The original FlatOut was something of a sleeper success. Without ever really screaming its arrival on the gaming scene, it managed to notch up a very respectable 800,000 sales. The game's relatively muted release was unsurprisingly overshadowed by EA's latest Burnout, a series with a bigger gob and larger amounts of cash thrown at it. That was little over a year ago and Bugbears must've been beavering away hard, because Flatout 2, on the surface at least, is a dramatic improvement - being that there's twice the number of tracks and cars. However, despite the series' one major letdown still poking around its race-wrecking head (more on that later), FlatOut 2 is more than worthy of squaring up to Burnout, the industry's big, bad destruction-ridden racer.
Racing in FlatOut 2 is an absolutely crazy affair, taking place over three divisions and classes of motors. But before you put your virtual life on the line, you must purchase a car. Your award for finishing races in third place or better is the unlocking of a new track and some dough to spend tinkering on your machine in the workshop. Here your car's strength, durability, speed and overall performance can be improved in order to better prepare you for a pole position finish in the upcoming races. You'll certainly need to make various improvements to your vehicle if you're going to do well in the cup races, since the difficulty level, even from the off, is no walk in the park.
You're likely to be instantly reminded of this fact at the beginning of each race, as you're often shunted from behind by an AI vehicle. Throughout FlatOut 2, the computer-controlled racers are insanely competitive and ruthlessly aggressive in manner, though the majority of the time their unsportsmanlike attitude is likely to be reciprocated by yourself as you deliberately T-bone a car in front of you as they take a corner, spinning them helplessly off to the side of the track. Other times you'll be in a dense back of cars, shunting up against one another and slamming the wheel from one side to the other in an attempt to make them lose control of their vehicle.
Whilst on the subject of control, FlatOut 2's cars sometimes seem to be more in charge of you than you are of them, especially at high speeds. Rather than definite button presses to turn in either direction, you'll often just have to rely on a couple of micro inputs in the hope of teasing the car in the direction you wish it to go. After you get used to the slippy-slidey nature of the steering and learn to compensate for sharper corners by power sliding, it becomes less of an issue, but certainly for the first couple of plays the number of times you'll feel you've unfairly spun out or crashed into a trackside tree might lead to much angry fist waving and cursing of a nature that isn't repeatable here - except for something likely to be along the lines of, 'oh, fiddlesticks. I seem to have walloped into another stationary tractor, propelling my driver through the windscreen and leaving him writhing in pain on the ground.' Poor old chap.
Nearly every single piece of scenery either on the track or off to the side can be barged out of the way or into the way of those behind you, making for an impressively accurate method for race sabotage. For the most part they add an exciting element of demolition and defacing of the race environments. Pieces of everything fling in all directions across the screen causing you to squint your eyes and grip the wheel tighter. However, sometimes there is an annoying inconsistency in the form and subsequent effect of these objects. Par example, one type of fence might disappear in a haze of sawdust on impact with your front bumper, whilst another similar-looking picket will stop you dead in your tracks. Barreling into the game's road-laden props is an unavoidable and integral part of FlatOut 2, not least since a nitro bar allowing for cheek-flapping speeds is increased the more damage you cause. It's just a shame that a few unwelcome aberrations have a lurking potential to ruin your chances of victory. Leaving aside this annoyance FlatOut 2's racing is a meaty, challenging source of entertainment with more than enough plus points to overshadow its blemishes.
While you're awarded points for maximum destruction in the cup races, FlatOut 2 also includes a bonus section full of the type of mini games you might expect to see conjured up on the BBC's Top Gear or a sadistic Japanese game show - challenges that award the player for maximum wreckage. They range from generic track-based destruction derbies to life size car versions of bowling and darts. The game's exorbitant rag doll physics are exhibited beautifully in this mode, a place to come when the perils of competitive racing leave you feeling weary.
FlatOut 2 runs at a wickedly fast pace without a hint of slowdown, except for the odd momentary lapse when the screen becomes packed with vehicles all attempting to force one another out of the way. Although the variety of tracks is limited (relying on variations of a theme rather than whole new locations), providing environments from the dust and mud-ridden countryside to the claustrophobia of the inner city, they are all brimming with character and detail. The very fact that the whole game manages to chug along with the inclusion of such detail, interactive scenery and an unfailing draw distance is admirable to the manpower and hours that Bugbears have invested into the game's polished finish.
Musical accompaniment is fairly limited, provided by a selection of modern rock, metal and emo bands, ranging from the well-known (Fall Out Boy), to the less well known (Zebrahead). Their inclusion provides a suiting ambiance to the grinding of gears and the general scenes of onscreen mayhem, but obviously it isn't going to be to everyone's taste.
If FlatOut 2 proves anything it's that there's room for more than one type of racer that strongly encourages wreckage at every twist and turn, and it's refreshing to see that despite EA's undeniable might smaller developers are willing to have a go at competing, often showing them a thing or two about game design in the process. FlatOut 2 is an example of one of these titles, a flawed classic that, even if it fails once again to announce itself into the casual gaming mainstream, definitely has the means to have EA executives looking worriedly over their collective shoulder.