Check out our video review:
I was never the biggest racing fan, especially when I was younger, but when I first saw a video of FlatOut, I wanted it. I was big into Counter-Strike: Source back then and was fascinated with the physics and ragdoll stuff in games. I think that’s what attracted me to FlatOut. Developed by Bugbear Entertainment and published by Empire Interactive, FlatOut was released for PC, PlayStation 2, and Xbox in July, 2005. For this review I played the PC version and used ThirteenAG’s widescreen fix to run the game in a proper widescreen resolution. I remember launching your driver out of the windshield being the standout gimmick but I think the physics is what really makes FlatOut special.
FlatOut contains multiple game modes including a Career mode which is probably where you will to spend a majority of your single player time. There is a multiplayer component which I didn’t get the chance to try and I did attempt to install the FOV3 mod which offers an alternative way to play online, among other things, but was unable to get it running. The Career mode is where you unlock things and win money that can be spent on new vehicles and various vehicle upgrades.
In the Career mode, you start by purchasing a vehicle. Afterward, you can begin racing. You earn money for finishing in the top three positions and that money can be spent on new vehicles or upgrades to your vehicle’s engine, drivetrain, exhaust, suspension, tires, and body. The career is made up of three classes, two of which need to be unlocked. Each class has its own set of tracks and vehicles. The one thing I don’t like is that when you buy a new vehicle, you’re forced to sell your old one. You can’t build up a collection of cars which I think is really stupid. In addition to the regular races are the bonus modes. These include various demolition arenas and stunt courses where you must launch your driver out of the windshield at something specific to earn points and your final score determines how much money you win. The stunt courses have you attempting to launch your driver as far as you can, as high as you can, there’s a bowling one, and another has you launching him or her onto a bullseye. They’re comical as is watching your driver ragdoll through the air. It’s just a shame there’s no gore effects. Then there’s the demolition arenas where the objective is to destroy all of the other opponents. It’s quite fun.
There is a decent amount of vehicles to choose from and you unlock more as you progress through the Career. I find that FlatOut, especially the Career mode, leans toward the easy side. There’s no traditional difficulty modes but I guess the challenge depends on the class. If you keep your vehicle upgraded, it’s not that difficult to win races and it is possible to lap opponents. The AI opponents can be tough if your vehicle isn’t upgraded and they can gain a significant lead if you’re not doing so hot but if you drive well, you should be able to catch up. You can always try forcing opponents off the track or into an obstacle and there’s nothing more satisfying than forcing your opponent into something and watching the driver come flying out the windshield. However, they can do the same to you. You want to drive carefully because a hard enough crash will send your driver flying, forcing you to reset your vehicle. If you’re far enough ahead, you should still be able to maintain the lead even after a crash. I was basically able to breeze through the Career mode.
The vehicle handling may take some getting used to and your vehicle will handle differently on different surfaces. You will want to brake when going around sharp turns and keep your eye out for shortcuts. Crashing into things will grant you nitro which can be activated to gain a speed boost. There’s a lot to crash into like tires, cones, signs, and various other obstacles and items on the track. Crashing and slamming into things will result in your vehicle being dented and damaged and if it takes enough damage, it will catch fire. The vehicles do take damage realistically and the damage can affect a vehicle’s performance. The physics are impressive but I feel there isn’t a big enough focus on it. The crashing and destruction elements is really what makes FlatOut so enjoyable but to win races you really don’t want to crash or you’ll slow down despite the nitro gain. There are far more tracks to race on than there are bonus modes and its the bonus modes that really highlight the game’s impressive physics engine. And considering how easy the Career mode is, it’s easy to avoid obstacles and win races without too much trouble.
There’s two other single player modes in FlatOut – Quick Race and Time Trial. Quick Race is basically a replica of the Career mode. You have access to all the Career vehicles and tracks and bonus courses. Unfortunately, like the Career mode, there’s no difficulty options and the vehicles and tracks are tied to certain classes. You can’t customize a race in any way. There’s no selecting how many laps, how many opponents, or anything like that. The opponents will be made up of whatever class of vehicles the track is tied to so you can select a Gold class vehicle and race on a Bronze class track and just blow past every opponent without an issue. In Time Trial, you choose a vehicle and track, and try to set a record time. The game could really use some more game modes, especially ones that focus more on destruction.
The tracks are all set in rural areas and you will race in the same locations multiple times, usually with different track layouts. You’ll drive on a lot of dirt roads, some cement, and snow and ice, and understanding how to handle your vehicle on each surface is important. I find that knowing when and how to brake around corners is the key to winning. Some tracks do include shortcuts, you can drive through some buildings, you can drive off ramps, and there are plenty of obstacles to crash into. You can bring down structures and scatter boxes, tires, and cones along the tracks. I do wish there was more diversity in the tracks because you’ll see all the environmental variety there is once you reach the second class.
Looking at FlatOut, you can tell it’s is an older game but I do think it was pretty impressive for its time. Unfortunately, there is a lot of pop-in and it’s very noticeable. Vehicles will be visibly damaged and deformed after crashing, and the ragdolls are a nice touch, adding some humor and charm to the game. FlatOut does include some neat details like dirt and debris that kick up from your tires as you speed along the tracks, tires will wobble after taking damage, obstacles will scatter as you crash into them, and cars will flip and roll from crashs and you can see parts of vehicles flying through the air as they take damage. The soundtrack in FlatOut is not really my cup of tea and after a while, I just lowered the music volume to zero. But the sound effects are pretty good. The vehicles roar loudly and the crashes and slams result in loud bangs and clangs that sound pretty. Drivers will scream as they fly out of their windshields and it never gets old. On the technical side, the game ran smooth and I only encountered minor issues. My vehicle would sometimes get stuck on objects, and even though you can reset your vehicle it is annoying. And opponents would often get stuck on things in the demolition arenas.
I had fun with FlatOut but I do think it’s underwhelming. The driver ragdoll thing is cool and even humorous but its not enough to carry the experience. It’s the physics engine that’s the real highlight. With that said, I think the game needs more content, at least for single player. Content that focuses on destruction because that’s really what makes FlatOut so special. The racing is just straight up racing. Most of the excitement is gone the moment you take the lead. And the lack of additional game modes and customization options results in low replay value. Now maybe the multiplayer was a lot of fun, I don’t know, but the single player just feels like it’s lacking.
I would recommend FlatOut to fans of racing games but if you’re looking for a high octane racer with awesome crashes and excitement, you’ll want to stick with the Burnout series. Sure, FlatOut lets you launch your driver out of the windshield but the novelty wears off rather quickly and unless your participating in one of the demolition arenas, crashing is more of a hindrance than it is beneficial. But watching your vehicles come apart and become deformed from all the crashing is a sight to behold. Definitely check out FlatOut if you think it looks interesting.