At first glance you'd think that this game's a straightforward stock car racing romp. But after a few minutes of hurtling around the course you'll start to notice something disconcerting. You see, FlatOut plays as if two different teams, with two different ideas developed it in two different buildings. One group had the genius to create tracks and vehicles that made the most of the awesome physics. And the other group seemed to be creating a solid driving game with complex racing lines. The resulting product is a schizophrenic title, which tries to exhibit both ideas as once. And doesn't manage to do either.
FlatOut has all the key elements needed to create a fantastic racing experience that steers away from the humdrum of the typical street racer. You've got varied track settings, destructible environments and motors that crumple like pie-tins. But all too soon, its serious side comes into play and spoils things. For example, rather than gracefully sliding around the apex of a corner, your car remains resolutely sticky, almost slowing to a stop as you're forced to skilfully hug the racing line like a childhood teddy if you want to win races.
Then there's the nitro boost. You build it up by crashing into opponents (which is simple) or smashing through fences and other trackside scenery. But you run the risk of grim hindrance should you go - in the game's eyes - too crazy. For example busting through some railings can add a little boost and thus allows you to stretch your lead or catch up to the car in front, but if you hit them at the wrong angle you'll come to a crunching halt ending up motionless and frustrated. You can use Triangle to place you back on track, should you become stuck, but it places you a few meters back from where you stopped, any notion of earning a boost long forgotten.
Yet despite these flaws, FlatOut is almost everything that you want from a racer. You can tinker with your motor by adding roll-cages and turbo etc. Each lap hones your driving reflexes because of the ever-changing debris strewn around. And ragging your car around varying landscapes is much more appealing than driving around asphalt-laden ovals, which betray the innovation elsewhere in the game. FlatOut is certainly enjoyable, and has breathed some life into genre that holds few surprises.
FlatOut is out now for PS2, Xbox and PC