When a game bills itself as featuring total insanity, it’s got a lot to live up to. Loading up FlatOut 4 for the first time, you’ll be hyped up for spectacular races and crashing through scenery like a wrecking ball. Six years after the third game in the series, and coming to PS4 and Xbox One for the first time, does it live up to that hype?
If, like myself, you finds the easiest way to corner in a racing game is to sideswipe an opponent and bounce off them, FlatOut 4 is the game for you. This is a destruction derby with vehicles crashing through scenery and into each other in a bid to gain first place. Smashing through barrels, barns, and other races fills the nitro meter, so there is no getting away from the carnage.
Having said that, the game can become quite tactical. Do you use you boost to zip past an opponent, or use it to slam them off the track and gain even more nitro? Your AI opponents are not averse to playing a few underhand tricks themselves and can smash you off the track just as you are about to win, but thankfully they also fight amongst themselves, causing huge pile-ups and spectacular crashes.
Realism takes a backseat when you are driving, as does the use of brakes, but this just means you can flip and tumble you car a ridiculous number of times and still recover to continue racing. However, hit a larger object at top speed and your generic macho driver will fly out of the windscreen and splat face first into a wall.
Your starter vehicles are fast, but the later unlockable vehicles are something else, letting you hold down the turbo button and feel like you’re entering warp speed as the scenery races by. All of the vehicles have unlockable paint jobs and the chassis, acceleration and various other attributes can be upgraded using cash earned by winning races and smashing into opponents. Unlike some other racing games, these upgrades do seem to affect the handling of your car quite considerably.
The tracks used for the derbys, time trials and battles – four of the ten game modes on offer -are quite long with plenty of short cuts and alternate routes to take, but if you have played any arcade racer, the settings will be familiar. There’s a snowy course, a lumberyard, a desert track, and one set in a chemical plant, all of which remind me of Blur, one my favourite racers. However, that game had a little more imagination and featured a course set on Brighton seafront, and it would have been nice if Flatout 4 had something like that. There’s also a surprising lack of big jumps unless you’re crashing, and some Motorstorm style leaps of faith would have added extra excitement to the races.
Along with standard time trials and races there is a mode which includes weapons. There’s four recharging weapons to use that you can fire by holding the left bumper and a direction. It’s a slightly clunky way of firing them and the fact that they aren’t pickups means you can be without any firing capabilities for long periods.
FlatOut mode dials everything up to eleven, dropping in the fastest cars with various challenges such a Beat the Bomb where you have a limited time to reach checkpoints, and Carnage which includes a score multiplier that builds as you, you guessed it, crash into things. Fans of the classic PS1 game Destruction Derby will be pleased to know there are also large arena battles in which your sole aim is to crash into the other cars till they explode. It’s rather silly but great fun.
There’s quite a variety of different music that plays during the races and in the menus, all of which are indie rock or thrash metal. It’s my usual kind of music, but some of the tracks are rather good, with Scottish rockers Twin Atlantic contributing a couple of stand out tracks. The rest of the sound effects are passable, with a couple of the cars sounding like angry bees in a jam jar rather than an off road racer. Thankfully, the graphics zip about without any noticeable frame rate drops and are perfectly acceptable without being particularly flashy. There’s not much in the way of effects work, although the snow and dust kicked up from the tracks is impressive, and smashing through a petrol station does result in a nice explosion or two.
The steep cost of progression is the biggest problem with the game as many of the modes are only unlocked by completing the single player cups and derbies. The price of new vehicles is also prohibitive, as you only earn a thousand or so dollars for early races, but face a bill of $32,000 to unlock a car capable of the second tier. Clearly this has been done to lengthen the single player campaign, but when you’re stuck racing a beat up Beetle and earning $800 a race, the shiny third tier vehicles seem so far out of reach that it’s a little disheartening, it took me about five hours of play before I managed to afford a second tier vehicle.
A key feature to any arcade racer is the online mode, but playing prior to launch, there’s nobody else online to play with. I’ll update this review with multiplayer impressions beyond the pass-the-controller couch play – sadly there’s no split screen – and add a score.
FlatOut 4 is a single minded beast where destroying your opponents is just as important as good driving. There are very few games of this type on this generation of console and whilst it’s not up to the standards of Motorstorm or Blur, it’s still a lot of silly fun. If you are a fan of this genre you could do a lot worse, and I recommend taking the FlatOut 4 for a spin… then crash in to the side of a barn while swearing. You will swear and awful, awful, lot while playing this game.
UPDATE: As expected the multiplayer is lot of fun, at least the races are as the Arena mode in which players smash in to each other to score points gets samey rather quickly. Although there is not huge numbers of players online there are enough, but there doesn’t seem to be any sort of matchmaking other than choosing the type of event you want. This means you are constantly pitted against racers who can complete tracks in record times and as a 45 second count down starts as soon as the first person crosses the finish line a lot of time you don’t get the satisfaction of finishing a race. There isn’t any progression in the multiplayer other than trying to beat lap times so there are no incentives to come first other than pride, I would have liked some extra unlocks or vehicles to give you something to aim for.
Once you do get racing against other players of similar skills then any sense of fair play goes out of the window and you use every dirty trick and underhand tactic to get in to first place. With eight racers the crashes can be spectacular pile ups with cars, logs, and half a house smashing across the race track in front of you, and, as previously mentioned a lot of swearing, but a lot of laughs as well. Silly fun, and well worth your cash.
Version tested: PlayStation 4