If imitation is the highest form of praise, Flatout: Ultimate Carnage should have Burnout blushing from the downright, flat-out flattery. Indeed, for every McDonald’s, there is a McDowell’s. May I take your florder?
[image1]First, there’s the title. Trying to come as close to “Burnout” without infringing on copyrights, “Flatout” really should have a hyphen in there somewhere. Otherwise, it just looks French. Tout c’est Fla.
Then there’s the logo. It doesn’t take a graphic designer to notice the similar font, the similar fiery burn, the similar extreme subtitle. And all this before we get to the game, which in as few words as possible, is Burnout without seatbelts.
But in imitation, Flatout is a lot more fun than it has any right to be. It’s definitely a budget title—with looser controls, fewer tracks and cars, and crappier music—but unlike the forthcoming Burnout: Paradise, also takes the franchise into fancy-pants Web 2.0 territory. Flatout returns smashmouth arcade driving to its reckless roots and gets the formula almost better than the original.
Flatout, at its core, is an aggressive smash-'em-up racer. You begin with a junker car racing in muddy, rural tracks and gradually unlock, upgrade, and purchase your way to racing slick supercars on freeways and through malls. To win races you’ve got to drive fast and cut corners, but you’ve also got to hit rival cars, make big jumps, find shortcuts through buildings, and ram through destructible environments to gain Nitro. No, not that Nitro.
In addition to races, there are a number of mini-game modes like Destruction Derby and timed “beat the bomb” races. Destruction Derby is the most furious, as you fly around ramming other cars and getting pick-ups to dole out the vehicular pain. But the most innovative - and the most hyped - are the rag-doll physics in events that capitalize on the game’s only original feature: the ability to launch your driver out of your car.
[image2]In these events, you drive a super car at a target, hold down a button to select an angle, and launch your hapless self into the air. While in the air, you can slightly alter the flightplan or give yourself a “nudge” upward. Some have you shooting your driver at basketball hoops or through playing cards to make poker hands. The best, though, is the introductory mini-game, where you fire your driver into a chainlink fence. And he sticks.
But for all the effort put into the mini-events, it is the non-stop, destruction-friendly races that steal the show. It’s difficult to explain why, since the action and the graphics look so entirely derivative, but the few tiny changes Flatout makes to the Burnout formula makes a big difference.
For one thing, there is no commuter traffic. One staple in Burnout is avoiding cars that could ruin your race. Flatout replaces traffic with lots of, err, stuff. The environments are full of junk, from roadsigns and logs to patio furniture. When the race starts, these items are all neatly arranged. By the second lap, the track looks like the living room of a family with many small children. Cluttered is an understatement.
But rather than wrecking your car outright when you run into them, each object has its own weight and physics properties. The heavier your car, the less of a hit to your speed you take when you plow through them. Of course, heavy cars don't accelerate quickly, so you’ve got to choose the right car for the right track. Four-wheel-drive trucks control well on muddy surfaces and in cluttered environments, whereas rear-wheel-drive speedsters tear up wide-open asphalt.
There are not many tracks, but Flatout uses them well. Each one has shortcuts, but not every shortcut is made for every type of car. A shortcut through an airplane needs a heavy truck that can plow through the seats. Take a tall truck on the wrong path, though, and you’ll get decapitated by a low-hanging log.
[image3]Another small change that makes a big difference is the fact that the game never stops. Even when you wreck badly, a press of a button respawns you a little ways back on the track. When you smash another car, there is no slow-mo replay, and when you get smashed, there’s a good chance that you might land on your tires and still forge ahead. It's forgiving enough that it encourages wild and reckless driving.
The tiniest little change, one that looks pretty stupid at first, also turns out to be a surprisingly smart idea. Each car that you drive against has its own unique A.I., complete with a shallow driver’s bio and a crappy little driver avatar. It might seem silly to give each cars their own driver, but after enough races, you learn to appreciate the differences in their styles.
Katie Jackson, the road-rage commuter, will turn on anyone that even nudges her, driving both herself and the other car off the track or into fiery death. Another driver only drives his best when he’s behind you, and another goes way too fast into turns. The names and bios of the other drivers might be kind of lame, but in practice the individual A.I., and the personalities, give the repetitive races character.
Which they need because the races do begin to feel similar by the third or fourth hour. You race against the same eight racers, driving the same eight cars, through the same stretches of track over and over again. For what it’s worth, the personalities of the drivers and the ingenious tracks help relieve the repetition, but the monotony still sets in. The instant uploading of your lap times to the online leaderboard, though, makes every lap a quick race against the world.
It’s good you get to race against the world, because you can’t race against your friends. The game is single-player locally, and the online game, at least to my knowledge, is non-existent. I tried my best, but after fifteen minutes of being unable to find an online game, I gave up. This is a shame, because the game looks like it would be a blast to play in local multiplayer, especially the rambunctious Destruction Derby.
[image4]Of course, the package has its flaws. The worst offender is the music, which while well-produced, are not well-conceived imitations of System of a Down and Limp Bizcuit. The lyrics of many of the songs are awful, but the cup has to go to “Wanna know you” by Manafest in which the singer complains, over a heavy head-banging cadence, that his girlfriend won’t share her feelings. Grow a set.
And the graphics are mediocre in this next-gen world. The environments are nice enough, but the framerate is still a little choppy when compared with the slick polish of PGR 4 or Forza. There also isn’t a very good camera angle for driving. The default angle is the best, but driving taller vehicles can be difficult when you can't see over the cabin.
The game is also short, and you can tear through all of the tracks in around ten hours of solid driving. But as a game that sat around on the GR shelf for a week before I was tricked into reviewing it, its big successes came as a welcome surprise.