Bugbear; an object of terror, dislike, or annoyance. Entertainment; a performance to give pleasure - which best describes Bugbear Entertainment's new racer?
PS2, Xbox, PC
FlatOut follows in the tradition of the old Destruction Derby series, but with the added fun of physics. Anything you hit during races will react to the collision, tire walls will bounce and roll over the track, fences will smash and scaffold will collapse. This creates a dynamic racing environment which proves to be one of the games biggest draws. It can also create some frustration; crashing into an obstacle that wasn't there on the previous lap which costs you the race is annoying for sure, but is almost always down to player error so cannot be held against the game. The physics of the cars themselves are great, if not entirely realistic, but then it they were too accurate it would reduce the fun.
The same cannot be said for the random nature of resetting your car should you veer too far off the course, or upturn your car. How far back in the race it puts you can sometimes be a little too harsh. Due to the AI of the other drivers though, who mess up and crash as often as you do, it is often possible to claim a decent place with smart use of nitro boosts and good driving, even on the final lap from the back of the pack. This means that even though the game has a random nature, it works in your favour as much as against you. Still, it could have done without this randomness.
Flatout opens up in a similar fashion to the majority of racing games. Initially you can choose from three tracks in the Bronze Cup. Placing third or higher in each race opens up the next, and so on to unlock the next Cup; there are a total of 45 tracks spread over the Cups. At first I found the handling to be a little on the floaty side, but it just took a little while to get used too, and considering the rest of the games content it fits perfectly. Each car has a nitro boost available which builds up whenever you hit something, and considering most obstacles at by the side of the tracks it creates a nice risk/reward payoff to build boost.
Aside from the Cup races there are also Bonus events, which are structured similarly to the Cups, but include Destruction Derby races (looped tracks) and Destruction Bowls (last car standing). Better still, the Bonus area also consists of some of FlatOuts most amusing and enjoyable events, where you eject your driver through the windscreen to score points. High and long jumps, darts and bowling are a few of these; you hold the nitro button to set the angle and release to launch your driver. The physics of the drivers are seriously over exaggerated in comparison to the cars, but this just adds to the amusement. The drivers are practically lifeless dummies anyway and there is no visible damage caused so it is all just innocent fun. Ejecting your driver through the bullseye on a 40ft dartboard is pretty unique, and it's a great laugh.
FlatOut looks good for the most part; the cars in particular have good damage models if you find yourself crashing more than racing. However there is minimal difference between the tracks, beyond the basic environment types (ice, mud, tarmac) there is not much variety in trackside objects which can make things a bit samey. The physics do make up for this to some degree, with those obstacles thrown about differently each time you race.
The music of FlatOut might well be the biggest issue for some, as it consists solely of little known rock acts. Some songs are pretty good and compliment the driving well, but many just get lost in the sound effects. Of course if you aren't a fan of this sort of music there will be nothing here you will like, you can always turn the race music volume down. Good job the sound effects are done well, meaty engines and squealing tires make a much better soundtrack to the racing carnage. There is also a similar feature to EA Trax at the start of each race, popping up the artist and title, but here at least it is not intrusive to playing the game.
Presentation is sparse but functional, clean and clear so doesn't cause any problems. Selecting races is quick and simple and more importantly so are the tuning options. A total of 16 cars can be unlocked over the course of the games, and each can be tuned up with different parts paid for with race winnings, and you will need to tune up so as not to find yourself outclassed in the latter races. On the multiplayer front there are split-screen races for 2 players, and you can have 4 players in the Ragdoll Olympics (by passing the pad). Unfortunately there is no online play for the PS2 version; the Xbox version handles 8 players over Live!, and the PC version 16. Tut, tut.
FlatOut is for the most part very enjoyable, it doesn't have the same polished presentation as Burnout 3, but the addition of physics to this style of racing adds enough to the game to make it a worthwhile addition to the genre. The sometimes random feeling nature of races and other minor bugbears (sorry, had to) thankfully do not detract too much from the fun.