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PS2 Review - 'Flat-Out'

by Tim "The Rabbit" Mithee on Aug. 23, 2005 @ 2:22 a.m. PDT

Genre: Racing
Publisher: Empire Interactive
Developer: Bugbear
Release Date: July 12, 2005

Buy 'FLAT-OUT': Xbox | PC | PlayStation 2

Mayhem. Flying debris. Bodies doing ballet in the air as gas tanks burst and glass shatters. High powered engines screaming under the stress of insane speeds. Put that all together, shake it around a little bit, and after you mix in a dollop of redneck hillbilly sense and sensibility, what you'll have in your glass, friend, is Flatout. This is where speed-crazy kids, still giddy from Burnout 3 come to play, evading barricades and jumping over each other like some sort of suicidal stunt show. Get your motor running, as they say out West.

The easiest way to grasp Flatout is to compare it to the closest living brethren it really has, Burnout 3. Both are outrageously fast, with tracks that require some degree of technical skills (especially at full speed) and emphasize severe vehicular damage. That, right there, is the end of the similarities. Where Burnout has always been about top-end sports cars doing 300 mph through urban streets and mountainside highways, Flatout stars dumpster-destined beaters, demolition derby grade wrecks of twisted metal and ugly spray paint patch jobs that would make Jeff Foxworthy cringe. No beautiful city runs here, either: the tracks are a mishmash of speed loops and off-road dirt, tightly plotted and designed to make you run screaming into the night.

Under the hood, the PS2 version sports an admirable engine. I'm a bit jaded on XBox games in general these days, so doubling back to the older system is a bit of a shock to the brain, but that's not really an issue here. Textures are big, detailed, and don't suffer from any sort of heavy artifacting or mipping, and there is no slowdown to be found, even when all eight cars get together and slamdance on the same corner. The graphics are comparable to the PC version, which is no small feat. Motion blur is used sparingly, and the vehicle damage modeling is exceptionally well done — glass shatters, hoods pop, and if you're really down and out, you'll see a tire blow or your engine light up!

Audio is something I wish I could say more about, but sadly, it's a pretty spare collection. A few unsigned and independent artists produced the soundtrack, a mash of "hillbilly headbanging" that's decidedly unnoticeable. While not nearly as intrusive as EA Trax has been lately, it's nothing that sticks with you. There's no announcer, though the sound effects are done well enough, especially the thundering crashes you're bound to hear a few million times. Crank the speakers, turn down the music track, and it's an audio tournament of destruction.

Flatout introduces just a few new mechanics into the gameplay, just to liven things up. A Nitrous Tank builds up as you cause damage (either to yourself or to others, mwahahaha), giving you a bit of a chug when you need it. There's also a full-bodied career mode with upgradeable vehicles — something Burnout 3 could have used — and a few unlockables. The AI is more than simply competent; your opponents will happily destroy you or tear by you in the curves in order to maintain a lead. Beyond those additions, the racing is really standard stuff, though exceedingly fun. A Demolition Arena mode is available, but only as a mini-game. (I was struck during the Demolition Arena mode by how similar Flatout feels to the first-generation PlayStation title Destruction Derby — a spiritual successor, perhaps, done a million times better?)

The biggest element being hyped in the adverts and print copy is the driver. The driver himself (or herself) has been given a ragdoll physics model so if launched from the windshield, he/she will fly about pseudo-realistically, flailing limbs and screaming. For all the hype, it never really comes into play outside of the bonus modes, where you can play darts or try to set a high jump record using the driver as a projectile. In normal races, it's mere fluff and actually acts a deterrent: when you suffer a hardcore body-stopping crash and the driver flies free, you'll have to wait until they slow enough for you to "reset" the car, delaying you a few precious seconds. (There's a cheat that allows you lob the driver whenever you want, but I fail to see how this would do anything but cost you races.)

That's really the only issue I can see anywhere in Flatout: it's distractingly difficult to win sometimes. Without the wide-open spaces and liberal turbo of Burnout 3, races tend to become tightly contested slamfests, where every single mistake can cost you the race immediately as you try to recover. Sliding about a turn wrong can put you into a tree with no chance to evade, which happens a lot when you're running with the pack, and the other cars don't believe in giving you a chance. Nitrous bonuses are rather sparse, especially later in the races and don't make a huge difference much of the time. Frankly, the two biggest sell-points of the entire game — vehicle damage and the flying driver — are just tacked-on gimmicks, especially the former: you cannot destroy your vehicle entirely; you simply slow it down a bit, no matter how badly you beat the thing. Collisions become something to avoid, not cause, unlike Burnout 3's spectacular aerial acrobatics.

Does this diminish Flatout in the least? No, not at all. Tight car handling, a career mode that's fun without being too technically involved (unlike Gran Turismo 4 or SegaGT) and that same sense of speed we've come to love as of late in our racing titles establish Flatout as a worthy companion, if not successor, to Burnout 3. The future will tell where Bugbear goes from here: Flatout 2 is already in development, as is Burnout: Revenge, so we'll have enough vehicular manslaughter in the coming months to keep even the most psychotic speed demon satisfied. For now, if you appreciate the "arcade-style" racing game, as opposed to the "simulation," then I can't recommend Flatout enough.

Score: 9.0/10

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