Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 3/5/2003 for Xbox  
More On: Apex
Our experience with Infogrames' latest racer, Apex, went a little something like this:

Hour One:

Wow. We’re literally breathless after partaking in Atari’s latest racing title, Apex. Every single aspect of the game truly is that exhilarating. Maybe it’s the true-to-life physics, or perhaps its the breathtaking visuals or the unique and addictive gameplay, Call it whatever you want, we prefer to call it exciting.

Hour Two:

Wow! Our office is expanding, the races are becoming more intense and we’ve got one HOT secretary. Did we mention that the game still looks amazing?

Hour Five:

Hmm, haven’t we seen this track already? Oh wait, we’re going in a different direction than last time. This is still pretty cool. Can we get a new car yet? Wow our secretary is still hot, why won’t she talk to us?

Hour Seven:

Ugh, what’s that annoying sound that plays while we’re driving? How come you can only play one song over and over when you’re racing? Where’s the mute button on our remote? Oh well, at least the game still looks great.

Okay we've got our new Eclipse, now where's the chick in the pink beret?

Hour Ten: Okay, we’re getting tired of single-player let’s try multiplayer. (10 Minutes Later) Well that was fun, one-on-one racing is so 1999, this game needs a better gimmick and it needs it fast. Those graphics sure do look spiffy though.

Hour Fifteen:

The AI is so bad, they just run on tracks. What is this, Mario Kart? Argh, that bass sound is so annoying, our ears are bleeding. Haven’t we seen this track before? Oh, we’re going on the freeway instead of under it. Damn the game sure does look nice though.

What does this all equate to? Read the rest of the review to find out!The racing genre has had a renaissance of some sorts. Suddenly, the game companies decided to inject some life and revitalize the aging field. Games like Burnout 2 and Need for Speed Hot Pursuit II have done an excellent job of bringing the genre off of life support but can a newcomer to the realm, Atari, really set the bar for racers in the year 2003? Yes, yes it can.

From the onset of the game you probably won’t be very impressed. There are few options to choose from and even fewer vehicles and tracks at your disposal but as you dig into the game you’ll realize just how deep and engaging it is. The Dream Mode is the meat and potatoes of the game, putting you in control of a car manufacturer that will be built from the ground up. As you progress you will transform a filthy garage into a top of the line high-tech facility complete with an R&D Department and the obligatory gorgeous receptionist.

As you progress through the Dream Mode you’ll participate in increasingly difficult races. How you place in these races determines how many points you can spend on researching newer and more powerful vehicles. Do you put all of your points into a new roadster, or do you maintain some patience and save up for that sportscar? It’s entirely up to you and for the most part, it works really well.

The Mercedes Benz is the true king of German Automobiles, just ask Husemann

While the game features a healthy helping of real-world vehicles you won’t be driving any of them in the Dream Mode. Instead you’ll pit your own vehicle against the badboys in hopes of gaining market dominance. As you defeat more and more of your enemies you’ll unlock new technologies that will make a drastic impact on both the appearance and performance of your vehicle. Furthermore, progressing in the Dream Mode will unlock new tracks and vehicles for you to use in the Arcade Mode.

In reality there are only 10 or so tracks, although they branch off at different points to make for new paths and scenery. This is a method that has been employed in numerous games in this genre and it works quite well. We really liked the track variety in Apex because there’s such a drastic change that comes with each. One race may put you on a high-speed oval while the next may place you on a winding mountain track. This adds an amazing sense of variety in this game, one moment you may be speed around at speeds excess of 150mph while the next you may be finessing your way through the snowy hills. Learning how to handle and approach each situation will prove to be the difference between first and sixth place.

To flesh out the game there are your usual one-on-one, time trial and single-race modes. This is where you’ll get to step into the cockpit of a nice variety of vehicles. Each of the vehicles in the game feature three different stages of tuning which are essentially, normal, fast and faster. What’s nice is that when the vehicles get upgraded they feature the tuning from their real life manufacturers. For instance, when the Mercedes gets tuned you’ll see the AMG logo plastered all over it, a nice nod to fans of the real thing.

When we first began we were a little unimpressed by the physics. However as time went on they grew on us and became pretty damn impressive. It’s almost like a natural extension of real life, the way these vehicles handle is nothing short of superb when it comes to realism. Each and every single vehicle exhibits a proper feeling of weight, giving you a great feel for them as you head into turns. There’s a great sense of responsiveness in the controls, as you progress you’ll learn when it’s necessary to push the pedal to the medal and when it’s time to let off the gas.
At first it’s easy to mistake this game for your traditional arcade racer but after getting a feel for things, you’ll soon realize that the game earns its namesake. This game is all about patience, timing and precision racing. Slowing into turns, cruising through to the Apex and punching the gas is the key to success in this title. Punching the gas for the duration of the turn will cause your tires to lose traction and more than likely, will send you into one of the many unforgiving retaining walls that enclose the game’s tracks.

The collision physics are far off from real though and this really detracts from the gameplay. Colliding with AI vehicles will almost always force you to give way, costing you a position and some precious seconds. Furthermore, barely going off of the pavement or scraping against a wall will slow your car down significantly. What makes this really frustrating is that the tracks are small and tight, you’ll have to work real hard to tightrope your way around your competition and stay on the track so that you can gain positions. Of course it doesn’t help that you’re always forced to start each race from the back of the pack either.

Let’s say you got a little loose on a turn and a competitor is trying to pass you on the inside. In a conventional game you would be able to cut them off and block them with your vehicle. In Apex they’ll just sort of run into you and brush you off to the side, taking your position.

The races are always close, a little too close. The work of rubber-band AI is afoot here. No matter how well you do the competition always creeps up from behind you and no matter how poorly you do, you can count on still being in the race. It makes the races close and exciting but for some, it could prove to be bothersome. This is to compensate for the game’s braindead AI which really never proves to be a challenge, just as long as you can pull out ahead. Again the races are close, but it’s all artificial.

Wow this game looks great! Hey wait a second, is that.. is that EPCOT? Alright, who's the prankster?

This game is stunningly beautiful, almost as if our retinas were able to fully focus for the first time in their lives. Each vehicle is modified with amazing realism that just screams “stunning.” The vehicles that you can build in the Dream Mode in particular are just gorgeous as they feature plenty of sleek designs and curves that you would expect to see in a real life sporstcar. In a truly spectacular effect, each of the car’s sheens accurately reflects the current surroundings. It doesn’t sound like much but just wait until you see it in action in the replays, you’ll go “holy crap, that building on the side is being reflected on the paint!” It’s also nice to see certain parts of your car shimmer in the light too as it becomes illuminated by the sun. As you head through turns you’ll notice new things about your vehicle that you may not have initially noticed.

Damage for each and every vehicle has been modeled nicely as well. Sometimes bumpers will begin to fall off, scraping along the ground causing sparks to arise. Headlights and taillights will break from collisions while doors will become crumpled. Damage doesn’t play an adverse affect on your vehicle’s handling but it’s still damn nice to look at. On the lower and faster vehicles, skidding into a turn will cause part of your chassis to scrape along the ground, sending a shower of sparks behind you.
As far as bells and whistles, Apex pulls out all of the stops. Banners that are handing from posts and buildings don’t just rest there lifelessly. Instead they sway realistically in the wind as you pass under them, adding more realism to the game’s visuals. We really liked the sun effect as well as the designers opted to ditch the now passé lens flare effect for a more realistic sweeping light effect. As you’re driving you’ll notice rays of light as they peer into your field of view from behind trees and structures in a manner that’s unrivaled in today’s market. Never has the sunlight effect been used so effectively in a racing game. The absence of skidmarks puts a damper on things quite a bit. For some reason pulling donuts on the test track just isn’t as fun without the skidmarks to show for it.

The fun doesn’t stop there though, the tracks themselves are a sight to behold. Every track in the game is very busy and populated. Whether it be a cavalcade of balloons that have been released to sweep across the sky, or a roadside van that’s driving on one of the nearby surface streets, there’s always something animating and moving besides the cars on the tracks. Buildings all look amazing as well, featuring plenty of detail and refinement in their designs. To round out the graphics the pavement features some pretty impressive bump mapping that is especially appealing when the sunlight sweeps across its surface. It’s nearly impossible to explain in words just how beautiful this game is, it’s truly one of those ‘has to be seen to be believed’ titles.

The replays give you a chance to relax and enjoy the scenery.

Sadly the game doesn’t fare as well in the audio department. Although the game features in-game Dolby Digital support, it doesn’t make an impact. In fact the game’s audio is borderline horrendous, especially on upper end systems with subwoofers. It’s a shame too because the rest of the game’s audio really isn’t all that bad. There’s a great sense of separation between channels, especially in 5.1 setups. If you have a woofer then you’ll definitely want to turn down as it tends to drown out the rest of the game’s audio.

There is included support for in-game soundtracks but it’s implemented pretty poorly. For one you can’t customize your soundtracks, just choose from the ones that you’ve placed on your hard drive. You can’t change which tune is currently playing and in a puzzling move each race can only accommodate one track. When that track ends it just starts over again and keeps repeating until you finish the race. At times the game’s audio proved to be so grating to our nerves that we found ourselves muting the audio entirely. Suffice to say, this isn’t the game that you want to use to showcase as the centerpiece of that new $1200 audio setup.

The problem with Apex is that the aim of the game is a bit misleading. You never actually have the opportunity to make a unique design, you just simply earn points and unlock newer and better cars. It’s very similar to what the competition is offering so in that respect the game doesn’t provide anything that is terribly new or unique.

There’s a lot to like about Apex, barring that you can get past its minor deficiencies. While it’s not the deepest racer to come down the pike in recent months, it’s definitely worth a gander if you’re a racing fan. It won’t offer you anything new, so don’t come into it expecting a revelation of some sports, just keep an open mind and prepare to be entertained.
As far as we’re concerned with the release of Apex, Atari has cemented their place as a contender in the racing genre. While it has its fair share of problems, it’s a worthy addition to any racing fan’s library.

Rating: 7.8 Above Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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