I really, really wanted FlatOut 4 to be good. So many modern racing games take themselves too seriously, and Total Insanity offers the promise of a destructive something different.
For those unfamiliar with the series, FlatOut is all about carnage in cars - from nerfing fellow racers into violent crashes to performing stunts that see your ragdoll driver flying through the windscreen.
It’s not highbrow, then, but the games of old, though frequently flawed, offered fun in spades.
FlatOut 4 is very much of that ilk. It’s far from flawless - in fact, it offers roughly as much frustration as it does fun - but there are also many moments that will make you laugh maniacally as you nitro blast over the line and obliterate your rivals.
Want the gory details? Read on for our full review of FlatOut 4: Total Insanity.
FlatOut 4: game modes galore
Fire up FlatOut 4 and there’s every chance you won’t know where to begin. This is a game with heaps of ways to play. In fact, there are so many options that at times things barely feel tied together - almost as if the developers had a host of concepts and, rather than refine them into something meaningful, they threw them into a crucible and gave you Total Insanity.
Besides the career mode, which is essentially a series of races and time trials in various unlockable locations, there’s also Flatout mode, a collection of mini games and stunts, and Quick Play. The latter offers up the likes of Carnage and Assault, which are closest to what you’d expect from FlatOut.
Carnage means scoring points by destroying things (and your rivals), while Assault tools you up with weapons, Mario Kart style. There’s also a multiplayer option, too, while most of the game modes serve up online rankings after each effort.
So far, so full of content, then - but it all feels rather hashed together and lacking in continuity. See, while the career mode feels like the natural place to start, it’s also perhaps the least fun; conversely, the arcade-style modes are a good laugh, but only operate as standalone forays.
FlatOut 4: the wrong kind of realism
Perhaps the biggest problem with FlatOut 4, then, is its indecision: this demolition derby can’t seem to figure out whether it’s a serious racer or a carnage-packed romp.
See, while the destruction is violent and the nitro boosts rewarding, FlatOut 4 is also incredibly hard to master - largely because it’s so ruddy unforgiving. In fact, at times the learning curve feels as steep as the one in Dirt Rally, despite the fact that this is a series famous for hurling people through windscreens.
Handling is a lot less arcade-like than you might expect, with understeer a common problem, especially when you’re carrying a lot of speed. Because the courses are all off-road and weave through odd environments (such as industrial plants and muddy forests strewn with farm equipment) reading the road is quite a challenge, and encounters with walls are commonplace.
Even if you’re good, you’ll probably end up replaying the first round repeatedly until you finally manage to place in the top three. Yes, it’s rewarding (and relieving) when you finally nail it but, boy, does it take some effort.
Part of the problem is the lack of a flashback button like the ones we’ve come to expect in Codemasters titles. While this does mean winning is a real challenge, even on the lowest levels, it also creates vast frustration when you plough into a solid object and wreck your vehicle within sight of the finish line.
FlatOut 4: hard objects hurt
And that’s a lot more likely than you’d think. Despite the promise of destructible environments, what it actually delivers is mostly destructible environments, with incredibly solid and irritatingly placed obstructions frequently hidden behind them.
See, while it’s great fun to clatter through pallets and destroy sheds, you’ll soon become petrified of doing so: run a little wide, aim for a shortcut and - bang! - you actually hit an immovable metal pillar indistinct from all of the destructible items. And you probably wrecked your vehicle.
Without a flashback option, there’s no way to rectify the result, either, other than re-running the entire race. If you’re a glutton for punishment, this might appeal but, on my sixth attempt at the same race, it started to grate.
The problem, really, is more about object placement and rendering generally. In the carnage, it’s often very difficult to distinguish what’s destructible from what isn’t, and also what’s a legitimate shortcut from what’s a race-ending object or out-of-bounds area. This is particularly problematic, given that it’s only by hitting these objects that you can charge your Nitro bar.
This all serves to take away from the skill of eliminating someone or avoiding a shunt from a rival, and turns many career races into five-minute sessions fraught with fear and danger, lest you accidentally smack into an immovable obstruction.