My way or the highway.
Ever dream of manufacturing your own line of race cars? Well, here's your chance. Atari brings every Matchbox kid's dream to life with Apex, the racing game that goes beyond the track. You'll start up your own line of performance cars and race them against some of the biggest names in auto racing. Do well and your cars will sell like hotcakes, allowing you to expand your auto empire. Perform poorly, though, and your creations will be destined for the junkyard. Which will it be? Only your skills at the wheel can decide!
Sounds awesome, eh? That's why I grabbed at the chance to review it. But while it has lofty ambitions, Apex falls short in its execution. Sorry for getting you all pumped up.
Apex consists of a mere two modes - Dream and Arcade. Dream is essentially the career mode, where you'll attempt to build up your auto racing reputation, and Arcade is your average, everyday race mode. Not much, so let's get right to it.
The most intriguing part of Apex's Dream mode is its story line. At the start of the game, you enter an old garage that you've just purchased with your buddy and mechanic, Mike Collodo. While cleaning up, Mike finds a few sets of blueprints for concept cars and your fledgling business just happens to have enough dough left over to build one. After you've settled on a business name, a logo and which car you'll be starting with, it's off to the track for a little exposure. With each qualifying race, you'll sell a few cars. Naturally, the higher you place, the more cars you will sell. Simple as that.
As you win more and more races, your business property will expand. The little garage that you started out with will grow larger and you'll go on to produce other classes of cars, like sportscars and dreamcars.
While the concept of being an auto manufacturer is definitely cool, there aren't enough choices to really make you feel like you're in control. When researching a prototype for a new car, you're presented with a mere three choices. You cannot modify the designs in any way. You cannot change the performance parts or even the look of the car. There are no aerodynamic part options, no spoiler options, no new wheels, nothing. Just about the only thing you can change is the paint. Sometimes, that means you'll end up driving the "ugly" car just because it has the performance specs you want.
The ability to change performance specs is also sorely missed. Even if you could not change the actual parts, it would have been nice to get "performance points" and distribute them to key attributes like acceleration, top speed, braking and handling in any way you like. So much for doing things your way.
In any case, this is still a racing game, so let's leave the garage behind and head out to the track. Apex runs arcade-style with cars that stick to the track pretty well and bouncy collisions. You won't find many simulation aspects, but there are a few options to tweak. Some of the changes include driving style (racing or drift), gear ratio and downforce. The only problem is that you won't get all of these options until you've progressed far enough in the game.
Races generally run pretty smoothly, but there are some instances of frustration. AI vehicles seem to have a specific path to follow and pushing them off that line can lead to disaster. Since slamming into cars does not slow you down, it's a great strategy to use them for those nasty corners. Every once in a while, you'll knock them so far off their planned route that they pull some super crazy move to get back on it. Not only that, but they'll amazingly catch up in no time.
Also frustrating is that way that the AI cars will push off of the player's car. Unless their only contact is with your taillight, the AI cars will consistently slow you down and speed themselves up when cars rub. This is especially painful when it happens during the straight away on the final lap. I don't know what's causing this, but I'm sure the NASCAR guys would kill for that technology.
One aspect of Apex that isn't frustrating is the killer visuals. Whether it's the high poly models or the high-end lighting effects, Apex does a good job handling the look of the game. Thankfully, there is some damage modeling here as well. Cars seem to only take damage at specific points on the front and rear end, but it's nice to see this feature included at all.
The audio offering is another story, with a bland soundtrack and sound effects. The sound that accompanies rubbing cars is especially funny. Even though they never lose contact, the sound suggests that the cars keep knocking each other. Weird.
At best, Apex turns in a slightly better than average time on the track. Its story concept and great visuals give it a nice boost, but its lack of options and frustrating AI add some unnecessary weight. With more time in the garage, this game could have really delivered something unique, but as it is, don't look for it on the winner's podium.