Humans are a destructive species, or at least that’s what I tell myself every time I think back fondly to the days in which Destruction Derby and many similar titles were the king of racers on console. They were so good that they ran the show in my living room; but what was once my favourite game type quickly became the forgotten genre, slipping away over the years. FlatOut of course hasn’t been gone for quite as long with the previous outing FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage taking Xbox 360 by storm in 2007. But even so, ten years is quite some time for a beloved franchise to leave our screens. Nevertheless, FlatOut 4: Total Insanity has finally brought the crash-heavy racer to the current generation of gaming, but is it a worthy followup?
There are several ways to play FlatOut 4; you can head straight into the Career Mode, which is likely to be the first port of call for most racing fans, but to accompany that are FlatOut Mode, Quick Play and Multiplayer.
Career Mode takes players through the three disciplines available in the game; Derby, Classic and All Star, all with a vast set of cars available to be bought and upgraded for each. Each choice has various championships and events to compete in, including Race, Eliminator and Time Trial as well as a few others for fans who just want to get into destroying things as quickly as possible – Survivor derby event anyone? There are several options for players to compete in, within each discipline, with the harder series’ unlocked by winning the championships in the easier editions. Of course, you will also need to have your cash saved for latter championships, as the cars required to race in them aren’t cheap – and the same can be said for their upgrades too. It’s about then where things begin to get tricky.
For those who aren’t aware, FlatOut is a series of no-holds-barred racing in which you compete in heavy cars, looking to cross the finish line first by any means necessary. That means getting in someone’s way will usually result in being shoved, bashed, crumpled and smashed as you are forced into the closest grass verge, tree, lamppost or anything else that may be in the way, ensuring you are required to hit that restart button in a hope to catch up and correct your mistake…or exact revenge.
Those who played FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage on Xbox 360 will remember the great way in which the cars handled, allowing them to feel very much like a real vehicle, and thankfully that is something which returns in FlatOut 4. Every car I found myself using feels heavy, sluggish and just what I’d expect from a car built to deal a ton of damage when needed. Even later on, when you find yourself using the expensive All Star vehicles, things still feel just as believable, even with the various spikes and whatnot protruding from your car.
Unfortunately, the one thing that doesn’t deliver very well is the damage modelling. It may sound odd to be wishing for my car to be crumpled beyond recognition, especially after a fair pummelling from the bunch of overly aggressive A.I. during each race, but it would certainly add much more realism to the experience if it was possible to bend the various cars to unthinkable angles. Instead, the best we can hope to achieve this time is a mildly smoke filled engine and a few crumpled body parts that look like someone has put a hair crimper over them, rather than given it an absolute hammering. For a game that should focus on destruction, that is certainly a disappointment.
Other than the Career, you’re probably quite likely to be spending a fair bit of time with the FlatOut Mode. This is where players take part in an array of events that include the returning Stunt Mode events and several other edge of the seat moments, such as Beat the Bomb, Deathmatch and many others. The idea is to earn the biggest score possible, with the end of each event delivering a bronze, silver or gold medal based on your performance. There are 42 of the FlatOut Mode events for players to work through and it will take racking up the big scores to unlock the next event, with many locked until you have reached the required amount of points combined across all.
Quick Play meanwhile is as simple and basic as it sounds – you pick a game mode, pick your settings such as laps, track and car, and you’re off. This is possibly the best way to play if you’re looking to get used to the handling of each of the cars in the game and provides a great way to get acquainted to each event type too.
The final mode available, that of Multiplayer, sees up to eight players go head to head online in any of the game modes found in the main game. Players can even play multiplayer in the stunt mode offering (accessible via Quick Play), taking turns in the hot seat to try and get the highest score in any of the various entries – returning favourites Free Kick, Baseball, and Rings of Fire are all in place alongside new ones such as Cup Pong, Golf, Billiards and several more.
The issue I found with the multiplayer however is with the severe lack of people playing. Whilst each mode can have up to eight players, I often only ever found myself playing with two or three others at the very most and that really makes the whole experience a lot less enjoyable than it should be – especially when there is no catch up so when you get smashed into a tree and left in everyone’s trail, you’ll be staying there until the race ends. You could argue that this is not a problem with the game and rather a lack of interest from the community, but it would have been much nicer to see lobbies that have only a few players at least filled with A.I. counterparts until someone else joins the battle to help keep things flowing.
The multiplayer experience may lack excitement, and the damage model is truly disappointing, but the gameplay on the whole isn’t the worst I’ve ever seen. But then, it isn’t the best either. If you were to put FlatOut 4 next to the previous title in the series, you’d be hard pushed to notice too many differences and I think after everything else that is my biggest gripe with this game. Whilst the last game wasn’t a bad one, given the ten year gap you’d be forgiven for expecting things to have at least moved on a little, but that isn’t the case, and instead we have been left with a sequel that feels more like a prequel in all the wrong ways.
There should be no doubt that long-time fans of the series will be happy to finally have FlatOut return, but it will be more for the lack of anything like it available on the market right now, rather than the quality of the game this time round. Even with a healthy Career Mode to keep you going for a little while, a lacklustre multiplayer will probably see players wanting to leave this on the shelf once they’ve flushed out all the solo offerings.