Content Test 3

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FlatOut 2
Graphics: 9.5
Gameplay: 8
Sound: 6
Control: 5
Replay Value: 7.5
Rating: 6.5
Publisher: Empire Interactive
Developer: Bugbear Entertainment
Number Of Players: 1-8
FlatOut 2 loses its charm about halfway through the first class of races, which is a shame because thatís mostly what the game has going for it. You see, everything that makes FlatOut potentially interesting only ends up grating on the playerís nerves until they snap and throw the controller across the room. Itís not an inherently bad game, sharing similar concepts as the stellar Burnout series, but some poor design choices just end up marring the entire experience and the gimmick of through your ragdoll driver through the windshield wears thin quickly. To boot, it serves absolutely no purpose outside of the mini-games, making it more of a tired joke (didnít we get enough of it with the first FlatOut?) than a gameplay mechanic.

On the surface, itís a keen looking title, though. The graphics are exceedingly well-crafted for an old-gen game. Minus the HD, it looks nearly as good as early Xbox 360 offerings such as Full Auto, and features a physics model just as impressive. Unfortunately, thatís where this double-edged sword shows the dull end of its blade as while itís fun smashing through barricades and store fronts watching turbo-charging debris fly everywhere, youíll find yourself becoming frustrated when clipping a traffic cone sends your jalopy spinning sideways. Nice damage models and cluttered raceways are nice when they donít fundamentally ruin the experience. Itís a case of design saturation Ė when you combine overzealous amounts of road detritus with a lot of speed, the collision detection and physics are going to falter somewhere.

In and of itself, this isnít a huge problem (and itís to be expected), but FlatOut 2ís controls make accident recovery a chore. I donít know how the developers did it, but they managed to make the steering both too floaty and too rigid at the same time. Forget turning correctly around a sharp corner unless you use the handbrake, which is mapped to the circle button (when most people will have their thumbs oriented towards the X and square, it wouldíve made more sense to map it to the unused R2 on the shoulder). And unless by some miracle your post-crash vehicle lands facing straight ahead again, be prepared to wrestle with the controller. A bump in the road (and there are many, especially on the rustic tracks) could send you spiraling towards your doom and any attempt to correct yourself causes you to oversteer. You end up winding around like a drunken rattlesnake before you crash into a tree or give up and hit triangle to reset yourself on the road. By that point, youíre probably in last place (besides the first two cups, I consistently found myself dropping into places 6-8 just because of some unforeseen mishap near the end of each race).

If you can overcome that Ė or you just happen to be a better racer than I am Ė FlatOut 2 offers a fair amount of content. There are three racing classes, each with an increasing number of cups and events to participate in. The randomly-spiking, design-induced difficulty doesnít really jive with what should be the logical progression of the game and since most of the vehicles control the same regardless of class or stats, it doesnít matter that much in the end. The events are overall more entertaining than the races, but you have to finish the latter before unlocking the former. Events consist mainly of things like destruction derbies or driver-launching mini-games. Theyíre fun as long as the gimmick lasts for you, really, which can change depending on the number of inebriated people youíre playing with. By yourself, you probably wonít want to revisit them, which is why itís nice that online play is included. You can play with up to 8 people in all of the events if you so choose. Local multiplayer is logically limited to two on a split-screen.

If thereís one more thorn in FlatOut 2ís side, itís the soundtrack, which consists of a mix of songs that, paradoxically, doesnít really work together, yet all seem to sound the same. Certain songs, when isolated, are pretty good, though, like the ones by The Vines or Megadeth. The overall selection is better than EA Trax, but I eventually just turned off the volume so I could race in (relative) peace.

Like so many other things in FlatOut 2, your enjoyment is going to correlate directly to your personal level of tolerance for its faults. There is a potentially interesting game here, but more often than not, its gimmicks lose their appeal and then youíre just left with a sub-standard and less enjoyable Burnout. Amazingly, even the gimmicks donít seem to work so well Ė despite all my crashing about, the driver only flew through the windshield a handful of times (and then I was hammering on triangle to get back in the race as I couldíve cared less about how silly she looked flailing through the air) and attempting to take out opponents in each race isnít worth the effort. Whereas one well-place hit could destroy a rival in Burnout, cars are given too much health in FlatOut 2. Itís also harder to score good hits when youíre having so much trouble handling your own vehicle.

Ultimately, it seems the concept hit its pinnacle with the first game and there was really no need to produce a sequel, but if youíve got an ironclad fortitude, the few things that work in FlatOut 2 could keep you chugging straight through to the end.

8/11/2006   Cavin Smith