Most of FlatOut's gameplay is found in the career mode, which really has nothing to do with a career, it's just a bunch of races. You start by selecting a car from a small group of clunkers, and then you race to earn money to fix up your ride or buy new vehicles. There are over 30 races that take place in a variety of environments, like the woods, construction sites, and race tracks. Vehicles can be upgraded, but the upgrades only affect performance, and there's no way to pimp out your vehicle.
You earn money by placing in the top three, and you can earn bonus cash by causing damage during the race. It seems like a good system, but it's got a major flaw. You get boost and extra money by driving recklessly, hitting cars, fences, and the like, but hitting bigger items slows you down, which makes it a dumb way of earning boost, whose sole purpose is to make you go faster. Since you're encouraged to crash into things to earn extra money, it's incredibly annoying that so many things aren't designed to be hit. Certain walls can't be destroyed, and while you can hit the bottom of a water tower, causing it to tumble down, hitting it again on the next lap will wreck you. If you hit anything you're not supposed to, you'll send your driver flying through the windshield, and cost yourself a good seven seconds in the process.
The controls are loose and unresponsive, but they do get a little better as your car improves. There's some pretty hefty rubber band A.I. in play, so you're never really out of a race, but irregardless, it's frustrating for a game to encourage a certain type of playing style, but then penalize you for any slight deviation.
When the racing gets old, FlatOut's got online racing for eight, and a multiplayer mode that is a good change of pace. There are several mini-games that involve some sort of destruction derby, or require you to launch your driver in some sort of event. There are games to see how far you can throw your driver, how high, and even bowling and darts. It's fun to drive down a ramp, through some scaffolding, up another ramp and then launch your driver 100 feet in the air; that can't be denied, but all of these events are easily mastered and get tiresome quickly.
FlatOut is a nice looking game, especially when you take into account how much carnage is taking place on screen. The car models look good, and all the vehicles can be smashed to pieces, and there are often bumpers, tires, and other body parts flying around when racing in tight quarters. It would be nice to have more cars to choose from, and the game screams for some sort of visual customization, but sadly, there is none. The framerate is generally pretty solid, but there are instances when it slows down if there's a lot going on at once. The courses are nothing spectacular, but despite their lack of imagination, they get the job done. Once complaint is that some of the visuals are a little grainy, and discerning a ramp (a good thing to drive over) from a pile of logs (a horrible thing to drive over) is near impossible.
FlatOut's soundtrack is an assault on the ears. It's simply terrible. There aren't many songs, so you get to hear the low-budget crappy rock/punk garbage over and over again. The car noises are generic and they often don't sound like they are coming from the vehicle you're driving. Sometimes the engine is out of sync, and other times it sounds like it's in the wrong gear, or coming from a totally different kind of car. You'll want to mute this one and crank some real music while playing.
FlatOut isn't all bad. My brother was consumed with the game for a few days, but I never was able to get past the game's annoying flaws. The racing is fun for a while, and the appeal of launching your driver like a human dart can't be denied, but even those who love that aspect wish you could skip the drawn out animation after awhile. If you're one of those people that just loves to cause carnage, FlatOut is worth a rental, but under no circumstances is the game worth $49.99. Just because the publisher wants $50 for a game, that doesn't mean it's not a budget title. This will be $20 in two months - wait until then.
8/31/2005 Aaron Thomas