FlatOut 2 isn't a clever game. It doesn't try to wow you with layers of meaning and plot, and it doesn't feature visuals and sound that will have everyone declaring that video games should be treated as art. Even the great man himself, Jeremy Clarkson, likes to fire cars, as if they were cannon balls, into caravans now and again. There's a place in the racing genre for strict simulations, but from time to time the shackles need to come off. In the case of FlatOut 2, it's pure arcade-style spills and thrills for the duration of the ride.
There's not a whole lot to say about FlatOut 2, other than it's damn good fun, but it deserves to have more said about it than that. The core to the game is the Career mode, in which you have three tiers to work through, each containing numerous race and challenge events. Finish above a certain position in each event and you'll open up further events and earn credits.
Credits can be used to upgrade your vehicle or to buy new vehicles, either for use in the current tier of races or for a harder tier that you fancy having a crack at. There's not a huge amount of depth to the upgrade system, with each new component (of a limited set) simply improving your vehicle's stats in a number of key areas. FlatOut 2 is about as arcadey as an arcade racer can be these days, so don't expect any fine-tuning options or any other advanced under the hood tweaking. For a game like this that's exactly how it should be.
It's perfectly possible to work through each tier without attempting the non-standard race events, but where would be the fun in that? Racing itself resembles the kind of arcade fun we used to get from classic arcade racers from the 32 Bit era, but the mini-game-like events and destruction derbies are another kettle of fish. The derbies are adrenaline-filled affairs, rarely short on carnage, but the mini-games provide something a little unique and what you may well come back to time and time again, even after the main Career mode is done and dusted.
Whether playing alone for a high score or against friends, the multitude of games on offer can't fail to entertain. They revolve around the mechanic of propelling a poor racing driver from his seat whilst driving at high speed. As you can imagine, this opens up a number of game situations, and developer BugBear haven't disappointed. You might get the most thrills from the simple high jump, but then again you might prefer to score baskets with your hapless driver in the insanely cruel Basketball mini-game.
To be ultra critical, some of the mini-games aren't up to much, but the vast majority are simply too violent and cruel to be anything other than fun. If you can't get a sick sense of joy from using a man as a stone in a stone skimming competition, making him convulse as he bounces off the water's surface, what kind of mentally deranged person are you? Having said that, there's not really any malice in the game, with everything seeming perfectly friendly and well away from the headline grabbers the industry churns on a regular basis. Sure, the odd rough landing might make you wince a little, but it's all part of the fun.
Multiplayer races can be played via split-screen or you can take part in mini-game party events, with each player taking turns at a pre-set or customised set of games. All versions of the game also include online play, with each of the event types from the single-player game being customisable. Playing the stunt event mini-games online is sadly exactly like it is offline, so players must wait their turn, which can take a while. A system similar to that seen in Burnout Revenge, where players take part at the same time, with scores compared at the end, would have sped things up no end.
FlatOut 2's visuals and rock soundtrack reflect the overall rough and ready feeling you get while playing. Cars look battered in the lower tier races, and even though sportier vehicles become available in the latter race events, they'll soon become so battered they are barely recognisable. The courses, too, don't remain intact for long, with hundreds of objects being bashed all over the place. Technically all versions are impressive, and even though the console games suffer from an occasionally slow frame rate and some pop-up, impressive lighting, on-screen chaos, and a great sense of speed more than makes up for it.
There's not exactly a flood of quality racing titles being released at the moment, so FlatOut 2's quality is really appreciated. The single-player Career won't take all that long to complete, but with a hugely entertaining multiplayer mode both on and offline, there's a good chance you'll continue playing for a while after. It's bound to get old eventually, but FlatOut 2 should offer a few good months of fun, to all but the most die-hard racing simulation lovers.