your car or whatever, but more importantly access to other weapons and weapon upgrades - that look to give you a traditional MMO sense of persistence and progression. Mark Rein's avatar does a dance as the mission dispenser tells him he's got a new rifle and a dart-gun. There are several base weapons - assault rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns, pistols and grenades - to be unlocked and upgraded. There's even a rocket launcher, but it sounds rather elusive.
Custom items, like Chris Collins' rather fetching sportscar with its painstakingly appointed decals and paintwork, are dealt with as equipment. The car's effectively a mount that you pick up at a spawn point or garage if you've lost track of it or swapped it for a mission-specific vehicle somewhere along the way, and players' custom rides can't be jacked by other players. They can be dented, and even blown up, but they come back at the whim of your wallet.
It all seems to make sense, and Collins and Rein both make mention of how slick they find the experience, which is evident on-screen. Respawns in matchmade battles drop you around 150 metres away from the heart of the action after a five-second break (arrests take out Criminals for 20 seconds). And there are neat little touches all over, like the option for Enforcers to call for backup if they're taking a hammering - a call that goes out to and may be answered by other nearby Enforcers. It's hard to watch Collins and Rein taking a call, sparking the rooftop blue-and-whites and racing to someone's assistance, without wishing you were at the controls.
Hopefully, the next time we get to talk to you about APB that's where we'll be. Collins says a closed beta is "weeks rather than months away", and with that Realtime Worlds will start making adjustments (they're waiting to see whether there's player demand for melee actions, for example), and perhaps we will get to experience the alternative "chaos" ruleset, where anyone can mess with anyone else at any time.
"I'm so looking forward to this," Mark Rein says at the end of the demo, having just cuffed a suspect only for Collins to comically blow his head off. "I think people have no idea how good this is until they get their hands on it." I dunno - I'm getting a pretty good sense of it.
APB is due out for PC in 2010.