As we start to see more and more racing games hitting the market, it isn't merely enough for a game to be a solid racer in either the arcade or the simulation categories. Apex attempts to differentiate itself from the pack by putting you at the head of a new car manufacturer and challenging you to race your concept cars against similarly powered licensed cars from a handful of real-world carmakers. While this new twist is a welcome one, it isn't nearly as fleshed out as it could have been, and the game's generic approach to the actual driving doesn't pick up the slack terribly well, either. It's still a good all-around arcade-like racer, but it's definitely not one the Xbox's best.
The game's physics are definitely less than satisfying, even taking into account the genre's lax take on reality.
The key portion of Apex is known as the dream mode. It's here in dream mode that you'll name your new carmaker, choose a logo for hood ornaments, and develop your first roadster. "Develop" perhaps isn't the right word here, though. You won't actually be developing anything. Instead you'll be given a choice of three different cars to build, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses. From there you'll be set into motion in a series of amateur races and other challenges. As you progress, you'll open up new sections in your ever-expanding car manufacturing facility, including an area that shows how many cars you've sold. The number of cars sold is actually tied directly to your race performance, and as you sell more cars, more options will open up, such as the ability to develop one of the remaining roadsters. Or if you'd rather progress forward, you can save up your research points to develop the next class of car, the sports car. Much like in the roadster segment of the game, you're again given three choices of cars. This moves forward through the sports car ranks, through a set of supercars, and all the way up to dream cars. As you win races and progress through the game's events, your company's building expands to include new rooms--but all this really serves to do is to annoyingly spread your existing options out into different spots, making you click through a room or two before actually getting to where you want to go.
In addition to dream mode, there's an arcade mode that lets you set up quick, stakes-free races using cars and tracks you've unlocked in the dream mode. Single race and time attack options are available for one-player games, and there's also a two-player split-screen racing mode. The two-player game slows down a bit here and there, and it's also only a two-car race, so it isn't very exciting at all.
Regardless of how the shell around the driving looks and acts, driving games still come down to gameplay. Apex gives you a few simlike options, such as the ability to adjust your gear ratio and downforce, but it remains largely an arcadelike experience in the vein of Ridge Racer or Burnout. In addition to the gas and brake control, you're also given a hand brake. The cars handle reasonably well, but the whole thing begins to fall apart once you take the poor AI into consideration. Cars tend to pack up, with one lone exception that tends to be the only real challenger in any race. This pack mentality means that it's incredibly easy to go from first to last after a mistake. Also, the AI cars don't drive particularly well. None of them attempt to block your pass attempts, and they'll often slide out into barriers or, in some cases, slam into each other when driving down a straightaway. While you could chalk some of this up to the developers probably not wanting the AI drivers to behave like professional driving robots, they instead seem incompetent.