APB

Liberty city.

Let's start with the hardest question to answer. Is APB (All Points Bulletin), the new online game from the makers of Crackdown, an MMO?

Each copy of APB's San Paro - a contemporary, crime-ridden city, a violent playground for gangs of cops and robbers - will host 100 players. By the standards of an online shooter, that's a lot. By the standards of a thousands-strong World of Warcraft server, it's small. By the standards of EVE Online's single universe, it's minuscule. APB's claim on the "massive" part of "massively multiplayer" is looking rather slim, especially when the likes of Zipper's MAG, with its 256-player matches, aren't considered by most to qualify.

But massively multiplayer gaming isn't just about numbers. It's also about persistence, a sense of place, a sense of ownership, and of course, it's about other people. In a true MMO, the interaction between players - even if it's no more than the knowledge that you're sharing a world with them while you go about your own business - is equal to, greater than or synonymous with the game itself.

By that criteria, APB could well turn out to be one of the purest examples of the massively multiplayer online game since EVE.

The only characters you'll ever fight will be other players, and the clothes you wear and car you drive in the game will probably be designed by other players, if you didn't make them yourself. You'll steal from, sell to and shoot real people all the time, even if you never talk to them. APB is 100 per cent player-versus-player, with the game's missions substituting dynamic, real-time match-making for crafted encounters with hapless AI. This is what developer Realtime Worlds calls "players as content". It's quite scary. In a good way.

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Enforcers will be able to have just as aggressive a street style as criminals - you'll know them by their badges.

So if you ask me, APB is very much an MMO. It's the supposedly easier questions that are harder to answer. Questions such as: when's it out, what formats is it on, and why haven't we seen it properly yet? This preview is based on an E3 presentation that, while fascinating, wasn't much more than a few videos loaded into PowerPoint, and the game itself was notably absent.

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