FlatOut 2 Review (Xbox)
One of the companies that use to make board games (it might have been Parker-Brothers) use to claim that their games were fun for people from 8-80. I even remember some that said for ages 4 to 104. Being a “little shaver” at the time, I couldn’t fathom the concept of playing “Battleship” or “Don’t Tip The Waiter” with old people. You know, like, 35 year olds. Yikes! Now that I am one of those thirty-somethings raising young children, the concept of games that are fun for all ages seems like a thing of the past.
My kids have no interest in the most of the games I play, except of course when I try to quietly fire up one of the Grand Theft Auto games, then they can’t run to me fast enough. That’s not to say that we haven’t found a few games that I enjoy that I don’t have to quickly shut off if they’re in the room. However, it’s very rare that I’ve played a game in the sports gaming genre that they enjoyed. But, with FlatOut 2 finding its way to my Xbox recently, not only did I have a blast, my kids and I laughed and screamed and carried on for hours on end with this title. Even some family friends who are pushing retirement age got into the act one evening in my living room. Family fun in 2006? Who would have thought it.
So what’s fun about FlatOut 2?
Haven’t we seen this type of game before?
Heck, haven’t we seen it more than a few times?
Sure, at the core, the FlatOut series isn’t brand new and original. High speed racing at breakneck speeds with no regard for property or personal safety is really the center of this type of game. They do have a more popular competitor coming out of San Mateo, Calif. But, what the crew at BugBear does is embraces the game that EA/Criterion has been putting out. They don’t attempt to reinvent the wheel. They simply take their spin on it. Polish it up all nice and pretty and release a fun, fun game.
The single player experience is really divided into three different experiences. The first is the revamped and redone Career mode. This mode splits your time between three different vehicle classes – Derby, Racing and Street – each with its own unique scenarios and races. You’ll find that the controls are very good overall for a game that is not necessarily banking on being a great racer. In fact, the race aspect of it is almost the secondary aspect of the game. The game is meant to be played at full throttle 99% of the time, so, thankfully, an intuitive and responsive control system is a must. The Career mode will have you using your driving skills on various tracks using a healthy variety of vehicles that can be upgraded and enhanced to boost your experience even more. Advancing in this mode is hinged directly on how well you do. I found that the early races in each class were pretty easy for pick-up-and-play racers like myself, but there is certainly a level of challenge in the AI as each level progresses.
Inside the Career mode and also in standalone modules, you’ll find the other two options to play: Destruction Derby and the ever-popular Mini-Games (or "Ragdoll Olympics" to some). Destruction Derby is just that. They usually take place on a basic figure-eight or oval track, however, most feature some amount of usable and destroyable environment that can be factored into your demo strategy. It’s a simple matter of kill or be killed, but can be a lot of fun to play. And, if you’re concerned about those yellow-bellied opponents just driving in circles to avoid the action, FlatOut 2 includes a nice contact timer that forces players to make contact in an allotted amount of time or be instantly disqualified.
As much fun as can be had while racing or crashing all around the game, you will likely spend a lot of time in the mini-games. This is where my family and friends got absolutely addicted to this game. If you’re not familiar with the mini-games from the first version of FlatOut, the concept is pretty simple. Dark a bit morbid perhaps, but simple. Through various events and feats of “skill”, you drive your vehicle as fast as you can to a launch point before slamming on the brakes (in this case a launch button) and catapulting your driver out the front windshield at ludicrous speed. Depending on the angle, which is set my holding down the launch button, your driver’s body will hurl through the air, twisting and turning in spectacular (and hilarious) ragdoll fashion before hitting the ground, the target, or some other foreign object depending on the event. Darts, Poker, High Jump, Soccer, the list goes on, with each one providing a different highly entertaining result.
The developers added an "aftertouch" system to control your driver’s body somewhat while in the air, but, if I was going to lodge a complaint on the mode, it never seemed to work very well. Most of the time, wherever your body was going, that’s where it was going.
Needless to say, playing multiplayer on FlatOut 2 is a must. In fact, it’s at its best with a group of friends playing in any of the modes. Although the four-player split-screen is a little tough to handle, the mini-games alone made me wish it were the early 90’s again and I was sitting in my college dorms. This game could have, at least temporarily, unseated Tecmo Bowl and NHL '92 on my floor's gaming rotation. But if it’s multi-player racing you want, you’re better off taking it to Xbox Live. You can run full eight player races over XBL and have a blast doing it. Great races are pretty easy to find and the game runs very smoothly.
The visuals in FlatOut 2 are a little more form than function. While the environments and tracks are top-shelf and the car models really look nice on the Xbox, I did have some concern about the damage model. Obviously with this type of game, the damage model is imperative because - let’s be honest - damage is not an option. The issue with FlatOut 2 is that the damage does not seem to truly reflect the crash or impact that created it. It’s strange to complain about realism in a game that is predicated on being unrealistic, but not getting damage right in a game like this is kind of like not getting blocking right in a football game.
From a visual presentation side, one thing that seemed odd and out of place are the little character bios that show up on the loading screens. Besides being unnecessary - because there really isn’t a drastic difference in AI from one character to the next, the pictures are of celebrities that have been slightly altered and renamed. It’s actually kind of fun to try to name them all. I don’t think I got them all yet, but one of them is definitely Jennifer "J-Lo" Lopez.
The sounds of the game work because, as I’ve pointed out in many reviews in the past, I didn’t even notice them. Sounds that blend in naturally with the gameplay and feel of the title are what works best. FlatOut 2 did take a page out of the competition’s handbook and go with a lot more hard driving music from lesser-known bands, but it really seems to work well.
When all is said and done, the most important thing that can be said about FlatOut 2 is that it is fun. I look forward to seeing this franchise continue and would love to see a jump to the next-gen consoles in the future. But, is it truly fun for kids from 4 to 104? It certainly is entertaining. And I defy you to throw the game on the TV in a room full of people from diapers to Depends, fire up the mini-games, and not get at least a smile.