Game 17: A.P.B (Atari, 1987)

Playing rules: Difficulty: Medium Easy [Difficulty 4]. 8 Demerits Allowed. Bonus: 1 life every 10,000 points.
Perfect Day bonus: YES. Special Rules: You can freely choose your starting stage
Dip-Swich on APB CPU PCB @ 6/7A; 1-9=OFF.
Dip=Switch on APB CPU PCB @ 5/6A: 1=OFF; 2=ON; 3-7=OFF; 8=OFF/Unused

Current Record holders
1st: 1,002,324 - Greg Gibson - 1988
4th: 6,535 - Robert T.Mruczek - 2005

Two words, Clacton Pier.
There were essentially two set of arcades that I used to go to as a kid – the one near my home in North London was the main one, but also I used to visit my grandparents a few times a year in Clacton, a smallish seaside town in Essex. This is where I first came across the wonder that was A.P.B, in its sit-down cab glory. Actually, if I remember correctly it wasn’t on the pier  – it was in the tatty arcade opposite, next to the crazy golf – wherever it was, it was bloody ace.

The first thing that strikes you about this game is the sense of comedy. Coming a few years after the first few Police Academy films this was the closest thing you could find to a game of the film. ( Don’t let the latter shitty sequels put you off, that was a GOOD thing back then). The speech especially was good fun, and happily Atari used it for humour this time rather than shit-yer-pants scares (see 720 degrees and “SKATE OR DIE” if you dare). In between levels were the best, with the police commander either congratulating you or chastising you in several comedic ways, including the traditional health and safety faux-pas; burning your face off with verbal fire. Many a time I used to chuckle when I heard from the other side of the arcade -“Mnnunanmamanamanayama Verywelldone”. What? That’s what it sounded like! bah, you had to be there.

Hey! where are you all going? Oh I getcha – enough of my clearly sad and easily pleased nostalgia – what’s the actual game about?

You are a new police officer and your job is to drive about various missions catching minor criminals to fill your various quotas. Every few levels or so you are given a big guy to catch and you have to find the sucker and ram him off the road before taking him back to the station to give him a good throttling. The game itself is viewed top-down and looks pretty simple. You have a steering wheel, an accelerate pedal and two buttons, shoot and siren. It’s at this point I realise that I must have been rubbish at the game as I failed to get to a level where the shoot button actually does anything – which apparently is a pathetically low level 4. Whoops. Actually, in my defence I mainly played the game on the AtariST and I’m not even sure if that sucker *had* a shoot button.

Rules are simple, you have to arrest naughty people and rescue stranded people and to do that you simply run over them with your little arresting square that hovers an inch in front of your car. Trick is, you can only do this if you have the siren on at the time, crashing into people guilty or not without the siren will lead to a demerit, and before you know it you’ll out on your ear. You don’t find yourself on an easy road either, there is plenty going on with cars and obstacles all over the place – add to that the fact that you have to keep an eye on your fuel levels as well and you have the makings of quite a tricky little game.

A peek at the records reveals not only an oldie score, but one that is leagues ahead of any of the others. The top score is a touch over 1 million, second place is waaaaay back at 72 thousand. How on earth does that happen? I mean, obviously the first place chap is bloody good at the game, probably playing it until he gets bored rather than getting killed off, but surely someone can get within a 10th of his score? Maybe it could be me?

Could it bollocks. First off, the game is bloomin’ tricky playing at home rather than the arcades – the steering is pretty sharp without a wheel and the accelerator button is a bit too keen compared to a proper analogue pedal. My first go has me weaving about the practice level like a drunken idiot – hitting cones with accidental venom and virtually bunny-hopping about the place like no tomorrow. Thankfully there were no demerits as I luckily decided to further illustrate how much of a twat I was by having the siren on full blast all the way. Woooo Wooooo Wooooo Woooooo, a ridiculous fanfare and fuss considering all I was doing was driving around the police car park “arresting” a couple of traffic cones. To be honest, once my round was over, if I was the sarge, I would have simply chucked me straight in a cell to have a good think about what I have done.

No such behaviour; I’m given my first mission – capture those pesky litterbugs, the bastards. That’s why I joined the police force, to clean up the streets and make the world a safer place. Well a cleaner place anyway. A little bit cleaner. Ok, ok! I joined purely for the flash 50p shaped police hat, I admit it, happy now?

What makes the mission all the easier is that convieniently all of the litterbugs drive exactly the same car, a schoolboy error in anyone’s book. What makes the mission all the harder is that immediately it becomes obvious that my erratic driving is going to be a problem. It gets even worse when the game tells me that criminals will not commit the crime if my siren is on, so my insurance against smashing into everything is out as well. Cocknuggets.

Pathetic is the only word that springs to mind. I hit walls, crash into signs, set myself on fire and thoroughly fail at driving in a straight and true line. I manage to somehow get a few litterbugs, but also smash into a fair few innocent cars along the way (sorry about that). There are donut shops and gas stations all vying for my trade and offering free bonuses along the way, but the way I am driving means that they are not even a possibility. Luckily though, I get all 8 litterbugs and despite not reaching the police station before the time runs out I complete the level.

Onto the congratulations screen, and that wonderful soundbite kicks in – mnahmnahmnahmufflemuffle – very well done. Not convinced myself, but I did enough and I’m only a rookie after all. Next level please, time to redeem myself by grabbing the ever ellusive collar of a boss guy called Freddy driving a big silly hippy wagon. I’ll pay back your faith sarge……by driving straight into a road sign and getting my final demerit. Game over. A disgrace.

Score: 1,555

Ok, I was rubbish – but gang raping me and then chucking me in a dustbin is a bit harsh! Maybe that’s what happens to young coppers that don’t make the cut in real life, but come on Atari – kids could be playing this.

Usually it’s at this point that I have a new tactic or a revelation with which to arm myself with before heading into my 2nd go, but I have nowt. All I can really try is to be a little more cautious. I now realise that you don’t have to return to the police station at the end as long as you complete your quota, so maybe I will just pay attention to avoiding collisions and stuff rather than haring about. I know that sounds a bit obvious, but it is harder than it sounds in practice. (For me anyway)

Straight back onto the cones and this time I make them my bitches. Postively glowing after that round (although I didnt get what looks like an inviting “perfect” bonus due to a few small collisions) I leap straight after the litterbugs. They too felt my wrath as I start to use the siren with a little more skill, blaring the horns to get innocents out of the way and not rushing into arrests – I do only need 8 after all and there are hundreds of the buggers. Still not perfect though, a couple of times as I weave left and right to get the arrest I move way too much and smash into a wall and comically explode, leaving just my blinking charred corpse and a set of wheels on their axels. Everyone loves a bit of comedy, but the reality is a pesky demerit each time and one step closer to copper gang rape, which is *never* funny whichever way you look at it.

Before I know it I’m slamming down the road pursuing the dastardly hippie himself – let’s get this fucker rammed off the road. Oh that was easy – the big puff, just a couple of nudges and he was straight into the trees. Back to the station then apparently, although I still laughably manage to find time for a few demerits on the way as I crash into various things like a big Joey.

Before I know it, a mini game style thing is upon me. The fat sarge is walking down the stairs and I have to get a confession out of Freddy before he reaches the door! How do I do that? By tapping the siren and shoot buttons of course. Shit, it’s that shoot button thing again, which one was it? this one? that one? bugger! Tapapapapapapapatap – demerit. Shit. I can’t even strangle a hippy properly for goodness sakes.

So we let him free (the cad) and focus our attention on the REAL criminals of the city, the proper scum. This is life and death stuff my friend, only myself and Edward Woodward are up to this sort of job, so stand well back and watch the pro’s… we clean the streets of taxi drivers that beep their horn a little bit. Wow, serious stuff better pack my bullet proof vest and a pair of earplugs. Being taxi drivers though, they won’t lay down and be anyones bitch – to arrest them you need to siren them buggers TWICE.

Should be easy enough, although I dont have many demerits left between me and game over – the game doesn’t seem to scrub any of them off at any stage making the early “cone related” demerits all the more painful.

I last a matter of seconds. You see, as an English chap, when presented with a choice of sides with which to drive down a freeway, I naturally took the left hand side (to keep my sword hand free or somesuch piffle) which of course is the wrong side in this game leading me to repeatedly crash violently into oncoming cars. I take little solace in the fact that the cars I blew up were nasty horn blowing criminals and watch as again my character is gang raped. Only this time I obviously performed a lot better as instead of throwing me in the bin, they throw me in the van for “laters”. Nice.

Score: 2,400

Although the score is a little better, its not 1 million is it? All of a sudden the rubbish looking 6,500 at the bottom of the records seems pretty good. Score wise this isn’t going well. However, what it does suggest is that the top scoring chap must find this game extremely easy. To score a million you would have to play this game for an absolute age and I’m sure it was only boredom or the arcade closing that stopped the score being any larger.

So my new target is 6,000 or so, which still involves a leap in performance that I’m not convinced I have in me – especially as I am playing the workman and his always-to-blame tools. Still, one more game to go, lets see what I can manage.

Again I make several easy mistakes, but at least this time I am prepared with the correct keys and manage to strangle a confession out of Freddy earning the respect of the sarge and a paltry bonus to boot. Unfortunately it is on the next level, the pesky taxis, where I experience my first MAME related bug, or at least I assume that’s what it is. This time I choose the correct side of the road to drive up, but as soon as I do the controls freeze and the sound disappears. A quick leap to windows and back solves the control problem, but I still don’t have sound. Stranger still there are absolutely NO cars or people on my side of the road at all, even after blatting along for 30 seconds or so. I struggle enough to fill my quota as it is, but there is no way I can get my quota without any criminals to catch, so I am forced to move across through a gap in the barrier to the other side. Where I die horribly again, regardless of siren and direction any sort of collison kills me outright. I never even get to see who the second criminal is.

Score: 2,806

So, nowhere near the record list then. It can’t all be attributed to control problems, but it certainly does make a difference as the steering and acceleration really don’t translate very well to digital controls. Also I obviously don’t remember the game as much as I thought I did because I seem to remember being quite good at it, which I’m clearly not. Hey ho – one to add to the “forget about the record” pile.

At least the nostalgia within me got to hear some of the sounds of my childhood again, which is always a welcome touch and something that I look forward to with every game I play.

“mnahmnahmnahmufflemuffle – very well done”. Thanks sarge, but I’m not sure you really mean that – maybe next time I meet you in the arcade I’ll do you proud again……

6 thoughts on “Game 17: A.P.B (Atari, 1987)

  1. Ah, A.P.B…..

    Little piece of trivia, every level takes place on the same gigantic city map. If you know where everything is, you can visit the scene of far later levels from the second stage. Much later on this knowledge becomes essential to have, as the game requires players to collect more and more hitchhikers and help’s each time, and those are only found in set locations.

    1. Has anybody actually mapped out the city – like, figured it out from a ROM dump, or taken a bunch of screengrabs (in “Set Enhancements Demo” and “Can Player Die? Demo” modes and Photoshopped them together?)

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