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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

FlatOut (Xbox)

By Michael Palisano

FlatOut for the Xbox is a decent racer with some interesting features and modes. The game's racing is quite destructive, and the cars take a lot of damage. However, the more interesting parts of the game lie in the bonus mini-games, such as a cannonball, where you crash the car and eject the driver onto the field. This makes the game stand out from the pack, though there are some issues with the controls, which feel a bit floaty at points. The visuals are decent, though not as polished or detailed as other Xbox racers. FlatOut is an enjoyable racing game that offers some unique modes that make for a surprisingly addictive title.

Developed by Bugbear Entertainment and published by Empire Interactive, FlatOut is a surprisingly good racer that offers high-octane, high stakes racing action. There's plenty of crashes and explosions, which makes the standard racing loads of fun. FlatOut allows players to race 16 different vehicles. These cars offer different types of control and performance. Additionally, each vehicle can be upgraded throughout the game with numerous parts and other items available at your garage. There are more than 45 different tracks to race on, in five different environments ranging from dirt tracks, to tarmac and even snow covered courses. This is an impressive roster, though only a couple of cars and tracks are available initially. You have to unlock the rest. The game also supports several multiplayer modes including a two-player split-screen mode and online play via Xbox Live that allows up to 8 players to battle it out. FlatOut's standard racing mode.

FlatOut's basic structure is standard for the genre and offers several modes of play including single races, career mode along a number of tracks. As you'd expect, the main object is to win these races. As you win them, you'll earn money which you can use to upgrade your vehicle, while finishing in the top three unlocks additional tracks and courses. The gameplay itself is surprisingly challenging with the courses presenting quite a challenge with numerous objects and obstacles, along with jumps and tight corners to traverse. The rival drivers are surprisingly aggressive and won't hesitate to knock your car around the track. The game's crashes are impressive, with massive pile-ups possible. FlatOut's impressive physics engine also extends inside the cockpits, where the driver can be thrown out of the vehicle. When you suffer a severe crash, you can press the reset button to get back in the race. Players can also use a Nitro boost to speed their vehicle along, though you need to be sure of the layout, since the cars are harder to control at higher speeds.

While the controls seem a little floaty initially, upgrading your vehicle gives you a more solid footing on the track. You'll definitely notice the improvements after your initial upgrades, so don't get discouraged and judge the game based on its earliest levels. You can upgrade your tires, suspension, engine and other parts to enhance your vehicles' performance. Along the way, you will also be able to unlock additional vehicles. Unlike other driving games, damaging your vehicle causes a significant amount of performance loss, dramatically affecting your vehicles' responsiveness. The game's main racing mode is quite challenging thanks to its surprisingly aggressive AI, which gives even the early races a tension and difficulty most other racers lack. The good news is that the controls and gameplay are quite aggressive, and most players should be able to jump right into this arcade-style racer with none of the tedious license instruction and training levels that makes many simulation titles so intimidating.

In addition to standard point-to-point racing, FlatOut includes some interesting alternative gameplay modes. The first of these is the destruction derby mode, where you can battle it out against a pile of other cars until only one vehicle remains. There are several levels of increasing difficulty in these derbies, and the rival vehicles are ruthless in gunning for your vehicle. This is a fun mode in its own right, and effectively showcases the game's excellent damage modeling system. In addition to these all-out battles, Flatout includes several mini-games such as High Jump, Long Jump, Darts, Bowling, Bullseye and Clown. Each of these offers a similar mechanic, where you accelerate the car, then have to throw the driver out of the vehicle manually, hurling them towards a target. Some of these require you to reach a certain height, while others measure distance. They're loads of fun but playing them isn't quite as easy as it sounds, requiring some good timing skills and anticipation to succeed. These offer a unique challenge and can be quite addictive all by themselves and definitely add to the game's variety and challenge.

From a visual standpoint, the game looks solid with an acceptable level of detail throughout. The cars themselves show an impressive amount of details, with realistic damage that actually affects their performance. FlatOut's courses are intelligently designed with challenging layouts that include sharp turns, jumps, obstacles and occasionally, branching paths that can be used as short cuts. A variety of trackside objects on each course are scattered on the track. Some of these are minor obstacles, and you can crash into some of these without taking much if any damage. Smaller objects usually slow you down, while crashing into barriers and larger objects can stop you dead in your tracks, putting a serious dent in both your vehicle and position. The developers say there are thousands of these on each track, including cones, barrels and, larger objects that can cause extensive damage. Of course, you can also smash into other cars. The game engine is decent with good lighting effects and sound effects. The game doesn't quite match the polished appearance of high-end Xbox racers such as Burnout and Forza Motorsport, but it still looks decent. While the game's visuals lack the polish and sophistication of other racers, Flatout's engine is still quite good. The level of damage in the cars is great, with dented fenders, hoods flying off and lots of body damage evident throughout. FlatOut's use of rag-doll physics when the drivers are ejected and their bodies crash to the ground is cool in a sick sort of way. This definitely has an edgy feel to it, and

While there are other, more sophisticated racers on the market, FlatOut's simple arcade-style play and violent crash mechanics definitely give it a unique feel. The game's standard racing modes are fun and challenging, making for an enjoyably untethered driving experience. Its exaggerated physics, aggressive AI and intense crashes makes for an exciting game that's accessible for newcomers, yet challenging and offers enough variety to keep veterans interested. Adding to the fun are the game's all-out destruction derby mode and its array of addictive mini-games that adds a significant amount of replay value to the game. While there are some similarities, the game really isn't a clone of Burnout, though you can be forgiven for thinking as much, due to the games' similar titles and themes. Instead, this qualifies as a sleeper title that hasn't gotten as much attention as it deserves to. It isn't quite as slick as other titles on the market, but it makes up for this with solid, enjoyable gameplay. FlatOut's unique features, clever gameplay modes, such as the destruction derby and its clever mini-games, make for some addictive play that should please gamers looking for relatively mindless racing action.

Grade: B-

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