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Sunday, 29 May 2016

APB (Atari Games/Tengen, 1987)


Developed and released for the arcades by Atari Games.

Designed by Mike Hally; Programmed by Russell Dawe and David Theurer, with technical support from Alan Murphy; Graphics by Mark West; Sounds by Brad Fuller, Hal Canon and Earl Vickers.

Converted for the Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum 48k/128k by Walking Circles: Programming by David Beresford, Graphics by Graham Stafford and David Fish, Sounds by David Whittaker. Published by Domark in 1989.

Converted for the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga by Walking Circles: Programming by David Selwood, Graphics by Andrew Page and David Fish, Sounds by David Whittaker. Published by Domark in 1989.

Converted for the Commodore 64 by Walking Circles: Programming by Carleton Handy, Sounds by David Whittaker, Title screen by David Fish. Published by Domark in 1989.

Converted for the IBM-PC compatibles by Walking Circles, and published by Domark in 1989. Sounds by David Whittaker. No further credits known.

Converted for the Atari Lynx by Atari Games Corp.: Programming and sounds by Robert Barris, Graphics by Shann Chastain, Arlene Caberto Somers and David Nelson, Music by Dave Bean, Movie projector by William C. Fisher. Published by Atari/Tengen in 1991.

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GAME STATUS


Okay, it's time to fulfill another request/suggestion, and against my better judgment, I have chosen another late 80's Atari product, although I can't claim having enjoyed doing the comparison of Toobin' some time ago. Anyway, this one goes to a WoS user by the name of Slenkar (again) - I hope this was worth the wait.

I have to confess APB (short for All Points Bulletin) never really caught my attention before, and the few times I've tried it previously, it still failed to catch it. The reason for it might be that the home conversions aren't particularly good, if any of the ratings are to be believed. As for the arcade original, for a change, Arcade Museum has a user-based KLOV/IAM score for this, a well above average 3.66 out of 5.0, although only 5 people have voted for it. At the time of writing this, the current score at World of Spectrum is 6.82 from 24 votes, 39 Lemon64 voters have given the C64 version a score of 6.3, 6 voters at Atarimania have given the ST version a rating of 5.8, and at LemonAmiga, the score is a rather predictable 6.5 from 40 votes. See a pattern? Even the Amstrad conversion has a score of 14.60 out of 20.00 at CPC-Softs, but the sole reviewer at CPC Game Reviews seems to have liked it enough to give it a 9 out of 10. The user rating for the DOS version at MyAbandonware is currently 3.73 out of 5.0 from 11 votes, which is the most realistically optimistic score of the lot. As expected, there are no ratings for the Lynx version around.

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DESCRIPTION & REVIEW


To anyone unfamiliar with the term, an all-points bulletin is a radio message sent to every officer in a police force giving details of a suspected criminal or a stolen vehicle. As if the arcade cabinet artwork or the home conversion's cover art didn't give it away, you take the role of a rookie police officer called Bob, whose job it is to drive around the city, giving tickets to slightly offending motorists and pulling over more serious criminals, but occasionally, you also need to chase and shoot criminals with an APB on them. In basic terms, the game is a (mostly) vertically scrolling vehicular combat game, sort of in the vein of Spy Hunter, but a bit more complex and more difficult. In fact, it has been said that due to the extended development process of APB, the game became more difficult and complex than was originally intended, so it's no wonder it might not have been an easy game to get right on home platforms.

For an arcade game, it has a surprising amount of depth to it, which I will get to soon enough. With a good amount of practice and an analog controller fitted for your preferences, APB can be an interesting and refreshing experience, and I have to say, I found myself enjoying the arcade original more than I would have expected, even if I have only played it on MAME so far. As for the home conversions, I cannot say much of them yet, because I haven't given any of them a proper attempt before now - let's see at the end of it, what is there to say. But if nothing else, I can whole-heartedly recommend the arcade game to any gamer looking for something a bit different.

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PLAYABILITY


How APB basically works, is that you drive around in your police car in a very similar manner to other top-down racing games - push the pedal to the floor and steer with the wheel, and push the siren and fire buttons when instructed or necessary. Since the home conversions don't have a steering wheel, it's joystick or redefinable keyboard controls, and only one button. Naturally, this kind of takes away from the depth, since you cannot actually shoot just about anything in the game with only one button. And, oh yeah, before I forget, and if it wasn't clear enough already, APB is a single-player only experience.

Depth comes into the play in various ways, and I'm not even quite sure where to start with it all. As your job is to catch traffic offenders and other criminals at loose, you also have to make sure you don't wail your sirens or shoot innocent bypassers, as doing something you're not supposed to will add a mark of demerit. You have a limit of 9 demerits before you're fired, and demerits can also be gathered up from bumping into other cars, crashing your patrol car, and bumping into villains without your sirens wailing (you must remember to play by protocol!) among other things, so it's easy enough to get yourself out of work. Of course, the original arcade game lets you continue from the point you were fired on by feeding the machine some coins, a feature not translated to any other than the LYNX conversion. At least the AMIGA, ST and LYNX versions allow you to have slightly more demerits before you're kicked out: 11 for ST and LYNX, 12 for AMIGA. But you might be surprised, how very different the two 16-bit home conversions actually are - this is only the beginning.

There is also a time limit you must reach your quota within, but you can get some extra time from hitting certain targets and going through the Donut Shop. The list of inconveniences doesn't end there, though: you also have to look out for your fuel gauge, and go to refueling stations whenever necessary. Happily, you don't have to do anything other than drive onto the refueling platforms in order to get your patrol car refueled, and then leave when you feel like it. To balance the surprisingly great number of inconveniences, there are also upgrade shops you can drive through, which will offer you different enhancements for your patrol car: acceleration boosters, guns, better brakes, a radar, armor, etc. In order to purchase these upgrades, you need to have some money (revenues) from completing your daily missions, but of course you can exceed your quota by picking up hitch-hikers and other people in need of help, as well as pulling off more traffic offenders than required. However, you can only pick up one item per day from the upgrade shops. The day ends when the clock fills up or when you park your patrol car in your parking spot at the police station after having filled your quota.

In the event that you manage to capture an APB, you have to beat the clock and bring him/her to the station, so that you can gather up some more bonus points by getting a confession out of the crook. To get a confession, the game puts you through a small sports-like event, where you need to either tap two buttons alternately very quickly, or waggle the joystick left and right, before your boss reaches the door and sees you committing a violation.

APB doesn't have an ending, the game just goes on and on until you decide to call it a day, but the 15th and final criminal the police headquarters will put an APB on (Billy Bob Jack) appears in level 31. Some websites say that there are only 10 APB villains, so I'm assuming this concerns the home conversions. While this is all to prove a point about memory capacity on arcade games vs. home computers, the more interesting thing about this arcade game vs. home conversions is what's behind all the dip switches. The cabinet-related extras aside, you have the possibility to choose your number of maximum continues, 3 being the lowest, 10 the second, 25 the third choice and 199 the last one. By default, it's set to 25. There are also as many as 9 difficulty settings, and the default setting is "Medium Easy", which is the fourth from the "Easiest" up. The rest of the dip switch settings have to do with coin-related things and whether the police car lights on top of the cabin are on or off. Anyway, none the home conversions have difficulty settings.

If you feel confident enough, you can start the game from as far as the eighth level (or more precisely, day), which you can change at the start of the game by your steering wheel. There are some differences, though: the LYNX version doesn't allow you to start from any other day than the first, and the AMSTRAD and SPECTRUM versions give you the choice to start from any up to the 16th day.

Most of the rest of the differences have something to do with graphics, so I'll just be quick here with only the stuff that actually affect gameplay in some manner. First off, the size of the action screen. This affects your field of vision, thus your ability to react to things coming your way. In the arcade original, the whole screen displays your immediate surroundings in addition to some info bits, but the info bits are only displayed in such a way that it interferes with what's behind them as little as possible. The only conversion to do this right is the AMIGA one, and there the screen is horizontally bigger, rather than the arcade's vertically bigger. All the other conversions have the action screen sort of imitating the arcade screen, being taller than it is wide (although all of them fail at it more or less miserably), and the info bits are shown as their own separate slot, taking about a third of the screen's size.

Secondly, it should be said that APB is a game where it is imperative that you see as much of your immediate surroundings as possible, and as immediately as possible. What I'm talking about, of course, is the game's scrolling method. In the original, you are always placed at not quite, but almost the very end of the opposite side of the screen from where you are going to, and the screen scrolls constantly to whichever direction you are steering, leaving you in the middle of the edge of the screen you choose to be in. And this is how it goes in most cases. However, in the SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD versions, one third from the top and also from the left of the action screen is strangely bordered out from your reach, as well as about 8 pixels from the right and from the bottom. The screen scrolls vertically with no problems at all, but if you want the screen to move to the left or to the right, you have to drive to one of these unseen borders, so that the screen will move about two-thirds of the screen's width into your chosen direction. This will often leave you driving blindly into possible obstacles, and slightly disoriented from having to adjust your eyes to another location on the screen every two seconds. The C64 version doesn't go without mention, either, because while it follows the original version in the scrolling method, the top-down camera is very slow at following your sudden directional changes, which can be a bit annoying on the long run.

In case you ever considered the speed of the game an important factor in choosing your favourite version, it should be noted that the ATARI ST, AMIGA and AMSTRAD CPC versions are the slowest of the lot, although certainly not unplayably slow. The SPECTRUM version plays a bit quicker than the C64 version, and the DOS version plays just as nicely. The LYNX version isn't bad either, but the small screen on the handheld makes the higher speed unnecessarily high.

There are quite a lot of other problems with the LYNX version, though, which don't appear in any other versions - at least not nearly to the same extent. First of all, the levels have been modified slightly to accommodate the available memory, so some things have been taken out. Secondly, the traffic acts very randomly and can often cause roadblocks in places where no such thing would usually be possible, and certainly not in any of the other versions. Added to that, your car can be overrun by traffic cars and you will take a demerit for each of these collisions. As if that weren't enough, the collision detection is horrible, and your car can turn around in place if you bump into another car or a wall or whatever. Don't be fooled by the smoothness of the first level - once you get on the streets, the game shows its badness soon enough.

As for the other conversions, the only two playability differences that I can think of that have nothing to do with graphics are the time it takes to make the siren actually react to your button push, and the way the police car handles. As you would expect, the car steers and the siren wails as immediately as you would ever hope for them to do in the arcade game. Curiously, the versions to get these aspects the least right are on AMIGA and ATARI ST - the car handles like a bucket of wax, and there's almost a full second's delay from pushing the button to seeing the siren being active. The next in line is the AMSTRAD version, which suffers from only slightly less sluggishness and siren delay. The SPECTRUM and C64 versions have been handled surprisingly similarly; both versions feature a slight delay in all actions, but nothing that you can't deal with. The DOS version feels the best of all the home computer versions, with every action being handled quicker than on any other machine, but it all still feels less than immediate compared to the arcade game. While the LYNX version feels quite immediate with the car's handling and using the siren, the car's handling is a bit tempermental: it turns slower and faster randomly with no basis on your travelling speed, so you will often find yourself doing a U-turn at high speed, when you were trying to change the lane. I'd say, not recommended at all.

Taking into consideration the screen size (for viewing distance), the scrolling method and the differences of delays and other levels of sluggishness in controls, most of the other differences feel a bit unimportant in comparison. Of course, the 16-bits and the LYNX version are their own worlds of problems, in which case, I guess the results speak for themselves...

1. ARCADE
2. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES
3. COMMODORE 64
4. ZX SPECTRUM
5. AMSTRAD CPC
6. COMMODORE AMIGA
7. ATARI ST
8. ATARI LYNX

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GRAPHICS


Humour is a concept that has often been overlooked as a potential attraction in games, but not quite so badly overlooked as education. While APB makes a good attempt at featuring both elements in the game, the educational part (how not to gather up demerits) comes more as a nuisance to what could have been a hilariously violent vehicular combat game. But of course, you're the rookie police officer, and you must play by the rules. Therefore, you are given lots of them. After all, this is not GTA. But we need to start comparing the game's graphics from somewhere, so let's start from the title screens and loaders. -- Oh, and before I forget, just a quick reminder for you to click on the pictures to view them in full size.

Loading screens and title screens. Top left: DOS. Top right: Commodore Amiga/Atari ST.
Middle left: Commodore 64. Middle right: Atari Lynx. Bottom row, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Arcade, Amstrad CPC.


As you might have expected, the ARCADE version doesn't have actual loading screens, just some rather random-looking boot-up noises along with the RAM check. I left all of that out in favour of the actual title sequence, which starts off with the High Scores table, which alternates turns with the proper title screen. The title screen itself features the big APB logo, with the sub-title "All Points Bulletin", as if to make it clearer what it's about, and in the background, a police car is chasing a red speeding sports car. At the top of the title screen, there's a small window showing our protagonist, officer Bob and his boss, who is saying "Go get 'em BOB" in a strangely chum-like attitude, while officer Bob is grinning and picking his teeth with a toothpick.

Almost none of the home conversions have the real title screen copied in any manner. Apart from the ATARI LYNX version, all the home conversions have a simple text-based title screen, which shows the game title, the credits, and two revenues: the latest score and the highest. The loading screen depicts officer Bob grinning in his patrol car while coming to pick up a blonde hitch-hiking girl. But as usual, since they're all loading screens, I shall not put any importance on them when considering the scores, and as you can see, since the DOS version has no loading screen, for obvious reasons, it wouldn't be very fair, now would it? And they didn't even bother to make the title screen more attractive by throwing in any sorts of graphics... tsk, tsk. Also worth noting is, that while all the other versions have text on black background, the AMSTRAD version has it the other way round - black (or dark grey) text on white background. But to get back to the LYNX version, it has two separate title screens with different logos. The first one features a more familiar-looking logo, which is very similar to the one used in all the other home conversions; and this screen features the obligatory copyrights. The second one is the real title screen with the logo copied from the ARCADE version (finally!), and the credits are shown below the title and the animated car that drives and rolls occasionally around in place. While the handheld screen resolution is low compared to all the others, the title screen still looks better than in any other home conversion.

Instructions for Day 1 (practice). Top row, left to right: Arcade, Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64.
Bottom row, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, DOS, Atari Lynx.


Apart from the LYNX version, the game will normally start by giving you the option to choose your starting day. However, since it doesn't offer anything graphically that some other similar-looking screen will not, we shall move on straight to the instructions screen for your first day, which is about practicing your arresting skills on traffic cones in a closed track. The most interesting difference regarding these bits is, that the info windows are shown on top of a slightly darkened picture of your currently occupied area in the ARCADE, AMIGA and ATARI ST versions, while all the other non-handheld conversions have a black background with info slabs around the screen. The C64 conversion doesn't even feature the in-level info panel featured here yet, since the level is only loaded in after showing this screen. Curiously, the LYNX conversion team left out the instructional texts from the quota screens, but then again, with only a few buttons to use, how hard can it be to guess?

Screenshots from Day 1. Top left: Arcade. Top right: Commodore Amiga. Bottom left: DOS. Bottom right: Atari ST.

Now that we're getting into the action, let's take a look at the sizes of the action screens first, as well as the data shown in the info panel. In the ARCADE game, the whole screen displays as much of your immediate area as possible, but there is a slightly darkened slice on the right side of the screen given to all the information bits, featuring your current revenue, demerits, the time counter, the day number, your unfinished quota for the day, current speed, the fuel meter, extra features added into the car and the amount of credits you have. That's a LOT of information for such a narrow space, but the screen size is quite a lot bigger vertically than it is horizontally.

From the two 16-bit conversions, AMIGA follows the arcade's design, and puts the whole screen in use to display the action, and apart from the obvious credits display, the info panel shows everything, albeit in a more stylized manner, which I like. For some reason, the ATARI ST conversion makes you look at a comparatively small window, which shows about one quarter (or slightly more) of the action screen that the AMIGA version shows - and the game scrolls just as slowly regardless of this. The other almost-half of the screen is taken by officer Bob's notepad, which contains the info bits. The good thing about this new design is, that the info bits are shown more clearly, and they're slightly more entertaining to look at. The bad thing is, that it takes a huge amount of space. The DOS version doesn't look nearly as stylish, but at least it scrolls better for the lost screen space.


Screenshots from the Commodore Amiga version with original unedited colour contrast.

So, what in the name of Bob, you might ask, is all this, then? It's a damn good question, and one I haven't found an answer for. The thing is, the AMIGA version is very dark due to some obscure screen mode they managed to run the game in, or something like that, and the only way to actually see what's going on is to turn the colour contrast of your TV/monitor all the way up. The reason why I have fixed the colours for all the other Amiga screenshots is so that you would actually be able to see the differences regardless of this problem. But worry not - this problem shall be taken into consideration when deciding upon the scores for this section.

More screenshots from Day 1.
Top left: Commodore 64. Top right: ZX Spectrum. Bottom left: Atari Lynx. Bottom right: Amstrad CPC.


All the 8-bit conversions suffer from a similar design decision as the ST version does: too much of the screen space is taken by the info panel. At least the SPECTRUM version looks something like the ST version, with the notepad and nice borders. Most of the 8-bits have left out the most useless bit of information, that being your current speed. The C64 version has also left out the day number, not that it wouldn't have fit in there... I guess it just wasn't considered necessary. Anyway, the size of the action screen is surprisingly similar in all the 8-bits, and only the way the screen is arranged differs in any drastic manner. The AMSTRAD version looks the most compact, if that can be considered a good thing, the SPECTRUM version the most stylish and the C64 version looks the least united. The almost complete redesign of the LYNX version's info panel is nice, but it doesn't really suit the game's original style.

Bonus screens - "well done" and "badly done" versions, where available.
Top row, left to right: Arcade, Commodore 64, Atari Lynx, Commodore Amiga.
Bottom row, left to right: ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, DOS, Atari ST.

At the end of each day, your performance will be judged by your boss, and will be given bonuses accordingly. Most versions also feature a nice picture of your boss congratulating you, and some versions also might show you a different picture, if your performance was not quite what was expected of you. The ARCADE version has a couple of different animations for the bad performance bit, while those conversions that have an animation for it, only feature the one where your boss shouts fire at you. Oddly enough, only the AMSTRAD version doesn't have any pictures for this bit. Anyway, this is the first section in the game, where I have become aware of the art style differences in the Atari- made versions (ARCADE and LYNX) and the rest of the conversions, where Bob and his boss look distinctly different. I have no idea what these styles are called, but you can see the differences for yourselves easily enough by looking at the picture above.

Catch this crook examples. Top row, left to right: Commodore Amiga/Atari ST, DOS, Commodore 64.
Bottom row, left to right: Atari Lynx, Arcade, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC.


Skip to the beginning of day 3 (or 5, depending on the picture), and we get to see the boss man giving you orders to ram the given suspect off the road to arrest. This is only barely important, because while catching these APB crooks can give you a lot of extra revenue, they are not part of your daily quota. But of course, it's a new graphical element, and one that takes a few extra screens to deal with. Plus, each APB crook has their own specific-looking vehicle.

Interestingly, this screen looks very different in all versions, apart from the AMIGA and ST, where the only difference is contrast. In the ARCADE original, your boss behind his speaker's booth is shown from behind five other silhuetted police officers, who are seated impossibly close together. The wall behind your boss is tiled with grey slabs, and a bit higher, the wall is made from larger and darker grey bricks. The crook's info screen is a bit Vegas-like in appearance, with all those red blinking lights around the blackboard. There is a picture shown both sides of your boss - one of today's crook and one of the crook's car, which is helpful for spotting it in the game.

The basic idea of this has been translated well enough for all versions, but the execution varies wildly. For instance, the width of the AMIGA/ST screen makes the whole scene feel a bit off, since the boss is pointing at the brick wall with his stick, instead of the crook's car, and the crook's face is shown in the top section next to the info. In the DOS version, the other seated police officers are shown in full colour, and the back wall is black instead. The only other version to feature the police silhuettes is the LYNX version, which has the setting unsurprisingly a bit rearranged, and the text bits are shown at the bottom of the screen in sequence. The other 8-bits have the screen a lot more simplified, and the worst of the lot, I'm afraid, is the C64 version with nearly unrecognizable crook faces and very little decorations, apart from the very unuseful resist-o-meter.

Screenshots from Day 3, featuring a train and the day's crook's car. Top left: Arcade. Top right: Commodore Amiga.
Bottom left: DOS. Bottom right: Atari ST.


Day 3, two key occasions: almost getting hit by a train, and trying to catch the crook. By now, it should have come clear to any observant gamer, that APB's background graphics are built of blocks. This shows very clearly in the surrounding forests, roads and buildings. However, the other cars and the occasional train, hitch-hiker or other roadside item, they have all been handled with a lot more care to attention. APB's in-game graphics aren't ugly by any means, they just happen to be this way through necessity, because it has so many different areas to explore, and each day brings new locations to deal with.

If I started talking about the minute details of all eight versions, I would be doing this a year from now, so I'm not going to do that. But it's clear to see that all the graphics are very similar on the AMIGA and ATARI ST versions, apart from the screen sizes and all the other obvious things. However dark it is, the AMIGA version just works better - and the contrast can be adjusted. The DOS version isn't quite as good with the use of colours, but it's not far behind the other two. The ARCADE version is the obvious winner, and I don't even really need to point out, why, but here are a few reasons: smoothness, better animations, more diversity in graphics, etc.

More screenshots from Day 3. Top left: Commodore 64. Top right: ZX Spectrum.
Bottom left: Atari Lynx. Bottom right: Amstrad CPC.


It's the 8-bits that really interest me, because it's a more diverse bunch. SPECTRUM has the only monochrome version, which is understandable. My guess for the reason why the AMSTRAD version was made in lo-res multicolour, was because all the cars are more difficult to recognize in monochrome, at least in action. Of all the 8-bits, the C64 version has the colours most similar to the original, and it really feels more comfortable for that. However, there are less animations and details, and even all the instructional windows are completely missing, so it's a weird situation there. The LYNX version has been attempted to make look a bit more organic with its backgrounds, but then some elements have been taken away, such as the train on day 3, the flashing blue and red colours for the "PULL OVER" sign when your siren is on, and also, I haven't seen any items to be picked up at the shops. Perhaps it's just bad luck. However, some bits are more decoratively made for the LYNX version than even the 16-bits, so it's a strange balance there. But anyway, the "PULL OVER" sign only has the red/blue animation made for the AMSTRAD version of all the 8-bits, which is a bit curious, but applaudable.

Screenshots of confession procedures and getting the crook behind bars; top and bottom halves are similarly organised.
Leftmost: Arcade. Top 2nd from left: Amstrad CPC. Bottom 2nd from left: ZX Spectrum.
Top 2nd from right: Commodore Amiga. Bottom 2nd from right: Atari ST. Rightmost: Commodore 64.

This is where my patience with the game started to end. The ATARI ST and LYNX versions are so aggravating to play due to the varying degrees of randomness of all the non-villainous drivers' behaviour, so I dropped my attempts at collecting every planned screen from every version - screenshots from at least the LYNX version are missing from this point onwards.

The confession room is downstairs of the police station, so in order to get to waggle a confession out of a crook, you need to get to the station in time. In a nicely comical manner, the whole waggling process is pictured from outside of the confession room, with Bob and the crook shown as silhuettes behind the window, and your boss slowly wobbling down the stairs. Of course, you need to get the confession meter full before your boss reaches the door and sees you violating the interrogation rules. As expected, the AMIGA and ST versions follow the original in design as much as possible, but the 8-bits feature no stairs, no picture of your boss hanging from the wall beside the door, and no filing cabinet below the window. It's all just a dark non-room-like area on the 8-bits, although I cannot tell how the LYNX version looks like.

After you have gotten a confession out of the crook, he/she ends up behind bars, and in the APB 10 Most Wanted list. Most versions look just about as boring and catalogue-like as the original version, but the 16-bits and the C64 version feature bars in the empty slots. Uniquely, the C64 version has slots for all 15 APB'ers, instead of just ten.

Other elements from the game, featuring an upgrades shop with a gas station, a donut shop and the bar around which the
second crook hangs out at. Top left: Arcade. Top right: Commodore Amiga. Middle left: Commodore 64.
Middle right: ZX Spectrum. Bottom left: DOS. Bottom right: Amstrad CPC.


I confess I haven't gotten all that far in any version, really, so I cannot say whether the graphics will have more variety in the later levels, but the point with these few screens is to illustrate the differences in some of the more essential graphics. The examples included here are the Donut Shop, the Upgrades Shop (usually paired with a Gas Station) and the place where the second APB villain hangs out before you start your hot pursuit. For reasons already mentioned previously, the ATARI ST and LYNX screenshots are not included, but at least the ST graphics you can easily guesstimate by looking at the AMIGA screens.

What's easily to be concluded here is that all the 8-bit versions' graphics are as lackingly detailed, when it comes to the roadside objects. At least they all have good notifications written on the road, whenever a shop, a gas station or a police station might be coming up. The donut shops are less obvious, with only small roadsigns with donuts on them giving you any hint.

You're fired! Top row, left to right: Arcade, Commodore Amiga, Atari ST.
Bottom row, left to right: Atari Lynx, ZX Spectrum, DOS, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64.


And so, we come to the Game Over screen, which is refreshingly different in APB. For most versions, you will get an animated sequence of you being dragged out from your patrol car and thrown either into a trash can or into the back of a police van, with an explanation: "Too many demerits - you are fired." Only the C64 version is missing a proper APB-styled Game Over, and merely has a boringly traditional one instead. Also, while all the other versions show this event in a small window, the LYNX version shows it in full screen, which is fitting for the handheld. This is the sort of thing games should have had more often back in the day, because even while it's a relatively small thing for such a big game, it does add a good deal of personality and charm.

But now we've got a problem. The ARCADE version is naturally the winner here, but the rest of them are not quite so easy to decide upon. The decidedly purple overall background for the AMIGA and ST versions isn't bad, but it doesn't look quite natural, either, and while the said two have the best looking graphics overall from the home conversions, the DOS version scrolls much faster, and looks a bit more comfortable with its black overall background. But I shall have to give the more detailed graphics the upper hand this time, and the AMIGA version's full screen action follows the arcade game more faithfully. Too bad you need to turn up the contrast on your TV quite a bit to see properly, but that's a minor inconvenience. As for the 8-bits, I guess the LYNX version looks the best with its strangely unbalanced attention to detail and more organic colouring, even if the pixelation leaves something to be desired. The C64 version features the most arcade-like colours, and the scrolling is smooth enough (although the 8 pixels push is more MSX than C64), but all the sprites are a bit ugly and some text bits are missing. For the SPECTRUM version, you don't get much colour, at least per level, but the scrolling is fast. But I really cannot approve of the scrolling methods on SPECTRUM and AMSTRAD, because that's not how the original plays, so that's a big plus for the C64 version. However, because the two aforementioned versions use the same scrolling method, they will have to be compared on other merits: scrolling speed, the amount and good use of colours, and the clarity of all graphics - in other words, the used graphics mode. On the whole, I'm afraid it's the AMSTRAD version that has to take the shorter straw again.

1. ARCADE
2. COMMODORE AMIGA
3. ATARI ST
4. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES
5. ATARI LYNX
6. COMMODORE 64
7. ZX SPECTRUM
8. AMSTRAD CPC

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SOUNDS


At least as an arcade game, APB manages to deliver a good amount of comedy in its sounds as it does in graphics, which is a rare feat in video games in general. There's a huge amount of funny speech samples, most memorables ones of them being the cartoonish mumbling parts uttered by your boss and other fellow officers, but you also get the necessary shooting, exploding and other vehicular combat sounds. All the sound effects have a rather plasticky feel to them, which is only to be expected, this being an Atari coin-op, but in this game, the plasticky feel rather enhances the comic atmosphere of the game, than takes away from it.

You also get a few thematically suitable tunes to hear at appropriate times. At the beginning of each day, you get a short heavy march-type tune that somehow reminds me of Smokey and the Bandit. After you've been driving around for a while, filling your quota, a fast rock beat starts playing in the background, which will evolve into a more elaborate tune once you've met the quota. The third tune is a more sedate tune, which plays during the briefing about the occasional APB.

For the home conversions, the first tune to play is something not from the arcade game, but it fits the whole theme like a glove. The tune is very reminiscent of one of those tunes that play in some 1970's cop shows when the protagonist cop is driving around town, waiting for something to happen, just before something eventually will. So essentially, it enhances the anticipation of the game - works very well indeed. The rest of the tunes have been faithfully rearranged from the arcade game, although different versions sound as different as you would expect - the AMIGA version uses perhaps intentionally funny sampled horn sections and other instruments; the ATARI ST, SPECTRUM 128k and AMSTRAD versions sound very much alike to each other due to the AY-chips - and rather nice at that; the C64 version sounds just about as good in its own SID-like manner. The DOS version has all the music played from PC speaker, so it's beeping all the way, but the new title tune is missing.

For the LYNX version, Atari must have felt they needed to separate it from the other home conversions as much as possible, so they didn't even include the new title tune, and instead the same rocking tune plays in the title screen as is played when your quota has been met. Also, the little interlude from the APB briefing room is played at the beginning of every level, in the screen where you are given the quota for the day. Sound-wise, the Lynx soundtrack feels like a cross between A800's POKEY and C64's SID, but the sound effects are mostly ripped from the arcade game, or at least the ST version - yes, plenty of speech samples are featured.

From the other conversions, only the 16-bits feature speech samples, but compared to the original, the amount of them has been cut down a little. Otherwise, it's mostly just your car's engine noise, explosions, shooting, little ditties for picking up objects, etc. It's all similar and good enough for each machine, and each version gets to represent the music and sound effects in their own manner as well as they have been able to play. Even the DOS version sounds surprisingly nice with the beeper, but it still loses to most other versions. Only the 48k SPECTRUM version fares worse, with no music whatsoever and only some small noises for sound effects.

1. ARCADE
2. COMMODORE AMIGA
3. ATARI ST
4. ATARI LYNX
5. ZX SPECTRUM 128k / AMSTRAD CPC / COMMODORE 64
6. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES
7. ZX SPECTRUM 48k

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VIDEO LINK

 

If you're having trouble getting your head around everything I'm trying to say here, or just want to see the game in action without bothering yourself with the trouble of getting the game to actually start on one of your chosen emulators, here's a nice little video comparison, courtesy of Gaming History Source on YouTube. They've also included the Midway Arcade Treasures version in the video, but I dropped it from my comparison, because it's only a slightly edited version of the arcade original, made to suit each platform's controllers the compilation was released on, as well as the TV screens at home.


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OVERALL


There's no other way to say it: an arcade game is an arcade game, however complex you make it. I'm not sure if this claim has any truth to it, but in my opinion, at around the turn of the 1990's, the last classic arcade games were made in such a way that no home computer or console would be able to reproduce them with any real credibility. In APB, we have one of the best examples of the technical gap between the arcades and the home-based machines, and here are the mathematical overall scores to support this claim, even if they're not particularly trustworthy in all aspects:

1. ARCADE: Playability 8, Graphics 8, Sounds 7 = TOTAL 25
2. COMMODORE AMIGA: Playability 3, Graphics 7, Sounds 6 = TOTAL 16
3. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES: Playability 7, Graphics 5, Sounds 2 = TOTAL 14
4. ATARI ST: Playability 2, Graphics 6, Sounds 5 = TOTAL 13
5. COMMODORE 64: Playability 6, Graphics 3, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 12
6. ZX SPECTRUM 128k: Playability 5, Graphics 2, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 10
7. ATARI LYNX: Playability 1, Graphics 4, Sounds 4 = TOTAL 9
8. ZX SPECTRUM 48k: Playability 5, Graphics 2, Sounds 1 = TOTAL 8
8. AMSTRAD CPC: Playability 4, Graphics 1, Sounds 3 = TOTAL 8


That didn't really work out as planned, but then this manner of mathematical scoring is rarely to be trusted. Sure, the original is easily the best, but the rest of them should be really put in an order based almost entirely on their playability. Here's my personal view, which is probably more fitting for the purpose:

1. ARCADE
2. IBM-PC COMPATIBLES
3. COMMODORE 64
4. SPECTRUM / AMSTRAD
5. AMIGA / ST
6. ATARI LYNX


Make of it what you will, but if nothing else in the scores is to be trusted, the arcade original definitely deserves to be considered above the others, not only because of its unimitated controls, but because it really is unparalleled audio-visually. As for the others, your favourites are as good as mine, if not better, because you might have nostalgia to beef up the experience, which I don't. In any case, APB is a really good game, and a surprisingly quirky one for an arcade title, and should be common knowledge for any retrogamer. And this is not to be confused with Realtime Worlds' modern, open-world, massively multi-player online game with a similar title.

That's it for today, and for May. Next month will be the last one for this season, and how things develop after that is yet very much uncertain. Anyway, thanks again to Slenkar for the suggestion way back whenever it was, and I hope it was worth your click. Bye for now, see you next month!

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