'Apex' (Xbox) Review

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'Apex' (Xbox) Review

Overall Rating 3/5

Platform: Xbox
Developer: Milestone
Publisher: Atari
ESRB rating: Everyone
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Get behind the wheel of "Apex" and see amazing track action shots. This new Xbox arcade racer from Infogrames boasts amazing graphics, fast tracks, and the chance to develop and race your own car. Teaming up with Milestone, veteran developers of EA's "Superbike" franchise, Infogrames hopes to attract race fans by promising a unique combination of business simulation and racing action.

Looking good

The first time you hit a circuit with one of the more than 70 cars available, it's clear that "Apex" is a special visual treat. There are four track groupings, each with a uniquely dramatic setting and a variety of lighting effects. The twisty cobblestone mountain roads and raised freeways of the city tracks are impressively detailed, as are the traditional tracks and stadium speedways. The cars are gorgeously rendered as well. It's almost a shame the races are so fast. The replays are worth watching just to see the setting sun bounce off your SLR as it glides into the shade of a tunnel on one of the mountain tracks.

Single races, time-trials, and split-screen multiplay are all instantly available, but the meat of the game is a sort of campaign mode called dream mode. Dream mode puts you in charge of a fledgling car company and allows you to build and race a series of cars from the simplest roadster to a fantasy, high performance racer. After choosing your initial design and successfully completing some amateur events, you begin racing your car in the hopes of generating sales interest. The closer you are to the winner's circle in a given race, the more sales you generate. As you progress, new tracks become available and you spend your sales income on research and design for new cars. Success in dream mode also unlocks additional cars and tracks in the arcade mode.

More than skin deep?

Despite the lofty promises of designing your own car from the ground up, dream mode is little more than a mask for the traditional unlock feature found in most every other arcade racing game. Every dream mode game presents you with the same sequence of races and cars to develop. You have no real design input aside from choosing the name of your company, the color of your cars, and the order in which to build them. The same can be said for the performance tuning. It's limited to three categories, with each offering only a few simple choices between speed and handling. Don't expect to be messing with wheel camber or injector mix.

Although your cars get faster and sleeker as you develop more models, your opponents will always be an equal match in class and performance. The most dramatic changes during dream mode are to the virtual office that serves as the game's menu system. Starting in a single-room garage with a whiteboard that represents the racing schedule, you'll add new rooms and a staff of helpers that eventually become a large-scale auto manufacturer. While the progress is fun to watch, functionally, it takes a simple interface and spreads your menu choices across six different screens. The net effect is an irritating amount of additional navigation in the later stages of the game.

The races are short, not quite satisfying, but addictive. Although there are more than 50 tracks, most are variations on the same basic designs, with segments added and removed depending upon the class of cars being raced. Aside from the occasional pedal-to-the-metal oval in which speed takes all, most circuits are a mixture of tight turns and short sprints requiring a lot of gas and brake work. The majority of races are won on the corners where techniques such as the power skid and even the occasional block will gain you a position or two.

The game makes use of rubber-band AI to keep it competitive. Even if you spin out to a complete stop, you'll be able to catch the field quickly, although this temporary boost disappears as soon as your opponents are in sight. It's also far easier to finish second than first as the lead car always seems to have an advantage in both speed and acceleration. Unfortunately, you have no such advantage when leading, and your opponents will always be close enough to make it a sprint for the finish. Still, each race is exciting yet short enough to keep you from feeling too frustrated when the AI cheats you out of a victory. Even in dream mode there is no penalty for losing a race, and you can replay each one as many times as you like.

Metal car solid

Damage is unavoidable, but irrelevant. The tight turns and aggressive opponents mean that your car will almost always look smashed up at the end of a race. Fortunately, it costs you nothing to repair it for the next race. Nor does the damage you take affect your performance on the track. Expect to achieve first-place finishes despite a collapsed front end and various pieces of chassis trailing sparks. Strangely, your opponents' cars seem much less susceptible to physical damage, even after the occasional header into a concrete barrier.

Where's the winner's circle?

A huge number of races and cars, combined with fantastic graphics, push "Apex" to the front of the pack. Mild annoyances in the interface, a design mode without anything to design, and some questionable racing physics keep the game from the top of the podium. With that said, "Apex" is an enjoyable and mildly addictive title with plenty of arcade action for racing fans.

Overall Rating: 3/5
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