Final Apex is a new one for us. It’s the first Xbox game we’ve played that cost more than a couple of quid but has not come packaged with achievements. If you worship at the altar of Gamerscore, you might want to think twice about the purchase. Microsoft’s vetting teams are slacking.
And while we’re in the mood for handing out warnings, here’s another one. Final Apex is not multiplayer. It’s not local multiplayer or online. It doesn’t even have a global leaderboard. It’s resolutely single player, and that’s going to rankle with a lot of players, particularly as it’s to be expected from this kind of racer. Again, keep it in mind before you purchase.
But if you’re a solo player who isn’t driven by achievements, Final Apex is more alluring. It’s a racer that’s doing a hell of a lot with the limitations of its budget. We have played a whole lot worse on the low-cost end of the spectrum.
There are three ways to play Final Apex. There’s a Career, which offers seventy (70!) tracks in a linear fashion, gating you from playing them until you’ve accumulated enough cash from high podium positions. There’s Series, which chops up the seventy tracks into ten grand prix-style cups to play sequentially. And finally there is Test Drive, which is less judgmental about how good you are, but doesn’t place any opposing cars on the track either.
Seventy tracks is a ridiculous number, if we are being honest. Someone has gone crazy with their mapping software, creating tracks that are every conceivable permutation of bends and straights. It is, as you might expect, too many. It spreads Final Apex too thin, and every track resembles every other track. We saw a couple of tunnels, while some tracks were more NASCAR than F1, but that’s the limit. Playing all of them in a row was slightly deadening.
Luckily, we got distracted by the racing. It’s polished and weighty, better than some full price titles that we’ve played. Sure, it has its quirks that threaten to unseat it – more on them later – but the general racing feel is rather muscly.
Final Apex is somewhere between arcade and simulation. Your car vastly out-accelerates all of the other cars on the track, so you can surge past them in a satisfyingly arcade fashion. Knock one of them, and you’ll grind together at much the same speed as you did before, with the game meting out very little punishment at all. It’s a cousin to Daytona in that sense.
But arrive at a corner and the simulation kicks in. You need to be pumping the brake or lifting off the accelerator if you don’t want to be tasting dust. A racing line is essential, and you’ll want to be keeping distance between you and the other racers, as the torque from a successful corner will push you past one or two of them if you have free track in front of you.
It’s in the turns that Final Apex is at its best. Negotiating them well offers up a satisfying burst of drift, and your back end will lead you round the corners. It never feels like you’re slowing down on corners: if anything, Final Apex pumps the adrenaline more on the bends. Handling a series of hairpins or chicanes feels great when you’re taking them well.
The flaws are undeniable, though, and the lack of budget shines through. Collision is an oddball, for example. If you hit another car, the game has no idea what to do. It’s like the cars are made of soap: they slip and slide off each other, with some spinning away, others firing into the air, and occasionally nothing happening at all. It can mean that you’re wincing whenever a collision happens as it could be in your favour or very definitely not.
Heaven help you if you come off the track. Even graze a tyre rim on the surrounding dust and grass, and you will lose speed dramatically and suddenly. It reminded me of the first Wipeout game on the PS1, where dinking the wall would lead to a near stationary stop. When you’re hugging the striped curbs but misjudge them by a centimetre, you are suddenly dropping down the pack and have to take the next one or two corners perfectly to catch back up.
Another foible is that you have to manufacture your own enthusiasm for Final Apex. There aren’t any highscores or ranks to climb; no achievements to gain (maybe we care about Gamerscore after all); no upgrades or cars to purchase; and certainly no multiplayer matches to win. The closest you’ve got to a goal is the Career, where you’re unlocking new tracks with each win. But since the tracks are remarkably similar to each other, this isn’t much of a carrot. You really need to be invested in Final Apex to keep playing it.
But for all the collision weirdnesses and lack of treats for racing well, there’s a sturdy racer in Final Apex. It feels fast, it drifts well, and there’s surprising heft to the cars. Some driving games would give a front axle to control as well as Final Apex does; we just wish there were more satisfying things to do when you’re in the car.