Who doesn’t love a crash-centric arcade racer? Throw in every physics-based toy you can think of, from ragdolls to realistic vehicle damage, with a difficulty curve that could generously be described as “mean-spirited” and you’ve got the recipe for FlatOut 4.
Maybe I am jumping the gun a little? Let us start from the beginning. FlatOut 4 is an arcade style racing game occasionally reminding us all of the awesome Burnout series from the past generation of consoles. It has always been the little sister and hasn’t had the steadiest past, but it’s always been a strong alternative to the major racing releases.
From the start of FlatOut 4 however, unlike most of the racing genre titles where you are taken to the main menu and given a variety of career, multiplayer or co-op, FO4 starts by throwing you straight into six random mini games from its ‘FlatOut Mode’. From what I could see, you don’t even have a choice in the matter either, you play them or you don’t get access to the main menu. This threw me off straight away because I was ready to get into some real crazy racing. I understand its intention of showing you modes you may not even think about getting into at a later date, but don’t force it upon someone.
The objective for these games is the ability to crash your car and have the driver fly out the front of the windscreen with the over-the-top ragdoll physics to hit specific targets for points. It may have worked in the past few titles (besides the mediocre FlatOut 3). It even felt like a good party gag to mess around with on a night in with your mates. But here, it not only feels cheap and dated for a full priced retail release, it just doesn’t work. For example in the aforementioned forced mini games you have to drive your vehicle from the summit of a hill straight down and hit the brake followed by another button which then throws the driver out the window all while trying to aim for a bunch of beer pong cups for the character to land in. This sounds like fun, right? (it took me back for a few second to the brilliant PAIN game for the PlayStation 3), but after trying the same hill and the same stunt more than six times, the fact I couldn’t even land my character on a single target was infuriating. I had to gain some points so I could get myself to the main menu and start a bloody race. It’s not skill, it’s purely chance. If you get any points they’re not earned they appear after accidentally tripping over a flawed mechanic.
Finally, after I did get into some career mode racing I chose a cheap and nasty Derby Beetle, as it was one of only two options you’re given to start with. My first race was in a farmland area with machinery and barns to pile-drive through and later we are given an Industrial area with machinery and huts to pile-drive into, it’s not the only unimaginative design flaws on show here. I was up against another 11 vehicles all ranging from small cars to huge courier trucks. As soon as you take off from the starting line you are pushed and shoved and thrown off the road quicker than you can say a few nasty syllables and then you need to reset with the click of a button and respawn on the track, now the cars are already miles ahead and your left trying to catch up for three entire boring laps. Hell, if there was more scenery or background animations going on it wouldn’t be too bad, but there isn’t. It just feels so bland and all you can do is put your foot down and listen to the roar of your engine while some of the games blurry Heavy Metal soundtrack plays in the background. All your doing is waiting for another moment a piece of debris knocks you flying off the map again or you catch up to your opponents only for you to tap them and say goodbye finish line. For an example check out my gameplay video below!
There are a few positives if you have gotten this far. The graphics don’t look half bad, when you’re finally in the thick of it and you can hold your own on the road, the foliage and the lighting are some of FlatOut’s highlights and compared to previous FlatOut titles it’s a huge leap. The framerate holds up extremely well and there wasn’t a single moment I felt it drop even when there were over 10 vehicles on screen and buildings were being demolished. When a vehicle that isn’t yours gets flipped or you knock an opponent flying off the track, it does make you giddy with excitement. But sadly, it is few and far between. The cars feel like cheap cardboard cut outs of their real life counterparts and there is no weight to any of the vehicles. You’re basically knocking over tin cans; another downside is you don’t fare much better.
The original two titles in the FlatOut series were developed by Bugbear Entertainment and received generally positive reviews and FlatOut 2 was even ported a few times to Xbox 360 and PS3 as ‘Ultimate Carnage’ and then a fairly bad port for the Nintendo Wii as well. Later the FlatOut title jumped ship to a studio by the name of Team6 for FlatOut 3: Chaos and Destruction which was a total mess and only released digitally on windows platforms. Now we are here with the 4th title by French developers Kyloton who worked on a few WRC titles in the past. So, development has been a bit of chop and change to say the least and I think this new title sadly shows it here.
Even though it is miles better than the dire FlatOut 3 ever had the right to be, it’s not saying much. This may be forgiven if it was another Xbox Arcade or PSN digital only title, but it’s not. It is a full priced retail release and it does not justify its high price tag of $89.95 AUD.
I am sorry to say, if you are looking for a fun arcade racer from bygone days, go and find Burnout Paradise and throw that in with its sweet open world and mostly amazing soundtrack. Or grab this when it hits the bargain bin come Christmas in July.
Score: 3 out of 10
Highlights: Graphics are nice, a great sense of speed, Damage Engine is incredibly good. Excellent Framerate
Lowlights: Boring and Unimaginative Game Modes and Maps, Extremely Difficult and Overpowered A.I.
Publisher: Bigben Interactive
Release date: March 31st
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One & PC
Reviewed on PlayStation 4.