Flatout PS2 Preview
by Andy Levine

Every once in a while you’ll come across a game made by some developer you’ve never heard of, and it will simply blow the competition out of the water. For the PS2, Flatout by Bugbear Entertainment easily falls into this category. With damage modeling that affects performance, a vast array of cars that can be fully upgraded, and non-stop action that will have you flying out of your car in no time, Flatout will give Bugbear Entertainment a very good reputation.

Flatout is a driving game set with a demolition derby theme. Instead of focusing on perfecting technique and carefully maneuvering around every corner, you’ll race around in your junkyard car at blistering speeds, taking out anything in your path. Although there is no story line, who ever said a good racing game needed one? At the beginning of your racing career, you can select from a few of the loaner cars down at the junkyard, and with the little spare change that you have you can upgrade them. From here you could try competing in the basic Championship races, where you strive to obtain the gold medal. On the other hand, you can try out something not too commonly seen in the Bonus mode. This mode has different categories, such as high jump, bowling, and demolition derby. Again, Flatout breaks the rules of the conventional driving game by offering mini-games. In events such as jumping and bowling, you’ll need to launch your driver through the windshield of the car at the perfect angle so that he’ll complete his objective. The demolition derby is pretty self explanatory; the last man standing will reign supreme over the wrecked pieces of scrap metal. There are enough tuning options to keep any car enthusiast busy, which is a very nice feature for any racing game. Having the ability to customize your car, as well as buy new ones, will give the game a fresh new feel. While there are a total of sixteen different vehicles, there are essentially two different car classes. From the beginning, you can choose to drive using lighter cars, which have less acceleration but better handling, or you can use heavier cars, which sacrifice their turning abilities with their roaring engines. The developers of Flatout were daring enough to attempt new styles of gameplay, and in the end they were very successful.

There are a handful of games that are said to be full of “eye candy” and be “aesthetically pleasing”, but there are only a few that combine great looks with a meaningful purpose. Flatout’s environment is filled with hundreds of objects that can be mashed, torn, scraped, crumbled, and exploded to name a few. Even some of the most realistic driving simulators allow you to “ride” the walls at heart pounding speeds without even getting a scrape, but Flatout again makes an exception. Incorporated into the game is a full damage modeling system that will slowly tear your car apart. From the shattering of your windshield to the misalignment of your front-end, you’ll notice that there is a great deal of strategy involved in this arcade style driving game. What makes it even better is the fact that damaging your car will refill your nitrous meter, so now you’ll have an incentive to bring havoc to a construction site or take down some billboards. Damaging your opponents is even more satisfying; what could possibly be more fun than watching your rival crash head on through a tree and have his body fly lifelessly thanks to the ragdoll physics? Lately, most of the major developers have been too worried about trying to impress their customers with “hundreds of new cars” and “more tracks than ever before”, but they’ve all missed out on some of the features that make Flatout a revolutionary driving game.

Flatout is one of the few games on the market that can be deemed beautiful. Most of your races take place in an outdoor environment, which allowed the developers to harness the prestige of the great outdoors. Individual blades of grass and trees make up the outermost part of the courses, while pavement, dirt, and sand are your most common terrain. There is a soft but noticeable glow effect that helps exemplify the refinement of your surroundings. When speeding through lakes and streams, the water around you will fly up, and at the same time waves are forming. Reflections show mirror images of the world around the car, including individual trees in a forest and the luminous sun. While all of this is nice, after playing the game there will be one thing etched into your mind; the crashes. Whether you’re in a demolition derby or your brakes stop working, the crashing in this game is, without a doubt, awesome. Not only will you see the engine catch on fire, but the shards of glass created as your body flies through the window is stunning. All of this takes place with a consistently high frame rate, so you’ll never have to worry about losing performance for a few extra effects. Even though Flatout doesn’t have ultra realistic models that mimic what the car would look like in real life, it’s still one of the most amazing looking games to hit the Playstation 2.

While Flatout isn’t the greatest sounding game available, overall it conveys an acceptable audio performance. The engines by themselves sound a little weaker than you would expect, but on the starting grid it’s barely noticeable. The background music consists of mostly rock and roll which fits in with the overall mood nicely. However, besides that and the engine there aren’t any other sound effects. Flatout could’ve used more ambient sounds to accompany the silent moments when you’re miles ahead of the rest. Sound effects from crushing objects help make up for some of the emptiness, but there is still a plethora of awkward silences.

Flatout’s multiplayer only makes it better, whether you’re playing split screen with a friend or via the network adapter. Although it’s hard to know why, you can’t help but feel proud once you send your best friend head first at a cement wall. Online mode is focused more towards the demolition derby race type instead of the traditional circuit racing; mostly because doing laps can become tedious after a while. Nevertheless, the online mode offers an invigorating alteration to that of a typical racing game.

In conclusion, Flatout separates itself from other driving games due to its unique feel. The developers at Bugbear Entertainment took a gamble when they diverted from the traditional style of gameplay, but it proved to be more than worth it. It just goes to show you; it doesn’t always take a highly paid staff to create something mind-blowing.