FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage isn't a clever game. It doesn't try to wow you with layers of meaning and plot; it doesn't feature visuals and sound that will have everyone declaring that video games should be treated as art; and it doesn't feature motion capture work from A-list celebrities. BugBear's latest arcade racer is simply a thrilling joyride of a game, complete with stunning next-gen visuals and plenty of game modes to get stuck into.
There's not a whole lot to say about Ultimate Carnage other than it's damn good fun, but it deserves to have more said about it than that. Although you'd be forgiven for thinking that this is a brand-new title, it is largely the same as the multi-format release FlatOut 2 - albeit with numerous enhancements. The core to the game is the Career mode, in which you have three classes to work through, each containing numerous Cups and voluntary events. Finish third or above in a Cup and you'll open up further events and earn money, while the voluntary events are useful for earning extra cash if you're short a few hundred for that new car you're after.
Money can be used to upgrade your vehicle or to buy new vehicles, either for use in the current class of races or for a harder class 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. Ultimate Carnage 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.
Racing itself resembles the kind of arcade fun we used to get from classic arcade racers from the 32 Bit era, but it's not all Ultimate Carnage has to offer. The included mini-game-like events and destruction derbies in the Carnage Arcade Mode are another kettle of fish entirely. The derbies are adrenaline-filled affairs, rarely short on carnage, but the mini-games provide something a little unique and are what you may well come back to time and time again, even after the main Career and Carnage modes are 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 hasn'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 isn't really any malice in the game, with everything seeming perfectly friendly and well away from the headline grabbers the industry churns out 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 via split-screen are sadly absent, but you can take part in mini-game party events, with each player taking turns at a pre-set or customised set of games. You also get online play for up to eight players, with each of the event types from the single-player game being customisable. A couple of unique modes have also been included for online play only, such as the riotous Head-on races, which force players to turn 180 degrees after one lap, resulting in plenty of head-on collisions.
Playing the stunt event mini-games online in FlatOut 2 was a little disappointing as players had to wait their turn, which made each round take a while and lessened the enjoyment somewhat. A system similar to that seen in Burnout Revenge has been implemented this time around, so players all take part at the same time, with ghosts of other drivers being seen on the screen.
Ultimate Carnage's visuals and rock soundtrack reflect the overall rough and ready feeling you get while playing. While fans of FlatOut 2 will see familiar locations, the next-gen makeover is very impressive indeed. On the 360 the damage modelling is improved, and the vehicles all look far more solid and detailed. Dirt and scratches now appear realistically over the course of each race, and the game runs at a consistent frame rate even with the increase in cars per race from eight to twelve.
The courses, too, don't remain intact for long, with hundreds of objects being bashed all over the place. At times the track will be completely covered by trackside items that have spilled, such as tyres that had previously formed a nice crash barrier. The improvement here over FlatOut 2 is noticeable, with items even becoming stuck temporarily on your vehicle. At one point another driver spun violently, only to land on my car's roof. Unrealistic? Yes. Fun? What do you think? Lighting is also far improved, with the expected next-gen subtlety, while textures and environment detail are leagues ahead of the previous game.
Complaints are few and far between, but it has to be said that Ultimate Carnage is pretty damn tough for an arcade racer. Your car has a tendency to spin and face the wrong direction a little too often, which causes frequent headaches. Coming down from large jumps is also problematic, with your car pretty much guaranteed to spin unless you land fully straight on. Thankfully the game remains fun and a good selection of achievements are on hand to keep things interesting.
FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage comes in the aftermath of Xbox 360 heavyweights Forza 2 and Colin McRae: Dirt, but it can stand shoulder to shoulder with these giants. 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 fans looking for more of the same but with stunning next-gen visuals will find exactly that.