FLATOUT / Bugbear Interactive / PC

FlatOut is basically a "crash-friendly" racing game, at least in theory anyway. You race heavy muscle cars in a mix of speedway and off-road courses, to the tune of a pretty crappy emo/twee-rock soundtrack. It's also one of those weird racers that insists on mixing unrealistic damage and durability with realistic handling and acceleration in a mix that never really gets into the right gear.

It's sort of the inheritor of the legacy of the old Demolition Derby games. There's a demolition derby in this one too, though racing in general is more focused on actually winning races than all the other cars trying suicidally to destroy you at all times. The biggest points of note for the game are the positional damage system for each car, which is fairly detailed and impressive, and some gratuitous and gruesome "ragdoll physics" when you hit an obstacle at high speed and the driver gets launched through the front window. For bonus classiness, the female driver's shirt always seems to rip open along the way. Only some gamer IT nerd who hasn't been laid in years would look at some horribly mangled woman in an impossibly contorted position and be like "OH MAN HER SHIRT SHOULD TOTALLY POP OPEN", I swear. Stay classy, industry.

Anyway, most aspects of the game are alright to good. It looks pretty nice, the tracks are on the simple side but well-constructed (and have a lot of interactive objects like stacks of tires and wood that individually fall apart and scatter on the track), it does play a damn sight better than Destruction Derby, and there's some amusing games based on launching drivers out of the car like a pole vault and a dartboard. The meat of the game is the standard racing, though, and it's just not as satisfying as it should be.

First problem is with the control. Props to the game for instantly finding and configuring my USB gamepad, but the only control method on hand is to press up on the stick for throttle and back for brake, rather than having separate gas and brake buttons. This "throttle up" steering style is kinda unusual and for good reason - it's alright in wide open spaces but awful for precision manuevering, particularly for sharp corners. There's no manual brake control other than the handbrake so corners have to either be taken awkwardly at top speed or janked through by shifting back and forth between brake and accelerate while also trying to turn. It's awkward, and the control only feels really good on long straightaways.

Despite the very detailed damage engine, cars don't actually respond realistically to collisions and bumping in terms of physics. Mostly they just ignore them, unless you're really insistent and emptying the gas tank into someone for a few seconds or more. Yet, on the flip side of that, tiny flimsy obstacles like traffic cones cause a unrealistic drop in speed when you hit them (yet you also get points for how many you plow through.)

There's some mechanism of crashes giving you nitrous boosts or something but it's not ever actually explained in the game and I couldn't deal with the iffy handling long enough to figure it out. FlatOut shows some promise but with so many similar and better-quality racers out there, there's nothing to distinguish it at this point unless you really get off on launching expressionless rag doll figures out the front window.

Videos :

* Gameplay Video