APEX is one of those games that has ideas that seem right on paper, but it's execution sometimes falls short of what they wanted to achieve. The concept of owning a car company, building your own cars and racing them against real-world manufacturers sounds like a great idea. APEX lets you do this, sort of. The problem with this racer is that it limits you to only what the developers give you, and if you're expecting creative freedom of any kind, forget it. It's basically an arcade racer similar to Ridge Racer, rather than a huge racing sim. While that's not terrible, it's less than what you would expect from what was said on the back of the box.
The main mode of APEX is the Dream Mode, which is where you supposedly make the cars of your dreams. Really, it's more of the dreams of the developers. The only input you have is which pre-designed car would be made next, and you have no say on what design elements can be made. If you were expecting something similar to the Carrozeria mode of Sega GT for Dreamcast, forget it. Basically, you'll race to sell cars. The more cars you sell, the quicker new cars can be made. The sales element is a nice idea, and it does something with those "points" you ususally gather in other racing games. In races, you'll go against some real-world manufacturers, and prove that your car is as good as theirs, if not better. But after awhile, you want to drive the other (licensed) cars, and you really can't do that in the Dream Mode, so at least the developers provided an arcade mode if you want to drive other cars. And really, that's the extent of the race modes. It's fairly basic, but the Dream Mode does have a good deal of length to it, and will take some time to complete.
The driving/racing of APEX is pretty basic, too. The cars handle very much like an arcade game, with some highly forgiving physics. Again, it's another thing that seperates this game from being a sim. The AI provides some of the pushiest and spastic computer drivers I've seen in awhile. They'll always try to push their way to the front, either by running to off the road or cutting you off. But there are moments where they do something completly stupid to each other, you can't help but mutter "WTF?". At least more of the frustration comes from the AI than the controls, which isn't such a bad thing, but the AI could be more sophisticated, rather than have the mentality of people shopping at Wal-Mart on the day-after-thanksgiving.
The visuals of APEX are pretty good, using much of the Xbox's power. The environments are nice, and full of detail. Buildings and objects have some fairly sharp textures, and there's even bump-mapping on the road. The game claims that there's so many polygons in each car, and while they look good, it's not exactally going to blow GT3 out of the water. There are some good effects, as well, including bloom-lighting and real-time reflections on your car. One thing about the bloom-lighting, though, is that it could be toned down a tad. The framerate runs pretty smooth, although the game tends to have some screen-tearing problems in some places.
The sound is not nearly as impressive. The built in soundtrack is of average fare, but thank god you can use custom soundtracks. An odd thing about the soundtracks, though, is that it kind of "skips" a bit, like a CD-player without anti-skip protection. Also, it would be nice if the same song didn't play for the race you were on. It changes each race, but never changes songs during one. The effects are not that great, especially the engine noises, where it's too loud and sounds less like a car, and more like a distorted lawnmower or dirtbike. There's some occasional voice work in the menu area, and while it's decent, it's a bit repetitive.
APEX is a game that has a good concept, but is never executed to it's full potential. If this game were much more open to car creation (even pre-set parts are fine) and had a larger simulation element, it would be so much more interesting. But as it is, it's a decent arcade racer with some nice visuals.