FlatOut didn't exactly set the racing genre on fire, but it did entertain a fair few people on its release. Bugbear are back with FlatOut 2, and it seems they've worked out what people liked the most in the first game: inflicting pain on the driver. I recently played a solid work in progress version of the game and came away pretty impressed, although feeling quite sorry for my virtual driver.
FlatOut 2 includes a competent Career mode, featuring many courses set across the United States. You have access to a garage, car upgrades and a car shop, but none of the detailed tweaking and customisation that seems pretty commonplace in racers these days. All three versions of the game will also include online play, with eight players able to compete against each other in the Xbox and PC versions, while the PlayStation 2 game maxes out at six. Whether or not the Career mode will be strong enough to be the game's main mode remains to be seen, but there's plenty more packed into FlatOut 2 for players to enjoy.
One of the most loved features of FlatOut is the selection of mini-games that basically see you attempting to propel the driver of the car out of the windscreen in order to score points. FlatOut 2 takes this basic mechanic and introduces a crash theme park of sorts, which features twelve mini-games that are sure to break some bones. The basic premise behind each game is the same, with you having to release the driver from the car at an angle up to 90 degrees..
The first mini-game, and one of the most addictive of the twelve, is a take on Curling, the famous Winter Olympic sport. While I've never seen a curling stone be thrown in the air, the key is to launch the driver from the car at a fairly shallow angle and with enough speed to slide across the target and into the centre zone. Next up is the High Jump, which isn't as similar to the sport as the name suggests. Instead of having to clear a bar of a set height, a wall with height markers is placed at the end of a field. You have to try and blast the driver into this wall, hitting it as high up as possible. The Curling and High Jump aren't made easier due to a tricky run up that makes a fast and square launch pretty tricky.
Stone-Skipping, if you can't guess, is a take on the classic waterside activity. This being FlatOut, the stone is replaced by a helpless driver, who must be propelled out the windscreen and then nudged each time he touches the water's surface. Ring of Fire gives you a short run-up to navigate, before your guy is fired headfirst through a series of fiery rings. It's at about this point through the mini-games that you start to realise the extreme nature of what you're doing, with the driver twitching in a heap on the ground (whether due to a physics glitch or intentional, it made me laugh).
Darts is a recreation of the pub game, but the current version doesn't play out like a proper game of darts, which is a tad disappointing and lessens its value as a multiplayer mini-game. In fact, most of the mini-games are based on sports, with fairly crude representations of Bowling, Ski jumping, American Football, Basketball, Baseball and Football all being included. Unfortunately, a number of these are far too simple (Football and Ski jumping in particular), but they're still good fun if played with friends as part of a set of mini-games.
As well as mini-games, FlatOut 2 includes six destruction derby arenas, six racing arenas and three Nascar circuits. The derby arenas are a great way to showcase the game's advanced damage and physics models. Car parts go flying and high speed crashes will send opponent vehicles spinning through the air. The game as a whole is looking very nice indeed, with a slightly unstable frame rate and some pop-up being the only real blemishes I've seen in this Xbox build of the game.
With FlatOut 2 the developers seem to have taken what made the first game so enjoyable and run with it. It's not going to win any awards for originality, but it's not trying to be a genre breaking title. The driving model is a little too twitchy for my liking at the moment, but hopefully this can be tightened up before the game ships. If you fancy a straightforward, no holds barred, all-action racer, FlatOut 2 might just deliver the goods when it's released later this summer.