The latest iteration of FlatOut just tore its way onto current-gen consoles and PC. However, is this incarnation of the chaotic racing series a dream machine or a total lemon?
FlatOut 4 is the first major entry in the series since the much-maligned FlatOut 3, a title that earned multiple 1 out of 10 review scores and was seen by many fans as a quick cash-in on the series' previously good name. Thankfully, FlatOut 4 is in the hands of new developers and is a major improvement although it still has its fair share of problems.
If you've played a FlatOut game before, you'll know that they focus just as much on crashes and environmental destruction as they do on racing. FlatOut 4 is no different. In contrast to most racers, you're encouraged to barge into other vehicles as well as the destructible scenery. Doing so will fill up your nitro boost meter which will hurtle you along at a blistering and often uncontrollable pace when activated. There are a huge number of destructible items lining each track from collapsible buildings, cacti, and stacks of rubber tyres. Seeing dozens of these objects flying through the air in all directions as you and others rip through them can sometimes look genuinely spectacular even if it is often unclear which can be driven through and which can't.
All of that being said, FlatOut 4 isn't just limited to racing. There are also several arena modes in which your aim is to crash into and destroy other cars. These are arguably more fun than the races. For me, they brought back some fond memories of playing the Destruction Derby games on the original PlayStation. Next up, there are the intentionally ridiculous stunt modes. These task you with hurling your driver out of their car then trying to direct them as they fly through the air towards some kind of objective such as a massive soccer goal or a rack of giant bowling pins. It's a very silly mode but it serves to offer something wholly different from standard racing and actually takes a lot of practice to get good at.
Unfortunately, FlatOut 4 is often too over-the-top for its own good. Its physics, for example, are ludicrously hyper-sensitive. Taking the slightest knock from an opponent can cause your car to do multiple cartwheels off the track, sending you back several positions. This can (and usually does) happen several times in a race, forcing you to repeatedly restart to give yourself any hope of winning. I must have restarted one race over twenty times because I was continually getting hit and spinning off the track through no fault of my own. Because such collisions are essentially unavoidable, they make the whole experience feel incredibly unfair and frustrating.
In fact, you often don't even need to get hit at all to start flipping like an Olympic gymnast. Frequently, I would be driving along an empty stretch of road and my vehicle would inexplicably tumble wildly off course or rear up like the gravity suddenly got switched off. This can be alleviated somewhat by choosing to only drive vehicles with more heft to them but even then, it's still a continual problem. This is a shame and something that makes FlatOut 4 end up being a lot less fun than it could be. I know it's an arcade racer and not supposed to be realistic but there's a difference between arcade-like and just plain irritating. Sadly, FlatOut 4 is frequently the latter.
FlatOut 4's main slab of content is its career mode. This tasks you with competing in a series of tournaments in which you'll need to finish in the top three to unlock the next one. Winning races earns you credits with which you can buy and upgrade new vehicles. There are quite a lot of these events to compete in but the vast majority of them are fairly long (and often frustrating) races with only the occasional arena mode thrown in. This feels like a wasted opportunity.
As well as career mode, there's also FlatOut mode where you'll have to complete events with set vehicles, earning enough points each time to unlock subsequent events. There's multiplayer, too, which allows you to play race and arena modes online. This can make several of the race types more enjoyable as you don't have to put up with the dunderheaded AI crashing into you all the time. Unfortunately, the only local multiplayer option is a stunt mode variant where you have to pass the controller from player to player.
Another downside is FlatOut 4's poor presentation. There's practically no instruction given on how to play, save for some badly written advice when starting the stunt modes. The frame rate also drops markedly at certain times, usually when there are lots of vehicles and environmental effects onscreen simultaneously. Oh, and the music's terrible.
FlatOut 4 could have been a much better experience if its car physics were improved and it had a more varied career mode. As it is, it's an uneven mix of fun and frustration. It brings back some pleasant memories of similar titles but it's unlikely to create any of its own.
- + Good variety of modes
- + Crashes and environmental destruction can be spectacular
- - Maddening and hyper-sensitive car physics
- - Career mode can use more variety as it's full of the same boring events
- - Poor presentation, frame rate, and music