It’s rare that I switch off a game in disgust. It takes a lot to bother me THAT much, but Flatout 4: Total Insanity has the honour of being one of those rare games to make me quit in sheer frustration at its glaring faults.
Is that a bad way to start this review? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just worth knowing from the start, that FlatOut 4 is not the game that should have relaunched this seemingly forgotten series. It’s not an entirely bad game, it should be said. It’s just not particularly great, either. It’s a very average game that suffers because of some strange design choices, which makes it all the more sad when you realise how good it could have been.
Upon booting up the game, the main menu offers plenty of options from the start at least, with FlatOut Mode being a kind of arcade challenge mode, Quick Play being…well, just that, really. Pick a race type, track and vehicle and off you go; Multiplayer is there too (though obviously there’s nobody online at the time of writing, so the quality of the online multiplayer is currently a mystery) with the option to play locally with up to 8 players in a turn-based capacity – no split screen is a disappointment, but Career is where you’ll want to begin. There’s a large amount of content, with tonnes of tracks and cars, but almost all of it is locked at the start. Career mode is the place to unlock most things.
Once you’ve chosen your starting vehicle, you’ll set off in your first race and discover that the handling is actually quite fun and responsive, straddling the line between full arcade speed and the semi-realism of games like PGR. The end result is somewhere between Motorstorm and Burnout Paradise, and it’s instantly manageable. The racing itself is ridiculous, with destruction being the name of the game. Almost everything is destructible, from the fences and walls that line the tracks, to the cars themselves – indeed, each car actually has a health bar and if it’s depleted…boom. Game over. In suitably explosive fashion.
But the physics. Man, the physics are not good. General handling works well, but even the heaviest cars are lighter than paper, and they bump around so erratically that it’s sometimes impossible to keep pointed in the right direction. I lost count of the number of times I had to restart races due to random physics issues, with one notable incident being when my car decided to flip onto its roof, on a flat road with nobody nearby. No explanation to be found. And when one of the game’s tracks is set on and around railway tracks, your car definitely should not be launched into the air at the slightest touch of those rails – I literally tensed up every time I approached the vicinity of the railway sections.
The AI doesn’t help matters either, as it weaves all over the road like a drunken student trying to walk home on a Saturday night. You know that “first corner moment” whenever you play a racing game online, when the troll players pile into anyone trying to actually navigate the bend properly? That’s basically ninety percent of any AI interaction in FlatOut 4. Take a corner alongside another car and you’ll likely be shunted into facing the wrong direction, or a car in front will slide ahead of you and brake, essentially stopping you dead. Hell, if you run into the back of another car, it will brake and slow you down. Every. Fucking. Time. It’s not fun.
The coming together of the random physics and the horrendously inept AI is at its absolute worst in the new Assault mode. On paper, a Mario Kart style race with weapons, sounds like it would be great fun. It isn’t. Admittedly, the first time you experience the chaos of that opening stretch, you’ll probably get a giggle out of all the explosions and cars flying every which way, but when the fourth or fifth attempt results in the same lunacy and your car buried in the side of a tree, things get old quickly.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. FlatOut mode offers a bit more variety, thanks to its mixture of minigames that focus on pure fun, rather than just race-based events. The old Stunt mode returns, wherein you have to eject your poor driver into the air, launching him at whatever happens to be the objective in the current event. Playing a strange game of beer pong, bouncing your driver into giant, plastic cups to get the highest score possible, is quite addictive. Not all of the levels are designed as well as that, but almost every Stunt event offers similar silliness, best with friends (and alcohol, I suspect).
Deathmatch is quite possibly the best part of the entire game, though. Stick a dozen vehicles in an arena and let them have at it, smashing each other about until the inevitable explosions begin. Like any FPS deathmatch, death just sees each competitor respawning after a couple of seconds, letting them jump back into the madness. It feels like the natural progression of the old Destruction Derby games, with the winner being the one with the highest number of points from smashing enemy drivers into oblivion, instead of using the traditional last man standing rules. Although that ruleset is available in Arena mode, if you fancy a bit of nostalgia. In Arena, maps are simply round bowls (sometimes with a few surprises thrown in) like they were back in the old PlayStation classics, but the short lifespan of cars means that it just doesn’t have the same playability of Deathmatch.
FlatOut 4 certainly doesn’t skimp on game modes, and there’s a similar variety in its tracks. There are urban environments, a snow-covered dam, an industrial area with its own waterway, and many more, all with their own distinct palettes and decorations. There is a lot of character to the visual design, but I wouldn’t call it a looker, by any stretch of the imagination. There are jagged edges everywhere, low resolution textures and not exactly Forza Horizon 3 levels of detail in either cars or environments – it doesn’t even match last generation’s original Forza Horizon on a visual level. It’s not an ugly game, but it’s not a game befitting this new generation of consoles, especially when its framerate can’t keep up, either. Presentation in general feels a bit low budget, with cars sounding flat and lifeless, though the explosions and collisions sound meaty enough.
Truth be told, I expected more from the developer of the excellent WRC 6. But with the AI and physics in the state that they are in FlatOut 4: Total Insanity, I can’t really recommend it. It does offer some nostalgic fun in FlatOut mode, especially with Deathmatch, but it’s just not enough. Too much content is locked at the start, and winnings are too meagre in Career so you’ll find yourself having to grind out enough money to buy that new car or upgrade your current one, in order to move into a more difficult class. FlatOut 4 simply has too many things going against it, and as a result, is nothing more than a disappointment.
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