‘Our goal was to provide the perfect mix of racing and destruction, then package it all together in a beautiful product’ said P.J. Slavely, Director of Product Management at Empire Interactive. It’s a shame, then, that the PC version of FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage is such a lazy conversion of the Xbox 360 original that was released in the last quarter of 2007.
Try using the menus to see what I mean: instead of pressing Enter to go forward and Escape to go back, as you usually do, Ultimate Carnage constantly instructs you to press the A and B buttons. Other commands refer to other buttons on the Xbox joypad rather than the corresponding keyboard buttons. It’s lazy, and smacks of the PC gamer being treated like a second class citizen.
Aside from this lazy development, though, this latest version of FlatOut is a pretty decent arcade racer. It’s a remake of 2006’s FlatOut 2 and offers plenty of different game modes that are united by a common theme: there’s plenty of speed, plenty of destruction and plenty of on-track violence.
The main meat of the game is FlatOut mode – the game’s career mode – that divides into Derby, Race and Street areas. Each section has its own cars, tournaments and tracks, with the prizes becoming greater as you progress. Earn money and you can either save to buy a better vehicle or upgrade your existing car – there’s enhancements available to your engine, gearbox, body, suspension and a few more. There’s dozens of available events, and completing them all will take plenty of dedication.
Carnage mode is more immediate, and presents you with a list of challenges – score more points and get better medals, for instance – over some of the games tracks and minigames. The minigames themselves appear both in this mode and as extra events in FlatOut mode and provide a (mostly) welcome distraction from the racing, as they generally tend to involve flinging your driver through your windscreen at a diverse range of targets. While they’re undoubtedly fun, their appeal is pretty limited, and you’ll be glad that they’re short diversions and nothing more.
The racing itself is decent, but suffers from the same problems that previous incarnations of FlatOut – and even the PSP version – have been afflicted by. While it’s crucial to maintain control of your car as you’re rampaging across the circuits, it’s often very difficult to do this. The car seems to respond a second after you’ve pressed a key, with the handling feeling sluggish and loose. It’s difficult to control your car at certain points and you’ll be ready to destroy your PC after another race is lost thanks to the games erratic car control rather than your own lack of racing skill.
Thankfully, the racing is mostly enjoyable when you’ve at least got a little used to the temperamental controls. Eleven other drivers are on the track with you, and each of them seems to have an anger management problem – they’ll always dish out punishment as you give it to them, which makes for action-packed races that can change in an instant. Most of the track decoration that liberally litters the varied and interesting circuits is also destructible, which makes for thrilling racing as you barrel through villages and buildings, bringing them down around you.
There’s also a fair amount of boost available as you hurtle around the circuits, and almost everything you do earns it. Whacking other drivers – different types of hit earns different amounts of boost and varying sums of cash – as well as bringing down scenery gives you nitro, so it’s easy enough to make up for lost group. The game also keeps the AI drivers bunched vaguely together, so a few bad crashes won’t end your race – there’s always a chance for redemption.
Graphically, FlatOut is a great looking game. It doesn’t ascend to the stunning level of Race Driver: GRID, but it’s excellent nonetheless: the tracks are packed with detail – as well as cars – and there’s nary a hint of slowdown as you bring down hundreds of obstacles around you. Atmospheric affects are also handled well, with flinging mud and spraying water looking particularly good.
The raucous racing is also accompanied by a loud soundtrack that’s packed with rock, punk and metal bands. We’d only heard of a handful but, after cruising around to their tracks, some songs have found themselves in residence on our mp3 players.
It may be a lazy conversion and a remake of an old game, but FlatOut is still a superb arcade racer. The handling may initially put you off, but once you’ve gotten used to it then Ultimate Carnage is a pleasure to play. There’s raucous, violent racing, tracks that disintegrate around you, an absorbing career mode and much more to keep you occupied. If you’re looking for some Destruction Derby-style racing, then look no further – this really is Ultimate Carnage.