Each server will house 100,000 players. That should ensure each version of fictional city San Paro feels nice and busy.
As a Criminal your job is to run over pedestrians, mug them, break into their shops and steal their cars; basically, cause as much havoc as possible. As an Enforcer, your job is to stop the Criminals in their tracks. This is what APB is all about.
You'd think, then, that the Criminals and the Enforcers would hate each other. Not just any old hate - the kind that's always overused and applied to everything - but spit in your face if I see you walking in the street hate. There's probably an element of that, but such strong emotion betrays the dependency the two rival factions have on one another. APB's Criminals and Enforcers are intrinsically linked. Without one another, APB would be nothing.
This, I discover during a hands-on session at EA's recent spring showcase, is what's most interesting about Realtime Worlds' Grand Theft Auto MMO, as it's so often been described. Sure, the character customisation, which we've seen at previous events, is incredible, and the game's business model, which allows players to sell user created gubbins to other players for game time, is genuinely interesting. But APB will live or die on the quality of its combat; the simple act of shooting people in the face; the innovative, perhaps even revolutionary way Criminals and Enforcers depend on each other to have fun. As a Criminal, there is no fun in the mindless destruction of AI-controlled flesh and bone, the burning of virtual cars that belong to no-one, or the stealing of cash no-one wants to spend. The fun comes when someone not only cares that you're acting like a tool, but clips you around the ear for it.
I am in the Financial District of San Paro, one of two action districts that'll be live in time for the game's release. I am hanging out of the passenger window of a car, shooting pedestrians in the face for no reason other than I think it's funny. Someone from Dundee, where Realtime Worlds is based, is driving. Another journalist is hanging out of the backseat window, also taking pot shots. We run over lots of people. Lots of them. They scream as they crumble under the force of our metal monstrosity. We are building up notoriety, which, hopefully, will drive the Enforcers crazy.
Our team leader accepts a mission, which then pops up on the top right hand corner of the screen. We are to drive to four cars and burn them. Their locations are clearly visible because APB's objective marker, displayed on the HUD, is brilliant. It only takes a few minutes to get to the first car. I get out, using the classic W,A,S,D control scheme to move, and Shift to sprint, then press F to begin pouring petrol all over the vehicle. Once done, I light the fuel. The car erupts in a blaze of fire. I run back to our getaway car - inside my two companions are waiting patiently. Then we drive off towards the next car.
It's not long before an APB - All Points Bulletin - is sent out to Enforcers who are in the vicinity. They will have seen the APB logo flash on their screen, an alert that the game has dynamically matched them as our opponents. There is no lobby. No server to select. No waiting. All this has been done in real time, which, given the name of the developer, is the least you would expect. I am also alerted. I know we are in trouble. The Enforcers are coming.
The engagement begins as a sort of urban vehicle-on-vehicle drive by. I am pumping as much lead from my assault rifle into the enemy car and its passengers as rapid presses of the left mouse button will allow, occasionally zooming in for increased accuracy with a click of the right mouse button. Eventually, our bonnet starts to wave the white flag - smoke is billowing out. "It's going to explode," says my team leader through the game's team-based voice chat. "You'd better get out." I heed his advice.