Once the mission chain is over, due to a faction victory or the time limit being hit, plaudits and cash are doled out to the worthy and battle ceases. Everyone stands, once more unable to shoot each other, and share a happily awkward post-action breather before going their separate ways. Some choose to /dance.
My personal highlight during my playtest as a criminal came when I tormented a defeated Enforcer with an exploratory /wave amidst the burning wreckage of our previous dealings. There was a pause of a few seconds as my foe worked out how to return a friendly salutation, as I watched a friend steal a sports car 50 metres behind him and accelerate towards his back.
I estimate the Enforcer got through around four frames of his happy waving animation before his broken ragdoll somersaulted skywards. I could honestly have died laughing.
It's these moments of unscripted hilarity that APB frequently delights with. Your first hours within its districts will be happy ones indeed, but as to whether the game will retain you for the hundreds of hours that a successful MMO expects of its players is still an unknown quantity. An opening problem is an unfair, yet important, consideration: APB is not Grand Theft Auto IV.
GHOST OF NICO
This is pernickety, but almost everyone who goes into APB will have experienced Niko Bellic's adventures - and when you first play the game there's a mental barrier in that the Grand Theft Auto mechanics you expect either aren't present or aren't (in APB's beta at least) as honed. It seems strange that you can't shoot a driver through a windscreen, it niggles that the car-exit animations are laborious in comparison to Rockstar's, the lack of motorbikes is evident, and the grungy character of Liberty City is absent in the wipe-clean exteriors of San Paro.
Most of these issues could be cleared up as the game develops over the months and years post-release, of course, but I can't sit here and pretend that I didn't feel sad when APB's burning cars didn't blow up in the fashion to which I am accustomed. Crimes such as ramraiding and mugging too seem somewhat mechanical and, I dare say, MMO-ey. Shallow and unthinking criticisms I know, but I can't deny what my brain told me it was thinking.
A larger issue is simply whether APB's combat is too simplistic, and whether over time familiarity will dim the pleasures of the relatively basic multiplayer conceits that adorn the top layer of a frankly remarkable player-matching system. The back-end of APB is so clever, so complex and so ingenious that the actual top-end gameplay does seem a little facile in comparison - it doesn't feel that there's much room for hugely tactical play, for example, and you frequently find yourself standing stock-still as you hose an enemy with bullets rather than frantically dashing around the place to seek cover.
Then again, as with all MMOs, the release of APB is widely seen as the beginning of its ongoing development rather than Dave Jones whipping his scarf over his shoulder and saying "And that's the end of that chapter!" There's a three-year plan in place, and the game will evolve according to player demand: new areas will be made available, new game modes will emerge and existing mechanics will be tweaked.
As you wander around Real Time Worlds' studios it's clear that there are plans to somehow incorporate what are potentially more scripted engagements from enigmatic scribbles on whiteboards - events like bank jobs, heists and raids on supermarkets. You genuinely begin to feel that the Financial and Waterfront districts are something of the tip of the iceberg, and that a mass of potential content is waiting beneath the waterline.