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Game Daze: 'Apex' & 'Furious Karting'

Friday, April 11, 2003

By Jonathan D. Silver, Post-Gazette Staff Writer


Debuting exclusively for Xbox, "Apex" (Atari; $49.95; Rated Everyone) is as solid and pretty a racer as we've seen for the green-hued console. It just didn't live up to its name in terms of being at the pinnacle of racing games.

While not quite fulfilling the promise that appears on the back of the game box -- "Design, build and race original prototype cars..." -- "Apex" does allow players to guide their destinies behind the wheel by deciding how to invest research dollars won at competitions to build better, faster vehicles.

With technology so advanced that game designers can routinely create photorealistic tracks and environments, these days it takes something extra to propel a racer from average fare to extraordinary.

Apparently, the designers at Milestone thought the way to enhance "Apex" was to provide players with a small cast of characters who interact with the player and help make that dream car a reality.

Unfortunately, the interactions with the characters are dull and useless, and building a prototype from the ground up is less than satisfying. You do little more than select whether you want to put research dollars into one type of car or another.

"Apex" features dozens of challenging tracks, all beautifully rendered and with some of the best lighting effects we've seen. Just watch the reflections of a bridge's support structure flow by on the back windshield of your nearest competitor and you'll see what we mean.

In broader terms, you'll find your standard racing modes here, a halfhearted attempt at damage modeling (although performance doesn't degrade in battered vehicles), and reasonable racing physics.

Perfectly serviceable but hardly revolutionary, "Apex" has a ways to go before reaching the top.

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'Furious Karting'

"Furious Karting" (Atari; X; $29.99; Rated Teen) is the latest game to add violence to a usually nonviolent genre. We've seen it happen in golf, soccer and now racing. The result is a goofy game that entices but ultimately fails to rise above a rental rating.

The vehicle of choice is the gas-powered kart, and a good choice it is. Low to the ground like a dragster, the compact land-speeders whiz along tracks that are somewhat clever, but not clever enough for our tastes.

Races are populated by a cast of characters from around the globe who have little to say but say it anyway. Inane dialogue, an ear-rending soundtrack and a manual thin on performing special moves or suggesting strategy continually irked us.

The goal of this game is to first show your mettle to join a team, and then to win races with your team. Courses are littered with power-ups like nitro bursts, bombs, oil slicks and even chickens that get sucked up into engines to slow competitors -- or you if you're not careful. If you get tired of rivals alongside you, you can wallop them with a bat.

Performing tricks can up your Fun rating, making it even easier to do stunts, your Speed, or your Karma, which makes competitors more tolerant of your aggressiveness. In theory, a well-placed apology will prod them to let you pass.

We thought the concept was great, but the reality of pulling off stunts, whacking competitors on the head and saying sorry didn't work quite as smoothly as the manual would lead you to believe.

Jonathan D. Silver can be reached at jsilver@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1962.

Click here for an archive of previous Interact articles

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