Smoking the competition in a racing game is one thing, leaving the competition in a smoking heap of charred metal is quite another. With its high-speed crashes and destruction derby events, the original FlatOut struck like a bolt from the blue for crash-crazed consumers. It wasn't perfect, of course, but it certainly had some distinguishing features, none more so than the madcap mini-games that involved flinging a hapless driver through a car's windshield to hit bull's-eye targets. FlatOut 2 aims to smooth out some of the original model's dents and dings, expanding nearly every facet of what made the first game a sleeper hit.
While the core racing action remains the same, the "meat" has been heaped on to gag-inducing levels. Sixty course combinations are divided among forest, desert, field, canal, city, and traditional racetracks. The courses have changed for the better as well, with each locale sporting multiple shortcuts, huge jumps, underground tunnels, lifelike scenery, and more flying bric-a-brac than a barroom brawl. Tires, fences, rocks, oil drums, and other objects will bounce, roll, and fly across the screen as if a hurricane were nearby. The arcade-style atmosphere wouldn't be complete without the ability to uproot trees and telephone poles like they were made out of papier-mâché, as FlatOut 2 is all about driving fast and hitting hard. The outdoor areas let you do both with reckless abandon.
The career mode is once again the game's focus, only this time there are three vehicle classes to unlock as you advance through multiple events. Players begin with 5,000 credits and a choice of three slow but stout derby vehicles. From that point on, the action involves progressing through a series of themed cup races, mini-games, and destruction derbies to unlock subsequent events and earn some money. Cash is doled out for each top-three finishers as well as for landing hits on rival vehicles, with bonus points awarded for causing wrecks, flipping cars over, and inflicting the most damage on the track. Earnings can then be used to purchase up to 34 vehicles (including compacts, pickup trucks, and racecars) or parts upgrades in six areas, from engines and exhausts to suspensions and gearboxes. Players can also select a single race, single stunt, or a single derby from the menu screen.
The one aspect that still needs work is the physics, which are extremely loose even for an arcade-style game. The problem is that the different vehicle classes don't seem to grip the terrain properly, making it feel like you are racing on glass instead of sand, mud, asphalt, or water. While the individual car ratings in categories such as weight and strength influence how much airtime you get during jumps and the amount of power behind hits, vehicles are prone to fishtailing and spinning with the slightest contact from a rival. Yet your car will literally plow through boulders or giant fuel canisters without hindrance. The expansive environments also play fast and loose with what is or what isn't destructible, causing some trial-and-error moments as you figure out which structure or fence can be smashed to reveal a shortcut and which will act like a brick wall.
The wacky, human-tossing mini-games return with more sadistic "sports" to master. There are now 12 Olympic-style events, up from the first game's six. Once again you are trying to catapult the driver through the windshield so he hits a specific target. In the royal flush event, for example, players launch the driver so that he connects with specific cards to build a winning hand. Holding down a key sets the trajectory angle and releasing it propels the driver forward. Players can also fine-tune the driver's flailing flight through the air. Other memorable events include skipping stones, where players attempt to "skip" the driver across water, and baseball, which involves trying to collide with a giant bat so the driver is knocked onto a field (or over the fence) while avoiding being "caught" by enormous mitts.
Though there are still some minor issues that could be addressed, FlatOut 2 improves on the original by offering more to crash, crumple, and crush. The striking visuals, the hard-driving licensed soundtrack, and the variety of events make for an appealing, fast-paced game that's perfect for venting a little steam after work, before school, or in between anger management classes. Factor in a hitch-free online mode and the endless joy associated with revving up an engine, barreling across an abandoned gas station, and ramming into an unsuspecting sports car, and you have the ingredients for an explosively good time. FlatOut 2, appropriately enough, is a gas.
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