12: Flatout 2

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It’s a racing game but it’s actually good. The game is based around the simple principle that you shouldn’t be penalised for doing cool stuff,

and the means by which you are recompensed are two. Firstly, crashing into other cars, crashing into items of the scenery, doing long and dangerous jumps, may lose you time as it slows you down, but it’s repaid in nitro, a boost you can immediately use to get yourself back up to speed. When you are jostling in the middle of a pack of cars, you’ll find yourself smashing into a car, using the boost to take off away from him, smashing into another and so on, constructing a series of nitro slingshots to leap from 5th to 1st. When you’re in the lead, you run out of cars ahead of you to smash into and so you either miss out on these acceleration boosts, or you have to do jumps to keep a steady supply of the stuff. Nitro is useful for cornering at speed, for recovering from a bad turn, or for bursting into an opponent when they’re near a wall, so you want a full tank of the stuff, but how much risk are you willing to take on to get it? After a race, the money you earn is slightly based on how well you do, though in practice it’s much more heavily based on how much damage you did. Slamming into a car will earn you 100 pretend flatout dollars, but doing it with force to flip them over will earn more. Consequently, you find yourself in a sort of resource-gathering operation at all times, balancing the need for nitro and cash with the need to keep good time. The cool thing is, there’s no right answer, you just have to do what you think is right.

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Because another way the game encourages mayhem is its absolute hyperkinetic physics engine. Anything that isn’t nailed down will go flying at the slightest provocation, with fence posts and signs being flung with such force into the air that you may as well think they’ve spun off into the distance with a *ping* in the sky. Each little impact has a little impact on your car, so you’re constantly wrestling to keep the thing under control. Even in an unopposed lead you’re constantly at risk of being tipped over by an errant dumpster that’s been smashed onto the road. What this does is makes it a bit less about learning the tracks, though obviously that’s important. The game is very much about reacting to situations, along with that constant hunt for resources I mentioned in the last paragraph.

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And the third way is that failure is not particularly punished. With the physics engine in full flow, you’ll get catapulted out of your car with a noise like a dying seagull, but then you just press the reset button and you’re back on the track, a few metres behind, no questions asked. The cars can take an awful lot of punishment, too, I think I managed to break mine once, ever, and that was after I’d nitro’d myself into the same tree three times in a row (there may have been cursing). You can destroy the opposition but it takes some careful shepharding rather than blatant ramming, you can muscle them into pillars and grin as Wilhelm screams fill the air, and debris scatters on the road ahead. See this guy I’m about to run over here? He’ll be fine.

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Because that’s what Flatout 2 is about, it’s not racing, it’s fighting. Each time you move up a place you have to duel with the car that you have passed, either knocking them off the road or boosting past at a critical moment. Each time a car goes past you you desperately swerve to clip their bumper and send them into a wall. There’s not a dull moment in the races (which are never more than five minutes long anyway), not one moment of just keeping your position, and because the physics are so ridiculous disaster can and will strike constantly. You can’t plan. You just drive. So much fun.

As the career mode progresses, you use faster and more powerful and stronger cars and so the crashes get more devastating, the disasters get more 2012-y. But I think there’s a tipping point here about 4/5 of the way through, past which controlling the bucking bronco stops being fun and starts being a chore. Speeds increase to the point that one guy with a clean run will just run away with it, and so the last few races are a bit too stressful. There’s one more flaw I should note: I dunno what they did when they removed the DRM from it but you often have to restart Steam to get it to run. Oh well.

4 stars, 11 hours played (career mode done)

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