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FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage

David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce) David Yun (Xbox Live Gamertag - Vawce): (contact-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2008-07-02 00:02:37

FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage - Rank C

Developer: Bugbear Entertainment
Publisher: Empire Interactive
Date: 10/02/07

Also available for PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC (as FlatOut 2)

If you're looking for a racer with an emphasis on demolition tinged with a redneck vibe, FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage might be for you. It's essentially a makeover of FlatOut 2 from the previous generation of consoles, but it's been overhauled to the point where the word "port" isn't quite applicable. The graphics have been upgraded to the point that not only is it gorgeous eye candy, gameplay itself is improved - the number of racers has been increased, the frame rate is unshakeable, and visual pop-in has been eliminated. Unfortunately, the gameplay is a strange hybrid of opposing design elements that fail to gel properly together.

First, the good. FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage encourages destruction. In addition to slamming other drivers off the road, you get to smash through structures that satisfyingly fly apart in a cloud of wreckage and debris. Driving through the service pump in a gas station causes it to explode in a screen-filling detonation of atomic proportions. You can bust through junk piles, greenhouses, chicken coops, and trailers leaving behind an epic wake of litter, only to churn through the same scattered tires and patio chairs on your next lap through.

To further encourage the destruction, collisions and jumps earn nitro boost power. A race track might be lined with fences, but unlike most games, they won't provide any resistance to off-roading. They'll yieldingly shatter apart upon contact. If you should actually ram one of the few indestructible bits of the environment, the sudden stop will hurl your driver through the windshield, high into the air. It's an unnecessary but entertaining tidbit that gives FlatOut additional personality and features prominently in the side games.

My criticisms arise from melding these arcade sensibilities with too much simulation rigor. FlatOut forces you to adhere to strict racing lines around curves, to minimize the loss of velocity. If you take a bad turn and lose too much speed, your opponents will shoot by you. Catching back up isn't the arcade solution of slamming down the accelerator for a few seconds; overtaking other racers requires careful driving over time. This isn't the problem; I love racing sims. The problem is that this is a complete antithesis to the rest of the game.

I'm not a "You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!" type of objector; if a hybrid product manages a pleasing synergy, terrific. But FlatOut's two sides directly interfere with each other. The dramatic collisions and environmental destruction are what make FlatOut fun and unique, but engaging in them requires the risk of spinning out. This wouldn't be an issue if catching back up to the leaders was easier, but the game punishes you too hard for enjoying its enjoyable bits. This is further compounded by the floaty, loose controls that provide neither simulation precision nor arcade freedom. In fact, all of the vehicles handle in the same generic fashion regardless of what you're driving.

A pure demolition derby mode offers one alternative. You simply drive around an arena, crashing into other vehicles in an attempt to disable them. Sounds fun right? But this grew old quicker than I'd anticipated. I'm sure driving in a real demolition derby would be quite exciting, but as a videogame, I began wishing for weapons and realized I'd rather play Twisted Metal. FlatOut's final offering is Stunt Mode. Remember the driver crashing through the windshield mechanic I mentioned earlier? Well, you purposely do this in order to send your driver flying through flaming rings or bowling pins and the like. This too gets old in short order.

FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage is a beautiful game that's almost a lot of fun, but with so many quality racing alternatives on the Xbox 360, I cannot recommend it unless you're specifically looking for a game that sends drivers flying through windshields to see how many times they'll skip across water. Even the PlayStation 3's currently meager library has a superior "redneck demolition racing" offering in MotorStorm. The FlatOut series is really close to making the jump to greatness, and I'm rooting for the developers to axe the elements that shackle it in the next outing. Until that day, there are worthier racers deserving of your attention.

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