Time to go FlatOut!
Review by Rob Edmondson
Published 17th December 2004
- Release Date: 1st January 1970
The PC, as a gaming system, has always suffered from a lack of a decent arcade racing game. Not since the likes of Screamer all those years ago have we really seen an effort which has come close to succeeding on the home computer. One could point to the fact that the PC is hardly the ideal machine to host such a game, and that users are faced with the added expense of purchasing, at the very least, a decent pad. This would of course be correct, but thankfully is a view which was not taken by Bugbear, the developers of one of the finest driving titles ever to grace us with its presence; FlatOut.
FlatOut is a game designed entirely to exploit the fun factor of racing. You’ll find no pit-stops, tyre pressures or complicated spreadsheets here. Oh no, FlatOut likes to throw you straight into the action and the need for any other button besides a big “Race” button, and maybe, for the rarest of occasions an exit one, is entirely open to question.
Like many arcade racers, FlatOut employs a system where most of the game is initially locked forcing you to complete the earlier levels to progress. When you first begin, you are presented with a budget of $4000 and a small selection of cars to purchase. As you progress through the game more cars are made available for purchase and extra tracks can be raced upon. The cars can be tuned by buying from a rigid selection of upgrades to improve your engine, exhaust and so on. The aim of each of these upgrades is explained clearly on a handy menu and ensures that even technical no-hopers like me understand what is going on. After obtaining a car the next step is to enter a race. Initially you are presented with two options; “Bronze”, which is the option for the beginner level of races, and “Bonus” which contains some hilarious mini-games. On selecting Bronze you choose your preferred track and then the real fun begins.
The racing in FlatOut is some of the most frantic I have ever experienced. Right from the start you are immersed in a hectic contest, which will require your complete concentration all the way to the finish. The handling of your car, for starters, is sublime. It is a joy in itself to drive around the well-designed tracks, skidding round tight corners and taking off on various bumps on the road. The car also has a handy nitro function, which allows you short intervals of excessive speed. When applied after exiting a bend this gives you tremendous acceleration and will at times leave you thinking you left your stomach behind.
Nitro is collected by destroying the mostly brittle scenery around you. Hardly anything is safe from your reckless driving, with traffic cones and tire walls to entire buildings and industrial structures being at risk. As a general rule the more spectacular the damage, the more nitro you receive and this serves as a constant incentive to be as constructively destructive as possible. The debris of these incidents often blocks lanes on the road as well, leading to perilous circumstances for your unfortunate opponents. If you inflict too much punishment on your car though, you will suffer a crash in a similar fashion to those seen in recent console hit Burnout 3. As players of this will know, the idea was not to have many crashes, leading to a slow degradation of the car but to only register the bigger impacts leading to spectacular crashes with slow motion replays and ultimately a brand new car. Developers Bugbear, have expanded on this by forcing you to keep the damage obtained in these big collisions and simply resetting your car on the track. Furthermore, in a comical effect, the driver is thrown out of the car to receive painful injuries expressed all too accurately by the rag-doll physics. This will surely encourage any player to ensure their seat belt is fastened next time they enter a car. The developers have clearly taken delight in this addition and have actually added some mini-games in which the aim is to throw your driver as far as possible out of the car for cash prizes.
The AI of the other drivers is extremely good and can almost have you believing that you are racing against other humans. Your opponents have a remarkable knack of running you off the road at any given opportunity and it is extremely satisfying when you manage to outwit one of them. This almost makes up for the lack of online play; a feature sadly missing with only split screen and LAN multiplayer action available.
The visuals in FlatOut are very impressive with plenty of eye pleasing special effects, such as trees swaying in the wind. As mentioned before, almost all of the scenery can be damaged with breathtaking effects when, say, you destroy the supports of a bridge or hit a tire wall. There can be occasional minor clipping problems but due to the quantity of the objects being thrown around, these are hard to notice.
The sound effects in FlatOut are not particularly special, but certainly no embarrassment and with the terrific rock score thrown in you’ll find yourself turning that volume control ever higher.
Up to now I have mainly praised this game and this is largely because there are so few problems with it. However, if I was to be picky I could point out that the catch-up can at times be a bit excessive. In some case you can have a near perfect race, misjudge the last corner and end up finishing fourth whereas in the other extreme you could have a terrible race only to shape up in the final lap and somehow nick a win. I can understand the need for catch-up to keep the races exciting, but I feel that FlatOut is slightly over dependant on it, and this can lead to some very harsh or kind treatment. Another slight gripe I have is that the car seems to flip all too easily, especially when hitting the curb. In one case I was actually flipped by a traffic cone which I’m convinced isn’t possible. However, if any reader feels inclined to prove me wrong I wish them luck, but ask them not to mention my name to the police in the enquiry.
To sum up then, I strongly feel that FlatOut is one of the best, if not the best racing game I have ever played. It must be worrying for the developers that if they ever decided to make a sequel there would be no area they could improve on greatly. Therefore it is essential that people go out there now and buy it to reward Bugbear for this gem.
Review Score: 8.8/10
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