Reviewed: August 21, 2006
Released: August 1, 2006
A year or so ago, Atari released Test Drive: Eve of Destruction, which did a wonderful job recreating the arena-style demolition derby and racing action that graces the county fairs across the nation.
I was reviewing Eve of Destruction, when I received a demo in the mail for a new gaming franchise called FlatOut. I popped the disc in and was immediately turned off for its driving controls, awkward physics models, and its silly “launch the driver” gimmick – which did little more than make it hard to get around anything but a simple corner without sending your driver head-first through the windshield.
I will admit, I never gave the game another try – and in retrospect it might not have been the smartest move. Because if the original FlatOut is anything like this year’s sequel, I just might have missed out on a really fun game.
I’m just going to jump to the point – the more and more I play FlatOut 2, the more and more I realize how much this game absolutely, undeniably, unequivocally rocks!
I haven’t had this much pure fun in a racer in a long time – including the aforementioned Eve of Destruction and lest I say, even the Burnout series. In its uber-raw crash-and-bash gameplay style, FlatOut 2 stirs up fond memories of the classic PS One racers like Rally Cross 2, NASCAR Rumble, Test Drive Raw and Destruction Derby.
The career mode of the game features three classes of competition; Derby Class, Racing Class, and Street Class.
Derby Class consists mainly of lap-style racing series and traditional bowl-style demolition derby wreck-a-thons. The Derby class cars tend to be of the rusted junker variety, with the appropriately silly straight pipe exhaust stacks welded through the hoods spewing flames and smoke with every nitrous boost.
Racing Class is similar to the Derby class, only that the cars and courses tend to be a bit more professional and realistic – leaning more towards the traditional off-road racing games like RallyCross and Test Drive Offroad.
Street Class brings in the muscle cars and puts them head-to-head in the classic Test Drive style from the old days of the Pitbull Syndicate.
The career progression is somewhat linear – at the outset, gamers will only be able to afford Derby class cars, but can use their Derby winnings to purchase racing and street class vehicles, gaining entry to their respective series.
Cash doesn’t come easy – as the opponent AI is tough as nails, and really holds a grudge towards those who do too much bumping and grinding. In fact, the AI almost gets a bit too aggressive at times, and you will find yourself being drilled into the surrounding objects, or hopelessly turned around and off course.
Thankfully, the catch-up logic –while subtle – is quite powerful, and definitely helps keep the races exciting until the bitter end. Seldom will you find yourself too far behind to squeak out a respectable finish, nor far enough ahead to relax.
The boost meter can be filled either by smashing opponents and/or objects, or by catching big air on the many scatter ramps and jump areas. The biggest bang for the buck is definitely gained by nailing the big jumps (which will easily fill over half of the meter), but the tradeoff is that the jumps are often precariously placed in out of the way, awkward, or downright dangerous places.
The tracks are some of the best I have ever encountered in the genre – traveling through densely wooded forests, barren desert scenes, even suburban cityscapes and LA-inspired canals – the courses are a real blast and always keep things fresh and enjoyable. There are even a few fantasy-styled arena courses that make standard figure eight racing look mild, with wildly banked cloverleaf shaped crossovers and massive jumps.
Most of the surrounding scenery can be completely destroyed – which not only helps slow down trailing opponents, but also helps build boost power. Those doling out the largest amount of damage will also be rewarded with precious extra cash rewards to put towards purchasing new vehicles or the simple-yet-effective vehicle upgrades.
FlatOut 2 also features a bevy of side events, such as the aforementioned bowl-style derbies and the now-infamous Ragdoll events. The fact that the developers hang so much importance on this aspect is a shame, because the events really lack the fun and enjoyment of the racing events.
Sure, with a case of beer and a bunch of buddies, launching a driver through the windshield and eighty feet in the air might sound like fun. But actually trying to find the right combination of speed, braking, trajectory angle and position ends up being a very un-fun exercise in frustration. Thankfully, other than doling out extra cash – the Ragdoll events are not necessary to progressing the game.
FlatOut 2 looks absolutely gorgeous on the PS2, with nicely detailed car models, beautifully constructed backwoods and cityscape backgrounds, and awe-inspiring reflective surfaces and shadowing. The splash screens feature some excellent CG character designs for the opposing racers that dangerously approach photo-realism.
The game features only a touch of pop-in to be seen way in the distance, but it is hardly noticeable while trying to juggle between being an offensive drive, being a defensive driver, and simply staying on course.
As mentioned, most items around the tracks can be smashed and crashed with vigor – and all but a few of those items are persistent through the course of an entire race. Take down a tree, and the fallen trunk just will lay in the wake, causing problems for the remaining laps.
The color palette is probably the game’s biggest downfall, with the colors often looking a bit dull and dreary. Certainly, it’s probably a bit more realistic that what you find in the Gran Turismo or Ridge Racer games, but a bit of flash might have helped with brightening the mood.
I am a sucker for racing games that feature windshield views (showing the hood), and in the case of FlatOut 2 we get two such views: one centered on the hood, and one from the driver-side perspective. The views show the appropriate destruction and deformation, and even feature fully detailed engine compartments showing the chromed blowers and straight headers of the chosen vehicles.
The graphics roll at a respectable clip and seldom show signs of slowdown – even when the action gets a bit hot. There is some lag in the online mode, which often makes things look a bit sketchy, but as long as the number of users is kept to a respectable number there are few issues.
Each car even features a unique polygonal in-car driver (even online) who remains fully intact even after the doors have been completely blown off the car.
FlatOut 2’s sound quality is top notch as well, with throaty derby junkers that rumble away at your core, and street racing muscle cars that sport thunderous roars. Each vehicle has a unique sound that helps keep races interesting and exciting.
The developers also did a great job capturing realistic sound effects to relate the different road surfaces and environments – the squeal of rubber on concrete definitely differs from a gravelly powerslide in the backcountry, and FlatOut 2 does a great job of demonstrating this.
Musically, the game features a solid soundtrack ranging from the metallic garage sounds of the Zep-wannabes Wolfmother to the stylings of Chris Cornell’s newest act Audioslave, as well as a variety of other pop-punk radio bands like Fallout Boy and Chelsea Smiles. There are definitely some stinkers in the bunch, but for the most part the soundtrack is solid.
The only real issue I can think of regarding the soundtrack is that the game does not offer the option to pick and choose music during play – if a particularly overplayed song comes on, you are pretty much committed to finishing it.
There are countless hours of fun and frustration to be had in FlatOut 2. Seldom do the races get boring or tedious, but when they do, it is easy enough to just pop the game out for a while and go off to something else. And because of a great autosave system, you can pop the game back in and continue the series wherever you left off.
I would not recommend buying the game solely based on the Ragdoll events. Just like the crash events featured in the Burnout series, the random nature of their outcome is all too frustrating to enjoy – other than for novelty purposes, of course. All said it is the edge-of-the-seat single player and online racing and derby events that seal the deal for me.
For those gamers who have not yet made the leap to the next gen, and are jonesing for a genuinely fun racer in these drought days of summer – look no further than FlatOut 2.
The game features all of the best aspects of all of the best racing games of our youth – all packaged in kick-ass visuals and audio, and with online play to boot. Racing fans rejoice; FlatOut 2 is a total blast, and well worth every penny.