The FlatOut franchise is like no other. It’s a racing series that’s easy to pick up and play whenever with whoever, with enough little quirks to make itself stand out in a world full of racing sims that are all contending for first place – the difference being that FlatOut never really tried for first place, because it didn’t want to. But it did want to be unique, and it had some really interesting tricks up its exhaust pipe for accomplishing exactly that.
Back in the day, I had a regular LAN crew. Once a week or so, we’d all pack up our rigs or laptops and head over to a designated mate’s house. It started off simply enough with the original DOTA, and this eventually (inevitably?) moved over to Heroes of Newerth, where it pretty much stayed until we just stopped doing the get-togethers all together (I still have a sad about this). But during that time, game after game of swearing at each other would eventually (inevitably?) become somewhat monotonous, so we looked around for something else we could all play during breaks. And so, the first two FlatOut games became the half-time show, prompting even more swearing over a last minute victory than any MOBA we’d ever played.
That’s FlatOut. Yes, your standard high octane mechanical beasts, aided by their driver and can of ever replenishing nitrous oxide are all there, but it’s like the game just wants to actually have fun, rather than turn you into a serious racing driver. The zany physics are still there and in place for this fourth iteration, so high speed crashes (of which there are so very many) send your driver through the windshield and into oncoming traffic/buildings/trees on the regular.
As you progress through the campaign mode, you’ll unlock new cars (out of 27 total) out of three categories – Derby, Classic and All Star – and you’ll need to own at least one of each kind in order to compete in a race for that category. Each car can be upgraded in your garage, where you can pimp out the paint job and spend some of your hard earned cash dollars on the car’s undercarriage and all the bits under the hood. Every car’s performance metrics are quite different, so whether you prefer speed to handling or the other way around, there is something there that will complement your gameplay style. Cars are expensive, however, and cash is somewhat scarce, so you’re looking a very long campaign where you’ll have to compete in and win the same cup multiple times if you want to buy all of them.
There are “20 tracks” for you to race, and I say “20 tracks” because its actually more like ten. Apparently someone thought it would be a great idea to just play them in reverse and claim to have double the number of tracks.
Besides the standard race-until-you’re-dead mode, there’s also an Assault mode in which you you’re tooled up with vehicular weapons to keep things interesting. Whether you’re dropping mines, throwing bombs, detonating a bomb under your own car, or making bollards pop out of the ground right behind you, you’re guaranteed to be taken off everyone’s Christmas card list in short order. There’s also a destruction derby Carnage mode where you get to pulverise other cars into twisted chunks of scrap in the laughably vain hope that you’ll be the last one standing. Over the course of every race, your car’s damage meter will continue to tick up with every accident, at a rate that’s consistent with the severity of the accidents that cause it, and your nitro boost gauge fills up as you destroy things.
And if all this is still just too brutal for your fragile constitution, you can drag yourself over to the Stunts mode, where you get to launch said limp body out of a jet-powered car to compete in the most random of events, including High Jump, Long Jump, Stone Skipping (but, you know, with your sorry carcass instead of stones), and Cup Pong.
The problem that I have with FlatOut 4 is that, not only is it not entertaining for very long (particularly the Stunts mode), it’s also just not anything new. There was apparently some deviation from the standard FlatOut recipe in FlatOut 3, but did you hear anything about it? Neither did I, so I read up on it. It was universally panned so I’m quite surprised that this one got off the starting grid at all.
It looks a bit better than the first two games, but plays more or less the same, relying on the same tricks and copied stunts to try and draw you in. My other major gripe is the AI drivers. Never before have I played a racing sim where I got the feeling that the AI was legitimately and unashamedly out to kill me. You generally know if you are going to finish in the top three by the time you get to the first corner, purely judging by how many times they’ve purposefully tried to take you out and succeeded. When you start thinking “awesome, I am going to overtake this car quite easily”, think again, it’s a trap. Every single time I’ve inched past an opponent at high speed, that bastard would purposefully clip my back bumper as I passed him, sending the car into a spin, roll, off a cliff, into trees, logs, buildings, barns or a cliff face. This happened time and time again, and was easily the most frustrating part about reviewing this game. Nothing wet my battery more than being one corner from the finish line and becoming the victim of a bumper clipping, only to have a car that looks like Tow Mater from Cars cross the finish line before I did.
Where the game does shine though, as it did for me in the past, is the multiplayer. Nothing gives me more glee than being that guy who clips bumpers with my mates car as they come flying past (see above for a breakdown of the results of this). The joy was very real for me. The game supports only online multiplayer, though, with no split-screen. Instead, there’s a “pass the controller”
option where you can still race one another from the same couch, but you have to do it one at a time.
69FlatOut 4 is the Redneck Rampage of car games. It doesn’t take itself very seriously, and under the right circumstances it can be a ton of fun. But with the campaign feeling like a complete chore and the overall game lacking anything that feels really innovative, I think this one is going to struggle to find any real traction with anyone but the most diehard fans. Get it? “Traction”. Traction. Come on, it’s funny.