FlatOut – PC – Review

Racing games have
become almost synonymous with how the gaming industry has grown.  Simple games
that provided fun and interesting experiences used to be what dominated the
gaming market.  Over the last several years it seems that gamers have demanded
more from their games.  It’s not uncommon now to have a game that tries to do
everything instead of focusing on one area or aspect.  Racing games have
followed this same pattern of growth.  Early racing games didn’t include
licensed cars or authentic tracks.  But now it seems the biggest racing games
released are the ones that are driving simulators instead of games.  Sometimes
we tend to forget the golden rule of gaming: games are supposed to be fun. 




Flatout is a
racing game that comes close to bridging the gap between modern games and the
fun aspect.  At its core Flatout is a racing game where you race against other
drivers to see who will win the race.  The modern aspect of the game is the
technology included in the game, notably the way the game handles real life
physics during a race.  But also included in the game are some humorous, amusing
and fun to play mini games where you have to launch the driver out of the car in
order to score points.  This might sound morbid and ghastly but it’s an
incredibly fun and addictive part of the game.  Who knew having the driver fly
100 feet in the air from a car wreck could be so much fun?



The game is broken
down into two different areas for games to test their driving abilities: the
race and the rag doll competitions.  The racing section of the game is similar
to other racing games in concept: you race against the competition in order to
win the race.  There are no licensed cars or real life race drivers included in
the game.  In fact there are only 5 different types of cars to choose from in
the game, three skill levels and nine different races.  But trust me you won’t
miss being limited to just 9 different races.  The rag doll competition is the
real gem of the game.  This is where you compete in several different mini games
that are based on ejecting the driver from your vehicle.


The reason for the
name “rag doll” is because the game includes a comprehensive physics engine that
is design to create accurate damage to your car, the track, items on the track
and reactions to your driver.  Let’s say that you hit a sign on a track as you
take a corner too tight.  In Flatout the game is designed to have the sign react
naturally as it would in real life instead of just breaking based on a computer
program.  So if you hit a guardrail in the game your car will react almost as it
would in real life (but up to a point since this is a game anyway).  During the
race your car will take damage, the track will take damage and the entire time
the cars and debris on the track will react almost naturally. 


However it’s not
just the cars that react naturally, it’s also your driver.  If you hit a tree or
another vehicle head on during a race your driver will eject from the vehicle
and then fly through the air.  His/her motion and responses will depend on how
fast you were driving, how hard you hit and almost every other reaction that is
possible in real life.  If I hit a tree, my driver would eject, but if he hit
another tree while flying from the car then the driver would react accordingly. 
It creates a sense of realism but at the same time it creates a sense of
overwhelming humor and fun during the rag doll competitions.  The rag doll
competitions vary from the Long Jump (propel your driver as far as you can) to
10-Pin bowling (where you knock down as many pins as you can by ejecting the
driver).  I found myself playing the rag doll competitions over and over again
because I had a blast playing them.  There are a total of 6 rag doll
competitions in the game.  Only parts of the competitions are available at the
start of the game.  The rest have to be unlocked by playing the regular racing
portion of the game. 



The graphics for
this type of game were almost fantastic.  In fact the game looked just as good
as some of the other top shelf racing games released.  The car models are nicely
detailed with a ton of stickers to replicate real life racecars.  All of the
cars have the look of being road weary vehicles that any one of us would drive
everyday.   The damage taken during a race had a huge impact on the look of the
cars by the time the race is over.  I had several races were I finished the race
missing a bumper, the hood of the car and had huge dents all over the body of
the car.  The graphics reacted wonderfully to the physics engine with the cars
showing damage to a specific area that was just hit. 



The graphics for
the different stages were also well done with each track having their own unique
look. There was always a ton of different items scattered across the tracks for
you to run into during the race.  Probably the biggest issue with the graphics
was the slow down of the choppyness that would occur during a race.   When more
than one vehicle was on the screen at the same time the frame rate would tend to
stutter and slow down.  This happened on almost every track and stage but it was
more prominent on the forest areas.  I never noticed a problem with any slow
down during the rag doll competitions, only during the races.


The game
controlled well, considering it is a racing game for the PC.  Just a word of
caution, I hate controlling a racing game using the keyboard.  I would rather
have a steering wheel or a controller.  But for the sake of this review I tried
the game with the keyboard and a controller.  The cars during the game responded
accurately and appropriately, either using the keyboard or a controller.  You
will probably have a difficult time during the race section of the game due to
the frame rate issue.  When the frame rate would slow down it would make it
difficult to see my car, which resulted in a few wrecks.  The physics engine is
also the other deterrent to the controls, simply because the car would react to
everything on the track.  Sometimes the reactions would be natural and my car
would stop because I hit a tree or a stack of wood.  But other times I would hit
maybe a small rock that would cause my driver to eject.  Luckily during the
races the “rubber band” effect was in place so I was never out of a race no
matter how many wrecks I had.  I was always able to catch up with the other
drivers during the race whether I had one wreck or 10 wrecks.


Flatout is one of
those rare games that come along every couple of years.  It’s a racing game at
its core but there is so much fun to be had with the game.  The regular racing
game included is a nice game because of the graphics and the physics engine. 
However hardcore racing nuts will probably find the lack of licensed cars and
the small number of tracks to be a negative.  But the rag doll competitions is
where the fun really kicks in for Flatout.  I never knew trying to score a
strike in bowling was so much fun, but I’ve never bowled by ejecting someone out
of a car.  Flatout is a fun and entertaining game that should bring a smile on
many a gamer’ face.


Review Scoring Details


Gameplay 8.0 

The cars during
the game controlled well during the races and the rag doll competition.  There
was the occasional problem controlling the car during a race but this was due to
the graphics, not the controls.  The controls are simple and easy for anyone to
get adjusted with.  The directional buttons control the car and the control
button ignites the nitro for the car and is the ejection button during the rag
doll competition.  The limited amount of cars and tracks during the racing part
of the game will be a hindrance for some.  The rag doll competitions were all
fantastic, fun and addictive. 


Graphics 8.0 

During the
majority of the game the graphics were top notch and the frame rate was steady. 
In fact if you only play the rag doll competitions you probably will never have
a problem with the graphics.  When there was more than two or three cars on the
screen at one time the frame rate would start to stutter and there was some slow
down.  All of the car models looked great and the graphics reacted perfectly to
the physics engine.  Every car during a race would show their damage from the
race.  No car would ever look the same once a race was finished.


Sound 7.8 

The sound effects
for the different cars and wrecks were lacking a little.  There was a minimal
amount of difference between the sound effects for the different cars.  Also
most of the wrecks sounded the same during the race regardless of the severity
of the wreck.  The music in the game is licensed rock music from (what I can
only assume are) British artists.  I enjoyed most of the songs in the game but
during a long race you would hear the same song several times.



The difficulty for
Flatout will depend on your persistence and patience.  In order to master the
rag doll competitions you will need to upgrade your car.  The fastest and
easiest way to do this is to either win a race or have the high score in a
competition.  This will result in you repeating the same races and competitions
over again.  If you find this too complicated then the difficulty will be too
much for you.  As I mentioned earlier the “rubber band” effect is in full force
in the game.  The rubber band effects happens during a racing game where the
computer always keeps you close to the other cars during the race.  There were a
few times when I would have a spectacular crash that I thought would take me out
of the race.  But within a few seconds I had already caught up with the rest of
the cars.  This happens even when you are in first place; the rest of the pack
is always right behind you.


Concept 8.3 

To be honest when
I first played this game at E3 2004 I was amazed at the physics engine.  Seeing
the cars, the track and debris react to everything happening during a race was a
sight to see.  Some of the popular racing games don’t include the option to show
car damage during a race, but Flatout doesn’t hide this from the gamer.  In fact
the damage to the cars is a great part of the game because it’s so much fun to
see the damage you take during a race.  But the best part of this game has to be
the rag doll competitions, because this is something that really hasn’t been
done before.  Using the driver as a target for the games is a blast that I’m
sure will cause a smile for everyone that plays this game.  I found myself
playing the rag doll games repeatedly because I just knew I could do better. 
This is still a racing game and the limited number of cars and tracks is a short
coming compared to other racing games. 



I was unable to
test the multiplayer parts of Flatout.  The game includes a multiplayer mode but
it is only playable over a LAN and not over the internet.  Up to 8 computers can
be connected to play the game at the same time. 


Overall 8.0 

I haven’t had this
much fun with a driving game since the first Driver game was released for
Playstation 1.  Now I should mention that I only played the free mode in Driver,
which allowed me to drive around the city being chased by the cops.  I enjoyed
trying to come up with the most intense and crazy crashes that were possible
when I played Driver.  I get the same happy feeling when I play the rag doll
games in Flatout.  The game reminds me of why we play games: to have fun!  While
there are some problems with the graphics and amount of depth to the game, I
should beg everyone to at least try this game at least once.  You probably won’t
be disappointed.