After starting life as a strictly console and PC affair, the successful arcade racer FlatOut has seen its latest incarnation explode onto Sony’s PSP. And explode is the right word: this new version, subtitled Head On, is incendiary in the extreme.
It’s an arcade affair, revolving around a couple of main game modes: Head On and Carnage, which was present in the earlier games in the series. Carnage is, essentially, a series of challenges that are varied in scope and award you points depending on performance, which are then used to unlock more goals. Standard races are something of a respite here, with high jump stunts – speeding up and then catapulting your driver through the windscreen for maximum height and distance – Destruction Derby-style bowl events and bowling mini games being complimented by many more.
FlatOut mode is the real meat of the game – in a more sedate simulation, it’d be called Career. Beginning by picking a car from a trio of junk heaps, you progress through levels of achievement by winning tournaments and completing challenges, all the while earning points to upgrade your car or buy a totally new model. And points aren’t just awarded for decent finishes, either: flipping, slamming or wrecking opponent’s vehicles is highly encouraged, and they’ll net you some spending money too.
The racing action itself is both fast and furious – there are nods to the frenetic gameplay of many arcade racers, with the Burnout series obviously proving inspirational. Eight cars typically contest events, and the loved or loathed system of cars being bunched together throughout – no-one really opens up too much of a lead or falls too far behind – means that there’s also someone to clash with, which works well in an arcade experience like this.
The destruction of the tracks is widespread and rampant, as are aggressive tactics from your competitors. It’s just a shame that steering feels quite vague: speed is impressively conveyed, with little slowdown, but there’s just not enough responsiveness in the handling, with there being little conviction or urgency in movement – it’s too lackadaisical for such a pacey title.
Graphically, quality is approaching PS2 standard – there’s obviously been a few concessions for the handheld format, but they’re few and far between what you’d be comfortable with on the big screen. Tracks are relatively varied, taking in plenty of urban settings as well as sprawling farms and forests, and every circuit is littered – indeed, covered – in destructible scenery. It’s often that you’ll approach a large structure (sometimes even the start/finish construction) expecting a large crash and be surprised as you plough through it, leaving objects scattering across the track. Everything stays where it fell, too, so tracks soon become covered in debris, and driving through a petrol station will result in a spectacular explosion. The only slight niggle is that some objects have a tendency to stick on your bumper for far too long.
The handling issue is a minor one – upgrading your car improves it slightly, and you learn to live with it – and won’t stop you enjoying one of the finest racing games seen on Sony’s diminutive handheld. It’s a great looking title, and the action is superb – competitive and genuinely thrilling, especially thanks to the malleable circuits and well-structured career mode. An impressive game, and one of the finest four-wheel adventures on PSP.