FlatOut has hit the market at what could easily be called the worst possible time. We've just relatively recently had Need for Speed Underground 2, Gran Turismo 4, Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition, and Forza Motorsport, not to mention the die-hard classics like Burnout 3: Takedown.
What I'm getting at is the fact that FlatOut has some very, very steep competition. Releasing a racing game at this point would be like releasing a stealth action game after Metal Gear Solid 3 or Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. You'd better bring something excellent to the table or risk being panned.
FlatOut steps up to the plate with a surprisingly new (surprising in that it hasn't been done yet) gimmick. When you wreck your car, your driver (either a male or a female) comes flying out of the windshield at high speed. Is it in poor taste? Certainly. Is it entertaining, though? Sometimes. Let me explain.
It's a hoot and a half to see your guy come flying through your windshield the first time you wreck. The ragdoll physics are well done and painful to watch, but in a good way. Seeing your guy pop out in a shower of glass, only to carom off a tree and land in traffic is one of those moments that make you grin like an idiot, at least until you do it during a heated race and go from first place to seventh. This is frustrating on an epic level.
What's that you say? "Drive better?" That's a valid point, but it's crippled by the fact that handling on most of the cars (the high-end cars, after an upgrade or two, control a little better) is awful. No matter what kind of track you're on, you'll slip and slide all over the track and around turns.
The Career mode really doesn't help things. The only reason you have to complete races is to unlock more races, cars, and bonus games. This is about par for the course for racing games, but it feels almost pointless. You're unlocking more races to slide around on and more cars to slide around in. The annoying handling basically cripples this mode. If you're a die-hard racing fan, you'll have fun, but everyone else's mileage may vary.
FlatOut's bonus games are where it shines, though. They can be neatly divided into two different modes: head to head and "Beat my score." The head to head minigames are either a race around a simple track (figure eight, oval, or dumbbell) or a destruction derby-style race. Those are pretty self-explanatory, really. Either finish the race before everyone else or crash into everyone else until you're the last man standing. Easy.
The other bonus games, though, take the driver ejection idea to the next level. The point of the games ranges from shooting your driver hundreds of feet into the air, through a clown's face, through a dart board, or down a lane to knock down ten pins.
That's right, there's even a bowling minigame.
The best way to play any of these minigames is to gather up a few friends and play them in the Hotseat mode. It's slow-paced, but tons of fun. Sadly, none of these are available in split-screen mode. You're limited to only the regular races.
FlatOut's graphics aren't the best on the market, but they do the job. The tracks are filled with interactive debris and things to crash into, but the car models are the real treat. Each car comes fully equipped with a dynamic damage model, meaning that if you hit something head-on, your front end is going to get wrecked. Sideswipe another car (or a wall, which is very common) and you'll scratch up your side. It's perfectly common for your car to be on fire for the latter laps of tough races.
It would've been nice to see more cars, deeper customization, or tighter controls, but FlatOut gets the job done. It's solid with friends, but falls pretty short for solo fun. It's facing some tough competition, particularly from Burnout 3: Takedown, but it doesn't quite cut the mustard.