In a world with racing game giants like Forza, and Gran Turismo, Dirt, and Project CARS, how do make yourself get taken seriously? Well in FlatOut 4's case, you go in the complete opposite direction and create a casual arcade-like racer with the same love and aesthetics of the games we all grew up on. FlatOut 4: Total Insanity brought back all memories of those PS2 days when I sat huddled around the TV screen playing split screen with my brothers. It feels like just yesterday, and while FlatOut 4 does move the series into the future, it also does a great job by keeping the classic arcade elements intact.
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While the game is mainly a single player experience, it does offer a multiplayer component that unfortunately does not work that well. Matchmaking is buggy, and I waited a few minutes to try and connect to a lobby. After it filled up I entered a race, which was even worse. Cars rubber banding, and just an overall poor performance on the network part of the game. The game mode offers an 8-player online experience, but it was just not working as well as I hoped. Still, it did not put me off the game at all, given the offerings available for single player and couch "pass the controller" game modes.
FlatOut lands somewhere between an awesome casual racer like TrackMania, and the classic Destruction Derby games. Right from the start, you are introduced to a punk rock-styled menu, with a selection of cars to start off your career with. Easing into the first tournament takes place across two tracks, each very different from the other. Immediately I noticed just how beautiful the game looked. Tracks are well-detailed with water puddles reflecting a glare into your camera. Almost everything is destructible, as you smash into boxes, poles, barrels and or course other cars on the track. Nitro is rewarded for stunts you perform, and damage you deal to other cars. Smashing into scenery, then an opponent, and then boosting away into the front of the race was rewarding, but it can also all come tumbling down when you ramp wrong and your car goes flying into the air.
An Arcade Racer at its Core
FlatOut 4's racing mechanics are frustrating at first, but after a few races, I was a pro. Timing everything right, and choosing the best route on a track let me avoid reckless A.I, and focus on the win. The name of game, however, is supposed to be a dangerous one, where you are meant to play recklessly and abuse other cars on the track. It is a risk to take, though, as you can make one wrong move, or an opponent can smash into your back, and you will spin out of control and be pushed right to the back of the leaderboard. The A.I is extremely aggressive as if they were programmed to only take the violent path, which often made me more prone to get into the action, gather nitro, and boost out before things got too intense. This would leave me in the front of the race for the rest of the time, and as long as I was careful where I was driving, I was okay.
While playing through the campaign, things did start to get a bit dull. Tracks are often repeated, which led me to lose interest in what was going on. Another five or six to mix things up would have added more value to the game. There is, however, a customization system that kept playing for money rewarding. Paints, car tweaks, and even flame variants were available for me to purchase. Seeing a new car or a paint I wanted for my current car, was reason enough to race on the same track for the tenth time. I was also a pro on that track by the time the mid-career point arrived, so it was a win-win.
The Craziest Minigames in a Racer
When I was not racing across tracks, I was messing around in the stunt game mode, and when I say messing around, it is literally the state I was in. Beer pong with your driver, mini-golf, or just a classic Angry Birds-inspired launcher, kept me busy most of the time. I would race down a ramp and send my driver flying into wooden blocks in the distance, hopefully knocking them all over, and racking up points as I blew canisters apart, and these wooden blocks toppled to the ground. The beer pong games lacked the ball, as the driver was the object that I needed to get into the cups. The same launcher mechanic was used here too.
These mini games are extremely fun, to say the least, and I would pass the controller to my brother to have a go at beating my score. It was all so nostalgic and reminded me of all those tangles wires from passing the DualShock 2 back in the day. Lastly, there is the arena mode that let me just go completely insane in a round area, and smash into cars in one big pileup. It was not as polished as I hoped for, and it would be nice to have rocket launchers, mini guns, and other cool weapons to use in the mode, but it paid tribute to the classic Destruction Derby.
FlatOut 4 has lots to offer in terms of content and it gets right to the point without being padded down. Other game modes include Beat the Bomb and a high-octane Carnage mode that puts you behind the wheel of a faster car, and you need to smash into everything possible to rack up points. Then there is the quick play mode that offers a few settings to tweak to help you create the best game mode. Nitro Gain, and a high damage multiplier results in a unique experience that sets itself apart from the other game modes.
FlatOut 4: Total Insanity is a ton of fun, and it does not try to be anything it is not, rather it stays true to the classic PS2 games that made the series so popular. If you ever played any of the games, you will find love for the latest in the series, and if you are looking for a fun, off-beat arcade racer, then this is the one you have been waiting for. It's Arcade offerings and unique race mechanics will keep you busy for a while.