Reckless destruction and gross bodily harm are two things we’re fond of in our games and FlatOut 2 delivers plenty of both. The focus here isn’t so much on racing as it is on aggressive driving and destructible environments - cars will wreck, gas stations will explode and hordes of orange cones will go flipping through the air. And all this chaos runs surprisingly well, even on a system that meets only the minimum system requirements.
Tracks are littered with dangerous obstacles and brutal opponents who want to turn your vehicle inside out and speed is only secondary to your ability to stay on the course and bash the hell out of the other drivers. So, while hardcore racing fans may be put off by the imaginary cars, goofy characters and general silliness of it all, anyone who thinks busting through the inside of a mall with a supercharged pickup truck sounds like fun should be pleased.
The developers certainly didn’t skimp on single-player content. You can play through Career Mode to win championships, upgrade your current cars, purchase new cars or participate in any single race, event, destruction derby or stunt of your choice.
Races take place throughout six beautifully detailed environments, ranging from rural forests and desert vistas to city streets and canals - each with several different tracks to choose from. The game also offers nine special events (short courses that are generally designed to encourage big pile-ups) and six derby arenas. The derbies give you a break from racing and a chance to vent a little road rage by inflicting as much damage as possible to your opponents while attempting to stay in one piece.
The highlight of FlatOut 2 is the Stunts mode, which uses rag doll animation (drivers’ loosely-jointed bodies fly through the air with nauseating physical realism) to provide a stern lesson in seatbelt safety. The setup for each stunt is pretty consistent: drive as fast as you can down a mostly straight track and, before you reach the end, launch your flailing driver through his windshield and toward a target. Whether you’re going for height in the High Jump, distance in the Ski Jump or accuracy in Bowling and Darts, each of the 12 stunts has its own morbid comedic value and become especially fun when played with several people.
All of the courses and stunts are available for play online with up to eight players. It took only a minute or so for us to join an online match and start racing. There’s also an offline "Party Mode," allowing you to take turns at stunts to compete for the highest score.
The nail in the tire of FlatOut 2 is its steep learning curve. The steering is touchy and the roads seem to be coated with Vaseline, making the cars quick to spin out and skid off the course. When you combine the poor handling with hard-to-see obstacles and opponents constantly bashing your tailpipe in, some of the races can be damn irritating. The box recommends that you purchase a gamepad, but we found that the steering is no different with a gamepad than it is with the keyboard, so it’s up to personal preference.
That said, don’t be turned off by the difficult controls right away. Once you get used to the steering and can take the corners, FlatOut 2 is an awesome racer with enough destruction and mayhem to last you awhile. And if you do get frustrated, the game provides plenty of ways to relieve stress - like launching your helpless driver into really hard objects.