Empire's flagship racer is back, but with new thrills can it avoid the pitfalls of the first game?
PS2, Xbox, PC
The last FlatOut was crippled by the fact that it was so insanely frustrating - make one mistake and you were left in last place, and the fact that it was so infuriatingly easy to make that one tiny mistake thanks to the floatylight handling didn't help matters in the slightest. It was a fun game, yet it suffered horribly because of these faults. But this is the sequel, so why should we tread over the same ground in this review? Because nothing major has changed.
The treadless-tires-racing-on-an-ice-track handling is back, along with the overly bouncy physics - not something to include in a game that relies a great deal on physical destruction - and the competitors who always seem to be less than a millisecond behind you are back in force. It's even as if the soundtrack is regurgitated from the last effort. It's an uninspired effort, that's for sure.
But let's not be overly critical from the get-go. It isn't all bad. FlatOut 2 is a racing game heavy on destruction, with a few distractingly fun mini games thrown in for good measure. The original's stock car races are back, and are this time accompanied by traditional race and the 'street' circuits that no driving game can be without these days. The different car and track styles offer some nice changes and help to show how developed Bugbear's physics engine is. Even if it is too bouncy and floaty.
The game has an undeniably solid look to things, and whilst the artistic style isn't graphically inspired, it certainly holds up well - the destructible cars and terrain add a great deal of satisfaction to every race and there are some thundering crashes to behold, though again things just aren't as inspired as we maybe hoped for and compared to the likes of Burnout even the huge crashes are pretty tame. Conversely, however, the level of destruction easily holds up to - if not betters - Sega's Full Auto. Destruction on an epic scale, a satisfying career mode, nice distractions in the shape of arena events and mini games (even 'bowl' type events reminding us of the good ol' days of Destruction Derby on the PSOne) and a thoroughly solid, if slightly Americanised in sheen, frontend. So why does Flatout 2 prove to be a miss in so many ways?
For starters and as previously mentioned, the handling ranges from decent to pathetic - cars skid and slide a ridiculous amount from the lightest of touches on the pad, making cars near uncontrollable at certain points. The fact that these hulking machines of destructive fury receive the lightest of touches and flail wildly across the course into the nearest tree doesn't encourage the player to learn from their mistake and try again. It encourages them to violently assault their controller.
The physics are nicely implemented, but they just feel so very wrong - frankly they should be more forgiving. Flatout 2 is meant to be an arcade style racer, but the combination of loose handling and overreactive physics (i.e. 'realism') suck out huge chunks of fun, spitting them in the face of the player. Then laughing. LAUGHING. Another issue arises when the game is compared to the first in the series, which featured incredibly open tracks and the ability to travel massively off-course, smashing fences up as you blazed through the countryside - now this does feature in number 2 but tracks are a hell of a lot more restricted than they were, with a lot more fences that look and act as if your 100mph stock car could smash them as easily as it did the thousand other fences, when in actuality they are harder than the offspring of The Hulk and Superman. This makes the whole game feel more forced and streamlined, which takes away a lot of the charm the first game held - it's not a dealbreaker, don't get me wrong, but it is certainly an irritant.
There have been a number of improvements to the game over the previous release, and races can prove to be fun when things don't go awry from the lightest of shunts, but the overall package just isn't good enough to warrant a recommendation. Flatout 2 is not the worst game in the world by a long shot, but it should have been so much better than it is.
When weighed up as a total package, Flatout 2 just doesn't cut it. The 'Americanisation' of the game, with the college-rock/pop-punk soundtrack and shiny frontend/loading screens et al may at least look and sound the part, but the haphazard handling and inconsistent physics serve to bring the experience to near ruin.