I think it’s my responsibility to warn you before reading this review what Flatout Ultimate Carnage is. It’s the PC port, with slightly improved graphics, a new soundtrack and more elaborate destruction mechanics of last year’s Xbox 360 Flatout: Ultimate Carnage. So if you already own Flatout 2 or Ultimate Carnage and are not easily impressed, don’t expect this title to be worth your attention (and money).
Wheeling on the same slick trashed highway
That said, we can easily observe the series’ nature without too much effort, because it doesn’t try to simulate the natural car behavior that got NFS Porsche Unleashed or Gran Turismo so praised. In fact, I’d go so far as to claim that the level of mechanical realism suggests that Flatout is rather a hybrid between arcade and car simulator – and this can only make me happy.
You see, I’ve never been one to enjoy the conventional, realistic and meticulous simulators that make the genre’s fans scream with excitement. The only reason I’d ever get near a videogame car would be to go batshit crazy through the background, with pedestrians staring at me in terrified awe. You guessed it, perhaps the only game I actually love that’s remotely similar to a car simulator is Carmageddon.
And even if Flatout doesn’t recreate a big portion of the elements that made Carmageddon so enjoyable and hated (the post-apocalyptic landscape, sandbox world, cannon-fodder-pedestrians and the hilarious sadism taken from The Death Race 2000), they’re waving the same flag: pure entertainment, squeezed out of various violent collisions between destructible cars.
Underneath it all, Flatout Ultimate Carnage is a pretty unique arcade gameplay-wise, very fun by itself and true to the console gaming spirit, filled to the top with unlockable content and alternative game modes. All of its deeper aspects derive from this approach, so don’t expect to find realistic and fine settings for the suspensions, axis, engine or breaks. They’re all upgraded through a minimalistic interface, that seems to scream “Move on to the carnage already!”.
The very structure that makes the world and the cars encourages violent races without any restraint towards life or personal integrity. The background is specifically designed to be trashed, with fences and barns that shatter into a thousand splinters and, well, even the protagonists of the whole ordeal, the cars, which are made out of around 40 distinct breakable components, seem to be made just for the crashes. The resulting effects are truly worthy of a racing game element that I’ve dodged so far – the replays. Honestly, this is the only car game that made me stroll through the replays, and not because I’m much of a clean-cut, pro driver. Quite the contrary. After all, how many times do you get to see Stevie Wonder (literally) drive through a farm?
“And God said – “Let there be light!” and we were blessed with bloom, dynamic lighting, blur and anisotropic filtering.”
From a graphical point of view, there’s a side that I consider absolutely sublime. I personally find the lighting in any production extraordinarily important. Occasionally, a very smart lighting can hide the ugly parts and highlight the more artistic elements of a game. For this exact reason I’m an avid enemy of over-the-top blooming and blurring, which I find to be the analogues of Photoshop filtering, used by hordes of beginners to hide their lack of creative visual perception.
That doesn’t mean Flatout Ultimate Carnage doesn’t look good without the inspired lighting – but alongside very professional car models, a trademark of the series has been slightly surreal lighting render, that sort of injects a cathartic feeling while racing at about 140 mph. There are two “Career” modes – FlatOut and Carnage, the first basically being the FlatOut 2 campaign, with three categories of events and championships depending on the types of cars included, while the second is an anthology of races, time trials and minigames that unlock as the player attains certain amounts of points during the career itself.
Other than that, we’ve got multiplayer through the LIVE system, LAN and Party Mode – a “hot seat” type of mode that allows more players to compete from the same PC, taking turns. The introduction of such a mode is more than welcome, especially considering I haven’t had domestic hot seat fun since Heroes 3.
The landscapes vary from rural to urban, going through mountains, fjords, plains, Mordor and other forms of terrain; perhaps the only thing I can criticize is the same thing I resented in Flatout 2 – the tracks repeat themselves much too often. In fact, I’ve got this issue with most car games – the boxes and previews claim they’ve got some 30 tracks or more, while the game itself has about 6 or 7 of them, but a few twists here and there add another 20 to the sum.