Atari's intriguing Xbox racer Apex allows you to race a more than 80 super-charged vehicles through more than 50 different courses in a variety of environments. As you'd expect, the game includes several types of play including the Arcade and Multiplayer modes. The split screen action supports up to four players while the Arcade mode allows you to race currently unlocked vehicles. These modes are easy to get into and play, giving the game an immediate appeal. However, what makes the game so special is its Dream Mode, which allows you to build a dream car from the ground up along with a company to manufacture it. Players can name their company and assign it a logo, as well as customize the paint color of their cars. These boutique vehicles might seem underpowered, but the first car is surprisingly powerful and can effectively compete against the other manufacturers. While the initial going might seem a little slow, players with persistence are rewarded with a game that blooms from a standard racing title into a robust, comprehensive and satisfying automotive simulation.
Apex stands for Advanced Performance Experimental X-Cars, which is the code for the custom vehicles that you create and race against other top manufacturers. As Apex begins, you are handed the keys to a boutique sports car company that you have inherited. The object is to build and race your dream cars including roadsters, Sports Cars against the biggest and best manufacturers in the world. While you start-off slowly with a few basic vehicles, you can build your company up and start a production line of more advanced vehicles after you begin to gain recognition. Your first task is to build the initial prototype, enter amateur races and build up your reputation. Once you have completed the first few cups, you can enter the semi-pro ranks, where you begin to earn sales. After a few of these cups have been completed, you can upgrade your existing vehicle and begin to build more advanced cars with the income earned. Initially, what types of vehicles you can build is limited by your budget, but as income starts to roll in, the game offers a larger array of body types to choose from.
In order to build the cars, you first need to go into the garage area. Roaming around this area allows you to keep track of your progress by looking at the racing calendar, looking at the progress that's being made in development, checking sales charts and more. The garage is also where you meet the other members of your team. As you begin, your loyal mechanic is your main companion. However, as the company grows, you can hire more workers including a secretary and other characters, which also unlocks more options such as a trophy shelf and a message board. This is an intuitive system that gradually introduces players to the many options in the game. The clever 3D interface is far more interesting than the static screens in other racers. Interacting with these characters makes the game unique while adding some personality to the proceedings.
The Apex garage is where you change options, adjust your sales targets, change your building strategy and save your game. While the options are initially limited, winning races allows gives you more freedom to choose from dozens of parts including chassis, shells, engines, and tires. Between races, you can change the gear and driving performance for each track. Again, this is limited initially, but later on, you can perform almost limitless performance enhancements and adjustments to your prototype vehicle, allowing you to tweak the responsiveness so you can compete effectively. A good strategy is to take a drive on the test track before you race head to head with other vehicles. Once on the track, you can the challenge the other top racing brands head to head. Each successful race draws attention to your company and increases your company's stature in the racing community.
Apex allows you to race several different types of cars including Roadsters, Supercars, Sportscars and, Dreamcars. Each of these is divided into four car subclasses: Street cars, which are the standard-issue Industrial models. Evolution vehicles are highly tuned versions of stock models that offer additional power and finally there are the Racing cars that are definitely not street legal and can be used for competition only. While you can create many of your own custom vehicles, the game also includes licensed brands such as Ford, Jaguar, Lotus, Aston Martin, Dodge and, Mercedes-Benz to name a few. Unfortunately, only a fraction of these exotic vehicles are available initially, but more are unlocked as you progress through the races in Dream Mode, which gives the player a strong impetus to keep playing.
The racing structure in Dream Mode is fairly straightforward. Each Cup consists of different cups that are a series of races. You need to place in the required position in all of these races order to unlock the next cup. In addition to these standard races, players can race in special challenges, which can further increase you stature and sales when completed. However, failure not only wastes time, it diminished your standing in the racing community, so be sure you can handle these beforehand. There are several types of courses in the game ranging from street racing, to oval tracks, to mountains and even some oddball ones. While many of these take place in the same basic area, there's a lot of branching used to increase the variety and challenge. Each course will have its own unique racing attributes that will challenge players, some emphasize speed while others are more technical. This means that you'll have to be a well-rounded driver and master the driving nuances if you want to succeed. The racing engine is quite sophisticated and racing successfully involves more than just pushing the gas pedal and turning. The opponents have incredibly sophisticated AI and can react to different situations quickly. This definitely makes the game more challenging and leaves the player little room for error, because even small mistakes can cause you to fall several positions in the blink of an eye. You have to keep your concentration levels high and learn where the best place is to begin braking before sharp turns. Mastering the drift technique is essential to performing these moves. Learning to drift effectively is critical because correctly anticipating turns can make up the margin of victory. Another strategy you'll need to master is hitting the apex point in each turn to maximize speed and you'll need to do this consistently in order to succeed. Even though Apex seems like an arcade racer on the surface, the game has a subtle driving engine that gives the racing itself a surprising amount of depth. This makes the game quite engrossing and with so many vehicles and modes, it will take quite awhile to unlock even a majority of the vehicles.
In order for Apex to be a truly accurate and intense racer, its controls need to be intuitive and they are. Players can adjust their vehicle's predisposition in a number of ways, and can shift the perfomace to emphasize higher top speeds or faster acceleration. This changes vehicular handling in a way that is subtle, yet very noticeable. How you set up the car definitely affects your racing strategy and plays a large role in how each race turns out which gives Apex an appreciable realism that many other racers don't attempt. Physically, the game allows you to use either the analog or digital pads to steer and you can use either the face buttons or the right analog pad to accelerate or brake. Whichever control scheme you choose to use, the game is quite challenging and effectively knocks down the barrier between you and the vehicle. While we found the performance slightly better using the digital pad, this is more a matter of personal preference than any fault inherent in the controls themselves. The overall feel of the vehicles in Apex is outstanding. Atari/Infogrames has set a very high standard in the genre that other realistic racing titles will be hard-pressed to equal. When it comes to creating a convincing racing interface, Apex stands with the elite such as Project Gotham Racing and Gran Turismo.
Apex plays brilliantly but the graphics engine is also highly polished, showcasing the smooth, aliased look that Xbox owners have become accustomed to. The game's impressive graphic engine takes full advantage of the Xbox processing powers to create some truly breathtaking racing environments. The game's impressive attention to visual detail is evident throughout in large and small elements. The car models are incredibly detailed and realistic, and unlike other games, they actually show damage in headlights and bumpers after collisions. Another impressive aspect of the visuals is that Apex actually takes the time to render the drivers inside the vehicle. This gives the outside of car views an added realism that's much-appreciated. The trackside objects are incredibly detailed and the realistic effects such as reflections in the car bodies are impressive as well. The weather effects such as snow and rain are well done. Apex' incredible array of special effects including lens-flare effects and reflections are quite impressive. The aesthetics are impressive throughout and you can see this quality in the game's stunning appearance. Some of these effects, such as shadow are subtle, while others such as sunlight glistening on moist pavement are incredibly dramatic. Apex' tracks are more varied than in other games, and span mountains, city streets and traditional circuit tracks that gives the game a much higher replay value. While none of the courses in Apex are based on real-world cities or tracks, the detail evident gives the game a high-degree of believability throughout. The game's high-gloss appearance is very pleasing to the eye. From an audio standpoint, the engine sounds and tire screeches are quite convincing. The usual techno soundtrack compliments the action nicely, but is nothing really out of the ordinary. This highly polished title shines like a jewel and Apex is easily one of the best-looking Xbox racing titles to date.
there are any flaws in Apex, they lie in the opponent AI. Apex takes a
disappointing short cut by implementing a "rubber-band' approach, where
here the other racers stay close behind you no matter how perfectly you race.
This is a double-edged sword however, because it also means that you rarely fall
hopelessly behind the pack, no matter how poorly you drive. This makes the races
slightly less realistic than they could have been. This is disappointing on one
level. However, this keeps things exciting throughout the game and adds tension
to the race as the finish line approaches. The structure of Apex is a bit
problematic as well, since each racing cup unfolds similarly, and progression
seems a bit slow. However, these aren't fatal problems and are basically minor
annoyances in the big picture. Most players should be able overlook these flaws
because Apex lives up to its name in most other areas. Obviously, the innovative
Dream Mode is the centerpiece of the game. Its unique approach and clever
implementation allows players to immerse themselves in the building supercharged
sports cars and a racing empire easily. The learning curve is used effectively
to gradually introduce more advanced concepts to players painlessly. This
innovative dream mode is highly addictive and will definitely consume your time
if you aren't careful. Once you get on the track, the game's tight, responsive
controls make the driving and racing itself intuitive and challenging. The
visuals are breathtaking with beautifully rendered cars and gorgeous
environments that match or surpass anything seen in a console racing title.
Overall, Apex is an outstanding title that is easily one of the best playing and
looking Xbox titles to date. It more lives up to the developers' ambitions and
is quite innovative. Apex is a slickly produced, intelligently designed racer
and comes highly recommended for any racing fan looking to dive a bit deeper
under the hood.