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FlatOut 2 (PC) artwork

FlatOut 2 (PC) review


"Scattered throughout each of the available tracks are alternate routes you can take if the mood strikes you. Plenty of games have done that before, but usually itís just something along the lines of "go left around the big tree instead of right." Thereís some of that here, but itís not emphasized so much as it is simply snuck into place."



Gameplay is always more important than graphics. Youíve heard that for years from people who interrupt perfectly good game discussions with that little tidbit, then smirk like theyíve just given voice to some profound notion that no one else ever considered. Itís usually safe to agree with them and let them wander back to their little corner so that they can feel better about themselves and you can get back to talking with someone who isnít a know-it-all blowhard. With any absolute, though, there must be an exception. Flatout 2 is that exception.

Iíve never played a prettier racing game. Period. Itís evident from the very first race that someone spent a lot of time to make it look nearly perfect. While I am not so narrow-minded as to suggest that no future titles will ever surpass it, thereís something about whatís on display here that makes that irrelevant. Maybe itís the physics engine, which isnít perfect but definitely helps.

Have you ever raced through some gorgeous track and thought to yourself that it looked great but didnít feel right? I have. Then I played Flatout 2 and I knew what was missing: interaction. When you experience a course here, you really feel like itís there. In one level, your opponents might beat you around a few dirt-strewn bends and go flying by a small gas station that extends from a line of forestation. As the last one skids through the area, it slides off course and into one of the gas pumps. A geyser of flame rises from the opening and the screen is bleached in golden light for a second. Or perhaps youíre in a different stage. Ahead, you see shimmering walls of glass. Youíre racing toward greenhouses! They shatter as you plow through them. Plants and benches tumble to the side and you emerge from the other side unscathed, but for the dents on a hood that looks like it might fly from your vehicle at any second. Such moments rock.

Like I said, though, the system isnít perfect. For one thing, nothing weighs the right amount. Iím not asking for total realism here. That would be silly in the face of what is obviously meant to be an arcade-style racer. Still, if youíre going to brag about a physics system, you should do more with it than cause things to bounce around. Thatís about all that happens in Flatout 2, though. As one example, youíll often plow through piles of hay. Bales rebound from your hood with no visible effect and sometimes even float through the air like balloons. Trust me on this one: real hay bales do not float.

When you make it past the levitating cow feed, you might come next to a corner where some reckless driver (probably you on the previous lap) knocked down a giant billboard and left it lying across the pavement. As you drive against it, you may find yourself stalled by what should be an inconsequential barrier. After all, youíre driving the same car that crashes through greenhouses and porch awnings, through gas pumps and railings and telephone poles. Itís frustrating.

That frustration is somehow overcome by your desire to keep driving like a menace, to keep watching more skyscrapers as they reflect their surroundings mirror-like, to fly around the computer-controlled opponents who have formed a pile-up ahead of you and to streak across the finish line in style. Thatís just one more way the visuals matter. Because you can see your rivals struggling through the same curves you do, because you can see trails of dust in their wake and can watch them collide with one another when things go awry, youíll get more satisfaction from passing them. They even have fake identities. You see high-resolution pictures of them displayed between races and in some ways, theyíll feel almost like real people.

Thereís only one reason I can see for the fictional characters you drive against: itís more fun to crash against a Spanish hottie than it is to demolish "the blue car." Sometimes, youíll even hit with such force that bodies go flying out of their seats, flailing like rag dolls caught by a tornado. And yes, youíre supposed to make that sort of stuff happen. When you race, you have a nitrous meter that fills as certain tasks are accomplished. If you go flying over a ramp and catch serious air, your N2O reserves get a pleasant boost. If you t-bone a rival and come out of it in one piece, thereís another reward. Not only that, but thereís cash at the end of each round, awarded to those who were the most destructive. Though your prize money is of course used to outfit your chosen vehicle with new tweaks, though, donít expect to see much change in your car after you spend your cash, visually or otherwise. Flatout 2 is about arcade racing, not simulation.

Youíll see that not only in the way you can collide with any and all opponents and still finish the race in first place, but also in the way tracks are designed. Not surprisingly, the gameís graphics only reinforce the point. Scattered throughout each of the available tracks are alternate routes you can take if the mood strikes you. Plenty of games have done that before, but usually itís just something along the lines of "go left around the big tree instead of right." Thereís some of that here, but itís not emphasized so much as it is simply snuck into place. Here, you move left around the big tree instead of right, then slide under the log truck trailer instead of driving up over the log ramp, then roar over the covered bridge instead of following your competitors through the shallow stream it straddles. Alternate routes pop up so often that youíll almost never experience two consecutive laps that resemble one another much at all.

In the end, thatís what makes the graphics so important for Flatout 2. At its heart, itís a relatively simple racing game made special only because of its light-hearted tone and because you can take the same experience online to play with people all over the world. Still, the latter is the sort of mode that should by now be standard within the genre, not something that ought to stand out as anything particularly memorable. Even the soundtrack, a mix of music from groups like Nickelback and Rob Zombie, is forgettable unless you happen to love those bands (would it have killed them to include something from Nelly Furtado?). When you add interactive environments and amazing visual flair, though, the formerly standard game becomes something truly great and you reach one inevitable conclusion: sometimes, the graphics really do matter!

Rating: 8/10

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Staff review by Jason Venter (August 14, 2006)

Jason Venter founded HonestGamers in 1998, and since then has written hundreds of reviews as the site's editor-in-chief. He also is a prolific freelancer with game reviews, articles and fiction available around the Internet.

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