FlatOut: Head On Review
Destructive racing games have been popular since games like Destruction Derby on the original PlayStation. While Destruction Derby never managed to make it past its PlayStation glory days, we did end up with Burnout and Flatout. Flatout, in many ways, is Burnout's closest competitor, and with good reason. Flatout games tend to score well with gamers, and so the franchise is slowly making a name for itself. Empire and BugBear have now brought the series over to the PSP, and while it has a lot going for it, certain flaws keep it down.
If you're not familiar with Flatout games, think Burnout and Destruction Derby fused together, and you get Flatout. Flatout: Head On features a variety of modes; some good, some bad. The races aren't much fun. The controls are twitchy, especially with the faster cars, and the steering takes way too long to re-center itself, causing a lot of counter-steering, which will often cause crashing. Very frustrating. Races allow you to use nitrous, which gradually refills, and crashes result in damage to the car - nothing incredible, but it's something. The same complaints addressed for the standard races can be said for the Event races that take place on race courses.
On the other hand, the destruction derby events and stunt events are quite fun, and make up the enjoyable half of the game. Basically, in the demolition derby, your goal is to stay alive for as long as you can, and demolish as many opponents as you can. Be the last car running and you win the event - very simple stuff. Things get even more fun with the stunt events, as you'll run down a ramp for an extreme jumps, go bowling, jump through rings of fire, play darts, baseball, soccer, and much more. The twist to these stunts is that you don't do it with the car, rather the car acts as a launching device to launch the driver through all of these obstacles.
Control flaws come up with the physics engine primarily. Even though Flatout aims for a dash of realism, it hurts the experience because the PSP's buttons are not set up for optimal sensitivity. As mentioned, oversteer becomes common with the faster cars, hurting the fun, and makes later races frustrating. It'd certainly be more tolerable on a proper controller, but on the PSP it's annoying.
The Flatout Mode will allow you purchase a car, upgrade it, and trek through a campaign. Carnage Mode is like an arcade mode where you get quick access to a variety of challenges, and can complete them with different class cars. Multiplayer support allows up to four players to link-up locally, and up to eight in a party-mode. Flatout is precisely the type of game you'd want to play via infrastructure multiplayer, so it's unfortunate that there's no support for it.
As far as graphics go, Flatout manages to impress in a number of areas. First, the vehicular detail is pretty good for a PSP game. The cars are large and feel like they have a solid presence on the road - Flatout isn't like some other PSP racers where the cars are microscopic and yet still look awful. Framerate remains smooth, for the most part, with some hic-ups here and there - it's not quite Burnout smooth, but it's good enough. The environments, especially in the larger standard races, are detailed, boasting a lot of background detail, large buildings, structures, and so on. But often times you will spot quite a bit of really, really bad textures that stick out like sore thumbs. Occasionally, when you're wrecked your car and the camera is panning around it, you'll see textures warping all over the place; and pop-up during races is common, too. Still, Flatout: Head On is a good looking PSP game.
Flatout's audio isn't particularly impressive. The soundtrack is largely composed of average nu-metal bands, sure it fits the craziness of the game, but better songs could've been licensed for the game. Instances like this make me wish that more developers featured custom soundtracks in their games. Sound effects are fairly straightforward, but the exhaust and engine notes are totally bland - so don't expect anything here. Overall, Flatout: Head On isn't exactly the pinnacle of aural presentation.
For a $20 game, Flatout: Head On isn't a bad game. Price is surely a factor in the final score of the game, as the game is fun enough to warrant the coin. It's a visually solid looking PSP game, albeit with some faults, and the demolition and stunt events are good fun. The controls start out accessible, but get a bit nutty with the faster cars, but if you can get used to them then you should find yourself enjoying the $20 you spent on this one.
5/24/2008 Arnold Katayev