FlatOut 2 Review
Dell XPS M170 Laptop
2GHz Pentium M CPU
2GB DDR2 RAM
GF Go 7800GTX Video
It's not often that a racing game has a sense of humor. From the slick but serious presentation of sims like Gran Turismo 4 to the cool, yet intense Burnout games, any comedy that happens in the middle of playing a racing game is usually made up by you and your friends amongst possibly some drinking and trash talk. Why it's been this way for so long, I'm not sure, but I'm happy to say that FlatOut 2 finally puts some real comedy into your racing while keeping things serious just enough to make it more involved than just a party game.
Of course, the first FlatOut introduced us to arcade-style racing without forgetting completely about physics. But of course, the physics here are intended much less for the cars, and more for what happens when your car collides into things. With FlatOut's dirty, dingy style, you won't feel bad about smashing into a wall at 60mph, although when your driver is ejected right out of the front windshield you might think twice.
The sequel brings us much more of the same: new tracks, new cars (none of them licensed, but racing fans should be used to getting stuck with "fake" cars in any game with destructible car models), more events and races, and finally, more "olympics". You see, on top of all the racing and demolition derby action, Flatout 2 also includes a ton of events centered around driving your car down a course and launching the driver - again, out of the windshield - into a set of bowling pins, across a "long jump" space, maybe some high jump, and more.
You can start out a career mode with your choice of three banged-up hoopties. You'll be racing in short series of 3 races at a time to start, so even if you don't make first in one race, you can still get first for the circuit if you do well in the rest. You can restart races at any time in the series as well, and one nice part about all of this is that the chaotic nature of this game's races means that unless one of your opponents just has a much faster car, they could easily wind up in fourth, or even last, when they beat you to first in a previous race.
Speaking of chaotic races, this is where one of the hallmarks of Flatout comes into play: racing in this game involves smashing quite a bit of stuff, from storefronts to billboards, barrels to tires. Hitting these objects, along with your opponents, gives you extra boost which you can use at any time (like Nitro in most racing games) to get the edge and win. Of course, hitting stuff can often send your car careening into a wall, so you have to be smart about what you smash. You'll also want to conserve boost for the jumps, as you get tons of extra juice for bigger hangtimes and can turn a little into a lot by just using it at the right time.
FlatOut 2 includes three major classes of cars; the first class usually rarely exceeds 100mph and these poor things are really, really beat up. You can upgrade any car with a number of performance upgrades, but there's no way to improve their look at all. You'll get to upgrade to other other two classes of cars by buying them, and then you can get into the higher-speed races - these cars are much nicer to look at to start, but you'll still be busting them up all the same during races.
The visuals in FlatOut 2 are smooth and slick, as the tracks will take you through rural trails, city blocks, old aqueducts, and into the air very, very often. The destructibility of some of these tracks really brings them to life, even if the only actual people you see in the game are the drivers' limp bodies when they sail out of the windshield. Still, the frame rates are very smooth and with plenty of tweaking options, this is definitely easier than most recent racing titles to get running nicely on your computer. And the soundtrack is pretty fun, with a good mix of independent rock and better-known bands like Rob Zombie, Papa Roach, and Audioslave. It's not going to go down in history with the best game soundtracks out there, but the licensed music works better than most of the techno-rock that still plagues so many games out there nowadays.
Racing is really only half the fun in FlatOut 2. From the crazy events to the destruction derbies, you can have just as much fun, if not more, doing anything <b>but</b> racing. In versus events against the AI, you will be racing or battling against seven supposedly unique AI opponents, each with their own identity and style. Sadly, however, they all pretty much act the same, and while they do choose a unique car, allowing you to target them if you know they won the last race in the series, they don't have their own racing styles. Opponents that you try to bully, however, will start to hold a grudge against you for that specific race - too bad that these don't really carry over into future races, though.
Online play was inexplicably axed from the PC version of the first FlatOut, but this time that mistake has been fixed. There's a full online interface here with ranking systems, tournaments, and the ability to do the game's dozen mini-events in a mock-up of the Olympics - all online. Races were fairly lag-free and still very chaotic, with plenty of people smashing into each other while racing. If there's any real fault to be seen here, it's that maybe people were smashing into each other a bit too much - one guy would escape the carnage to get an easy first place while the rest continually collided for admittedly hilarious results even if no one was really trying to win.
If there's one downside to FlatOut 2, it's simply that the physics of the world don't really make it into the cars themselves. This is a purely arcade racer, and its sense of speed isn't nearly as good as, say, Burnout Revenge. Car crashes themselves are fun, but not nearly as satisfying as a destruction-oriented racing game should be. While I did really enjoy the number of races in the three main classes as well as the mini-games and online play, I think that for what will likely be an eventual sequel, Bugbear needs to turn up the "fun" element of their game. If they can, then they'll really be giving Burnout a run for their money.