FlatOut: Head On Preview
Racing games typically fall into one of two categories: realistic simulator or arcade-based. Those that fall into the latter category are titles like Need for Speed and Burnout, while simulators are the likes of Gran Turismo and Forza. You should be able to tell by the name alone that FlatOut: Head On is easily filed under the arcade-style category, and it should be abundantly clear that this one will feature plenty of crashes and adrenaline-pumping speed. Thanks to a couple last-generation installments in this series, we were introduced to sadistically funny rag-doll physics (tossing a driver through the windshield never seemed to get old) and more vehicular explosions than we ever thought possible. It may be difficult to transport such engaging action to a handheld, but we believe this PSP entry is shaping up to be awfully entertaining, and we have faith that all the FlatOut glory - mini-games and all - will make an auspicious and even memorable impact on the PSP library. Let's take a look at what to expect from Head On when it drops next month.
The first point of interest focuses on the game's newfound emphasis on the more explosive aspects of this franchise, leaving the more traditional point-to-point racing events behind. Developer Six By Nine decided to take this approach for the handheld FlatOut, and it's a decision we certainly agree with. Might as well make the action leap right off that little screen, right? They're basically starting where the Xbox 360 installment (FlatOut: Carnage) left off, which means good ol' Carnage mode will return, along with its hell-raising style. Rather than trying to finish first, you attempt to hit the target point total by driving like an absolute maniac, slamming into obstacles and ripping through the immensely entertaining destructible environment. Obviously, this is different from the standard approach to racing, which is great, provided the physics engine can handle the action. From what we've heard, though, the developers have worked hard to maintain the accessible and solid control. Last question- does it translate well to the PSP's button layout...?
They will make some concessions based on the fact the PSP doesn't have the processing capability of next-gen consoles, and one of them is a visual sacrifice. While we will be able to purchase upgrades to our vehicles in Head On, they will not be visible on the cars when they hit the roads. Of course, the upgrade will have the appropriate effect on the vehicle's performance, but unfortunately, you won't actually be seeing anything you buy. Well, unless it's a new car, of course. On the other hand, don't expect the background to suffer from the handheld curse of lesser power; the racetrack will be assaulted with debris caused by your reckless driving, and according to IGN, there are around "4,000 trackside objects in play." One of the best things about this series has always been the interaction we have with the environment, just because it's only logical to believe our rampaging vehicle will have a profound effect on our surroundings. Therefore, when we smash through a sign, that sign won't be there anymore. When we sideswipe an opponent, that opponent will have a bashed-in door for the remainder of the event. Common sense stuff, but often difficult to implement, so we appreciate the effort.
And yes, the aforementioned mini-games are coming back, with the hysterical focus on rag-doll insanity. You're probably aware of that downloadable PlayStation Network title, PAIN, where you take an unsuspecting individual and send him through all sorts of...um...pain. You can launch him from giant catapults, drop him from great heights, and smash him into any and all objects. Yeah, that's kind of the thing you can expect from the mini-games in Head-On, as you'll be able to deal out a serious amount of pain. Beyond that, we can expect a solid Career mode that will let us advance through a series of events, piling up as many points as possible to purchase more cars and upgrades. The further we get, the faster we'll go, and the more damage we'll cause. It's not exactly surprising to learn that going faster can prove to be more "impactful" to your immediate environment, thereby increasing the fun factor exponentially as time goes on. Furthermore, they will include a variety of vehicles, and each should have a set of unique strengths and weaknesses, so there appears to be plenty of gameplay. After all, you always want to get the most out of your purchase, yes?
Last but not least, FlatOut: Head On will support up to four players over a local network and up to eight players by using "pass and play," where one PSP unit is used between a group of players. So not only are we getting the best of Carnage, we're also going to get a large variety of gameplay options when it comes to both single-player and multiplayer. As of now, this game is shaping up to be an excellent March title, so we suggest you strongly consider a purchase.
2/12/2008 Ben Dutka