Midway (and the labels that ended up under that banner, including Atari Games and Williams) put out some iconic arcade games during their time in the business. And many of them are celebrated in the three Midway Arcade Treasures compilations for Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube and PSP! So let’s delve into these pieces of history and have some fun!
Atari Games tried their hand at some rather ambitious ideas for arcade games in their time, with some of these experimental games working a little better than others.
One that I’ve always had a particular soft spot for is APB, short for All-Points Bulletin, a top-down driving game in which you play a police officer struggling to meet his daily quota of tickets. I first played it back in the day on Atari ST — a conversion which, as it turns out, was actually surprisingly accurate and true to the arcade original.
in APB, you play the role of Officer Bob. Each day, you’re presented with a quota of specific ticket types that you need to issue. Your first day is a training day, so all you need to do is “arrest” some cones, though there are some hitchhikers that can be picked up for a bit of bonus cash. As the game progresses, the severity of the offenses you pull people over for increases; while your initial days on the job will be spent pulling over litterbugs, later in the game you’ll be tracking down violent motorcycle punks and even murderers.
Every few in-game days, you’re also presented with one of the titular APBs, which is effectively a “boss” criminal of some description who can be arrested for a hefty bonus score. You don’t have to go after these — in fact, if you don’t rate your skills, it’s best to focus on your quotas — but if you’re aiming for high scores, they’re well worth pursuing if you have time.
APB’s controls are fairly simple, though the mechanics might take a little getting used to. Driving is a simple matter of turning left and right and applying the gas to accelerate, but arresting perps involves putting your siren on and either overlapping a special “arrest cursor” over them or nudging them while the siren is on.
To make life a bit more complicated, offenders won’t offend while your siren is on, so you need to drive along quietly until you spot them do something, then pull them over. Once you do so, you’ll give them a ticket, you’ll check them off your quota (assuming they’re on there) and get a cash reward. You then repeat the process until you run out of time, run out of gas, rack up too many demerits or actually complete the level.
Demerits are earned through doing anything vaguely wrong — usually crashing into scenery or other cars without your siren on. Wrecking your police car by going too slow to take jumps or colliding with things at too high a speed also results in demerits, and failing to meet your quota in the time limit gives you several demerits before demanding you try the same level again.
It’s not all bad news; additional time can be earned by grabbing doughnuts from the doughnut shops, though you need to time this carefully, and in some stages there are shops which allow you to outfit your car with additional equipment such as a gun and a radar system to spot speeding motorists. Unfortunately, you tend to only get one opportunity to nab these, so if you happen to pass by the day when you could acquire them, you won’t get them. You didn’t need them anyway, right?
Interestingly, the more complex features of APB were the result of an extended development process; looking back on the title in retrospect, many team members admitted that they might have made APB a little too complicated and ambitious.
APB remains an interesting game from a modern perspective because it’s a relatively early example of a quasi open-world game. Sure, the map is very small and wraps around on itself, but the level of freedom you have to drive around while seeking out criminal scum to arrest was impressive to see at the time, matched only by other open-structure titles from Atari Games such as skateboard ’em up 720.
It’s a very, very challenging game on its default settings — and you can’t brute-force your way through it, either, since using a continue resets you back to the beginning of a level rather than just allowing you to pick up where you left off — but it’s rewarding and fun, and the version in the Midway Arcade Treasures compilation for various platforms allows you to adjust the difficulty to something that is comfortable for your own abilities.
While not a particular favourite of many retro gamers today — at least partly due to that stiff difficulty factor — it’s not hard to see how ideas from APB have been carried forward into even the most recent games. One can clearly trace a line from APB to the Grand Theft Auto series, for example — the first Grand Theft Auto games were even arcade-style top-down games like APB, albeit with you on the side of the criminals — and the idea of an open world filled with objectives to discover is, of course, a little too beloved by some developers out there these days.
With that in mind, APB deserves a play or two, even if you don’t find yourself sticking with it. It’s a good example of Atari Games getting creative with game structure, mechanics and concepts — and while some may debate whether or not it was truly successful at what it was trying to do, you certainly can’t fault them for trying some new things.
Plus if nothing else it’s interesting to see the last game that Dave “Missile Command” Theurer worked on before moving into the development of graphics software!
Screenshots from the Xbox version of Midway Arcade Treasures 2.