Across the first three iterations of FlatOut, Bugbear Entertainment was confidently slung in the driver’s seat, guiding the destruction-based racer to critical and commercial acclaim. But when the Helsinki-based developer exited to pursue other four-wheeled experiences (Sega Rally Revo, Ridge Racer Unbounded, and Wreckfest), Team6 Game Studios took the wheel and disaster ensued. FlatOut 3: Chaos & Destruction wasn’t just a minor letdown- with laughable controls, collision, and artificial intelligence, some thought the title had irreversibly damaged the brand.
Six years on, FlatOut 4: Total Insanity has come to offer its own petrol-swilling apology. Destined to draw comparison to other unabashedly low-brow, pick-up-and-play racers like the MotorStorm and the DiRT series, the game’s delivers the horsepower, busy tracks, and cobbled cars, but lacks the finesse of its contemporaries. While individual races are capable of elevating heartrates, new developer Kylotonn doesn’t exhibit the type of mastery of material that should have raised FlatOut 4 to required status.
Following the conventional format for most racers, FlatOut 4’s career campaign provides you with a meagre amount of currency, just enough coin to choose from one of two lower-tier rattletraps. One you head out to the first rock and sand-covered milieu, you’ll discover the game’s core hook, where destroying objects on a track’s periphery or crashing into other racers rewards you with nitro. In theory, it’s an intriguing system, paying dividends for dangerous driving. But in execution, earning boost requires track memorization. You see, while some lethal obstacles are signaled by yellow-and-black banding, other obstructions that can bring your car to a halt or eject the driver aren’t indicated. While you might be able to smash right through the underside of an upraised building, scaping against one of the foundations can be detrimental.
Another downside is found in the collision system. While stages that supply weaponry can provide of thrill of taking opponents out of the race, shunting and ramming rivals is a dicey proposition. All too often if your rocketing into the tail end of a competitor, both cars feel fastened, slowing down both drivers. Anyone who ever enjoyed the over-the-top mayhem of the Burnout series will likely be yearning for Criterion’s take on rear-enders. Another problem is the game’s fondness for spin outs. While it’s possible to perform a PIT maneuver on an adversary, it’s also common for an unseen challenger to induce a spin just as you are about to cross the finish line.
That’s not to say, that Total Insanity doesn’t demonstrate some entertaining lunacy. Races are tense enough to produce a vise-like grip on your controller, with track design favoring pure arcade-like acceleration save for the infrequent hairpin corner that requires deceleration. Pleasingly, each course has a number of forking options- most branching mercifully signaled by signposts. And much of the game’s thrills emanate from an enlivening sense of speed, as you careen around corners and whizz past competitors or the straights, across stages that usually revolve around three-lap heats.
During the campaign, you’ll probably long for more courses. There are four core settings (desert, saw mill, factory, and snow) which each extend two tracks, with FlatOut 4 attempting to induce variety by offering forward and reverse racing options. Beyond an additional pair of smaller figure-eight paths, the content can feel thin, especially when earning a first-place finish pays a meagre amount of money for upgrades or premium-priced new vehicles. Likely, you’ll yourself in the middle of the campaign, determined to finish out of obligation, rather than a sense of elation.
Although none of the bands on FlatOut 4: Total Insanity’s soundtrack are household names, the melodic hard-rock score pays homage to an era when titles like Demolition Racer: No Exit and Test Drive: Eve of Destruction lined stove shelves. While not my genre of choice, the dynamic rhythms and crunching guitar chords help establish the breakneck pace of each race. Visually, the game aims for a thirty frame-per-second delivery, but purists will find that goal marred by the sporadic instance of slowdown when a group of cars are ground together, as well as a bit of pop-in. Another issue is the game’s protracted load times, which can interrupt momentum between heats.
Beyond the career mode, FlatOut 4: Total Insanity offers an assortment of nine additional game modes. Some certainly have potential, like a giant game of beer pong player with an ejected driver. But the goofy ragdoll modeling isn’t enough to carry a mini-game, and you’ll probably won’t return after a few tries. Another diversion puts players in a destruction derby, but without the car damage modeling of DiRT: Showdown or even Reflections Interactive’s old PSOne titles, it’s not very entertaining. While these kinds of deviations are welcome, it seems as if Kylotonn cobbled them together, favoring quantity over quality.
After the dismal FlatOut 3: Chaos & Destruction, the latest entry in the franchise is poised to remind players of FlatOut’s potential. Once a rising competitor to the Burnout series, the shift in development duties nearly meant a trip to the scrapyard. Although FlatOut 4: Total Insanity doesn’t completely redeem the series, it’s not a total washout either. Likely, fans of pick-up-and-play racers will want to wait for a significant sale before adding the title to their collection.
FlatOut 4: Total Insanity was played on the PlayStation 4
with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Strategy First
Release date: March 17th, 2017
Launch Price: $49.99 retail, PSN, or XGS (PS4, Xbox One), $39.99 via Steam (PC)