Flatout Ultimate Carnage
Hiding in the shadows of Criterion’s critically acclaimed Burnout series is a sleeping giant ready to crash its burning chassis into absolutely anything and everything.
The fact is, Burnout Revenge has been untouched since the birth of the 360 as the consoles premium destruction racer. Games such as Project Gotham Racing 3 and Forza Motorsport 2 have provided the realism, and probably the most authentic driving simulations the console world has ever seen. However, this realistic outlook didn’t provide high speed crashes, pile ups on the finishing line, and certainly not the ability to plunge your driver through the windscreen and into a range of hard hitting final last moments. Flatout looks to provide the destruction, the laugh out loud moments and ultimately, the fun. One thing is for sure, Bugbear Entertainment may be causing a few stirs in the Burnout teams’ celebratory champagne.
The first main thing to say about this game is that it doesn’t offer anything revolutionary, and an owner of Burnout Revenge may feel hard pushed to part with their cash if they saw this game at full price. To somebody willing to take the risk, and is up for a breath of fresh air amongst the hard rush of serious sims caressing our shelves currently, you are in for a real treat.
The presentation in this game is hugely simplistic, and easy to use for the most stubborn of novices. The menus themselves aren’t visually grabbing, with only one background for the entire selection, but that hardly seems to matter as within seconds you will be entering a world of daredevil-esque speed chases and mountainous leaps across a variety of courses. There are two main single player modes to race your way through, Flatout Mode and Carnage Mode. The main bulk of racing lies within the Flatout mode, whilst an exhausting mixture of destruction derbies, carnage races, time trials and stunt variations await you in the latter.
The games’ “Career” mode lies predominantly within the Flatout section. Here you will compete in a number of quick races and cup competitions against a selection of computer controlled rivals. Once the action starts, you will quickly recognise all the names of the racers, and hastily find there are one or two all too eager to destroy you when competing for the crown. You will build up rivalries within your mind, making it all the more satisfying when you send their car hurtling off the track and into whatever beckons in the surrounding area. Although the racing itself is extremely fun, the handling leaves quite a bit to be desired. Although this is not a serious simulation, at times the lack of direction each car seems to get leaves the player heading towards a dead end at spine tingling speeds.
The game is also let down with a lack of customisation options, and doesn’t really reward you for your success. The garage offers you the chance to buy a new car or upgrade your current vehicle. This is all well and good, until you realise that you can’t change its colour, add a new pair of rims or give it a sleek overlook. As the cars themselves never look particularly flattering, this is probably the most disappointing aspect of the game’s main mode. The upgrades which are available also chose themselves, as literally the more expensive it is the better it is for you car. As you quickly earn money from just finishing races, it isn’t going to take you long to be able to afford the top gear. You can upgrade your engine, suspension, brakes and all the main parts of the car’s performance improving kit. However, the easy going players will find this a godsend, as it takes out all the potentially mind numbing decisions that so often ruin the experience for those not fanatic on everything petroleum fuelled.
Flatout does offer a variety of different events to take part in however, including time trials and destruction derby events. This would be the only factor changing the car you might use, as heavier is usually better in the destruction events. Other than this, there is generally one car which is much faster than the others, making the choice a mindless and obvious one.
The tracks and arenas themselves are nicely balanced, and offer a sense of variety to the game. As there are three different race classes, (Derby, Race and Street), the conditions in which races take place become more and more tarmac-based as you progress. Compared to earlier races, which include greenhouse infested farmlands, canals and mud splattered off road routes, this is a welcome change. The experience of speeding through the window of a totally destructible mall is one that never gets tiresome. It truly is an amazing feeling hurtling through the environments which are almost entirely destructible. Even before one lap is completed, the track is littered with a number of different objects depending on where you are racing, causing for a slight air of caution as it really can affect your preferred route. This only adds to the experience, as the unpredictability of each race adds to the element of variation. If you are not alert and assertive, a mistake will beckon in a flash. Fortunately, the AI is also prone to making the odd mistake, giving the characters an even more human feel. Beware though, they can hold a grudge just as fiercely as you can, making decisions in a split second to take you down and end your chances of victory.
In this game, winning isn’t everything, and it certainly isn’t an easy task. The hardcore 360 owners will definitely go over old ground and try every track again, as a number of awards are given out at the end of each race. This varies simply from fastest lap to the “Best Wrecker”, rewarding your huge hits and power slams on the opponents around you. The replay value is in the Achievements, which in this area of the game are simple variations of winning fifty of every award. Other achievements include owning a number of cars, wrecking a certain amount of vehicles, and winning online matches.
The destruction derby events offer nothing new, but are as fun and as intense as the first outings on the PS1’s original concept. Lasting until the top three is the best bet for winning, along with crashing into others. Drivers will exit their vehicles in this game, unfortunately for them, not through the door they entered in. Possibly one of the most satisfying feelings the game has to offer is the chance to plunge an opponent through the windscreen and onto the bonnet of somebody else. Within seconds of the derby beginning, this is bound to happen. The developers have used a basic and impressive ragdoll physics engine which also provides the main part of the games multiplayer experience in a manner that is simplistic, yet hugely effective.
“One of the most satisfying feelings is the chance to plunge an opponent through the windscreen”The removal of online capabilities from Flatout 2 on the PS2 was a huge disappointment for Sony’s customers, but thankfully this time has not only been sorted out, has been implemented with a touch of class. The multiplayer mode includes the infamous stunt games, which is where the main trash talk and bragging rights lay. Xbox Live was built for games like this, as hardcore gamers and easy-going racers can all come together and take part in every single event the single player has to offer. The highlight is definitely the stunt mode, which has you navigating various courses and firing your driver through the windscreen and into objects such as basketball hoops, baseball bats or even soccer goals. The range of games is very good, and shows that the development team have been especially thoughtful when deciding on what the masses would like to play. It is most likely you will play these mini games over and over again to perfect your score, consequently annihilating all your human rivals.
The race and derby modes are also a blast, offering a tough but hugely playable online experience. The amount of people online is not large when compared to other games, with around ten thousand people at the time of writing. This means you will come across the same players pretty regularly, building intense rivalries and exciting head on games which really do offer a high amount of thrills. Connecting to games is always easy and only ever takes a few seconds. The computer even widens your search criteria if nothing is found, offering the next best solution to your ideal selection. This seems like a small bonus to many, but the frustration of failing to connect to games really does affect the player’s perspective of the game. An obvious example of this would be Shadowrun, which literally turned away many players with the lack of games that would connect.
The use of the Trueskill ratings also gives the online experience an added spice, as gamers compare just how good they are. The amount of statistics focused on each player is also an added boost and a huge welcome, as an in-depth review of every player’s overall online career performance can be scrutinised thoroughly. All of these aspects really add to the package and the appeal of the game. Microsoft must be wagging their tails and lapping up all the praise for having such a complete online service, boosted by positive and simplistic games like this. Multiplayer is where this game excels.
“Microsoft must be wagging their tails and lapping up all the praise for having such a complete online service”The Xbox 360 has offered beautiful looking games since its launch, and even when compared to today’s jaw dropping standards, Flatout Ultimate Carnage looks stunning. In full HD glory, the entire game is an impressive feat. The frame rate and draw distance adds to the experience as we never experience slow down, or anything in the background looking that familiar blurry white colour. The graphics definitely have their own style; that gritty, dirty and loveable feeling the rest of the game so modestly charms us with.
One major flaw that the developers have made is the putting together of the soundtrack. Compared to Flatout 2 on the PS2, the well known worldwide superstars such as Nickleback or Fall Out Boy have gone and in come the mediocre, ear-splitting pub bands. If you are not a fan of heavy, angst filled punk rock, you may as well play this game on mute. This is a real shame, as with the excitement of the huge crashes, speeding engines, and screaming drivers, the game begs to be played at ultra high volume. There are exactly twenty licensed tracks, so get prepared to don your mullet and work those neck muscles for the pulsating, hard head banging tunes. A little variety would have helped, as would have somebody who could sing in tune. This is a little disappointing when compared to the last version on the PS2 we enjoyed, feeling rushed overall.
Although the game has minor flaws, it is largely an exciting racer that offers huge thrills and spills. The package you get for your money is definitely a solid and complete one, making it well worth a try for the adrenaline junkies amongst you. If you are looking for the most realistic simulation the 360 has to offer, turn away now. If you are looking for one of the console’s most fun games to date, pick up your wallet and head to your nearest store. The truth is, the race has begun, and Flatout is well and truly out of the blocks with a nitro blasted boost of supreme quality. Burnout boys beware, a new competitor is in town.
Eight out of ten
- Addictive races with well balanced AI and track design
- Eye-catching graphics and effects
- A vast and impressive multiplayer section, fore fronted by Xbox Live
- Innovative Stunt Mode
- Disappointing lack of customisation features
- Handles erratically, causing frustration with a simple mistake
- Headache inducing soundtrack quickly becomes irritating
- A little to similar to last year's Flatout 2