FlatOut 2 is a sequel to the 2004 sleeper hit, which sold over 800,000 copies worldwide. Released in the shadow of games such as Need for Speed Underground 2 and Burnout 3: Takedown, FlatOut was a like a cross between Destruction Derby and Burnout with the emphasis on it’s wonderful physics and a series of mini-games which involved launching your rag-doll driver through a range of bizarre courses.
While FlatOut 2 is nothing revolutionary, it takes the solid design and concepts from the first game and ups the ante in just about every way possible. There are now almost twice as many courses, twice as many cars, double the number of mini-games and a much more dedicated and improved Career mode. Presentation-wise, it is slightly more solid as the first game. The menus are clear and easy to navigate and it even has a few special features to be unlocked. There is also a much higher-profile soundtrack this time around, with songs from the likes of Supergrass, The Vines, Nickleback and Fall Out Boy. Although it all resembles a certain Criterion racer, kudos should go to Bugbear and Empire for clearly putting a lot of effort in.
Graphically, it is pretty impressive, although again not quite as slick-looking as the last couple of Burnouts. The car detail, especially, is very good, plus it boasts probably the most extensive damage modelling I’ve seen in any racer. The tracks look pretty decent, and boast some nice effects such as dusty lighting, shiny lakes and a gorgeous setting sun. The sound effects are good, if not especially memorable. The cars all sound appropriate and beefy, and bumps and smashes are suitably satisfying. No complaints to raise in this department.
The race types are split into three varieties - Derby, Street and Race. This means there has been a re-focus to asphalt tracks, as oppose to the original’s mud & gravel tracks (thankfully there’s also no more of the first game’s hellish ice tracks!). As you progress through each type respectively new cars & tracks are unlocked, and it is a much better means of progression than in the first game. There is also a whole bunch of new car types, including street racers, pick-up trucks, and a few monsters which appear to be rockets with a car strapped on as an afterthought. You earn money from the various tasks and races you complete, and it also awards you for other criteria such as most damage to your opponents, fastest lap and most scenery smashed up. The courses are all well-designed. They are full of destructible scenery (it feels so good to drive through a shop smashing up everything as you go, and get rewarded Nitro for your efforts) and the track literally becomes littered with debris very quickly. This can prove fatal if you’re not on the ball though, and this means different races on the same course can turn out quite different, with varying hazards.
Not surprisingly, the first game’s excellent mini-games are back in full force. They basically involve driving your car to the launch area, then ejecting your driver out the windscreen at the correct speed & angle to hit the goal. The old favourites including High Jump, Ten-Pin Bowling and Darts are back, plus six new ones such as Baseball, Skipping Stones and Rings of Fire. They have changed in execution slightly since FlatOut 1; now they require a lot more precision and split-second judgement. You can also give your driver a slight nudge upwards as he or she travels through the air and ’steer’ them slightly if you want to avoid something or aim at something specific. On the whole, I found them a bit more complicated than the mini-games in FlatOut 1, and I felt this took the fun away a little, but they are still a great supplement and would no doubt go down well with a group of friends.
There is another ‘mini-game’ which is basically a modern take on Destruction Derby. It’s you, in an arena, with seven other cars - all trying to smash seven bells out of each other. Money is awarded for surviving to the last three and causing as much damage to the opponents as possible. Again, it can be very good fun and is a nice distraction from the main racing meat of the game. Another good thing about both of these is they are not mandatory - if you don’t like them you can just get on with driving and leave them be. It’s a real shame that the online mode was dropped from the PS2 version fairly late in the day. There’s still some excellent replayability for single and multiple people, but the PS2 version was the only one shipped without an online mode and this will affect the long-term value of the game.
On a technical front, the game supports 60hz mode. Loading is fairly brief - we’re talking about 10 seconds or less going in or out of events. The handling is good, much like the original. It shouldn’t take too long to get used to for anyone. The driver AI is especially good. Each driver has a profile and a ‘personality’, and you will clearly notice certain drivers have certain styles. Also, they are just as inclined to make mistakes as you and they also hold grudges, which lends a certain human element to it. It’s a whole world away from the stoic on-rails robots you see in Gran Turismo.
You race for money. Completing competitions and events unlocks new cars and tracks, and you can go to a shop to buy a new car, or a garage to upgrade your current vehicle. Thankfully - unlike the first game - you can keep more than one car in your garage at any one time. You can’t visually change the appearance of your car (which is a shame; I would really have liked some simple modding options), but you can purchase upgrades such as new suspension, a new exhaust, etc, which tells you how if affects the car via a group of stats at the side of the screen. It’s simple, uncluttered and works well.
And so, onto the faults. Firstly - and I feel this is a spillover from the first game - I think it can be slightly too unforgiving. It is not unusual to drop from first place to last off the back of one mistake. You can reset your car on track which comes in useful if you end up facing the wrong way, or land on your roof or so on, but you will still be severly punished for mistakes like this. Thankfully, you can reset any race at any time, up until the point when you have proceeded to the next track. Also, it does get frustrating when you use Nitro to pass an opponent, and they seem to boost at exactly the same instant, meaning you don’t pass them. This only occurs with a couple of the top drivers, but when it keeps happening it does annoy.
But, if I’m honest, I don’t really have any issues with this game apart from the slightly tough nature. I felt the presentation of the first game was a mite scrappy, but that has been sorted out. It annoyed me in FlatOut 1 how one song would just replay constantly in a race, rather than shuffle the music - but that has also been sorted. I suppose something else to bear in mind is that while this game refines the ideas explored in the first game, it doesn’t bring much new to the table. It’s a bit like Burnout 2 to Burnout 1; it does everything the first game did, only much bigger and better. But if the first game was so much fun, and the sequel improves on most of that, should that really be a criticsm?!
FlatOut 2 is a great racer and I think deserves a lot of success. It should appeal to anyone who enjoyed the Burnout games, or people who want the closest thing to a ’spiritual’ update of Destruction Derby. The series may be fated to live in the shadow of the big boys in the genre, but in many ways it provides more out-and-out fun than any of them.
Eight out of ten