The FlatOut series of racers embraces the spirit of destruction, allowing players to race rough, destroy things, and engage in humorous physics minigames. FlatOut 4: Total Insanity has just arrived on Xbox One in Europe (with a North American release coming in May). But don't worry, you can import it from anywhere in the world (or buy it after switching your console region). Is it worth the effort? Read on to find out!
FlatOut with your hat out
The first FlatOut debuted on the original Xbox and Windows way back in 2004. After releasing several sequels, original developer Bugbear Entertainment stepped away from the series in 2010. The last mainline entry, FlatOut 3: Chaos & Destruction, arrived the next year exclusively on Windows. It was apparently something of a train-wreck, receiving only a 23 percent rating on Metacritic.
Thankfully, this year's FlatOut 4: Total Insanity comes from French studio Kylotonn, an entirely different developer than the third game, in collaboration with Bigben Interactive. The focus this year seems to have been getting the series back on track by delivering an arcade racer with physics-based destruction, ridiculous minigames, and tons of content.
FlatOut 4's single-player content consists of two primary modes: Career and FlatOut.
Career begins without cut scenes or tutorial. A tutorial explaining mechanics like the Nitro meter and weapon use would have been appreciated, but some of the loading screens offer a few tips and hints, at least.
After buying one of the two starting cars (FlatOut 4 offers 27 unlicensed vehicles to unlock), you'll hop into one of three series (each is dedicated to a class of car). The three series all contain eight cups to complete, for a total of 24 cups. Completing these cups unlocks new car skins, nitro effects (such as a laser trail instead of flames), car horns, and drivers.
You'll encounter five race types in Career, some of which can't be played in the game's Multiplayer mode:
- Racetrack: A traditional three-lap race without weapons
- Assault Mode: Use four different weapons to derail opponents. You select these weapons by holding the Left Bumper button and pressing the corresponding face button. This mode is quite fun, but the game inexplicably doesn't explain how to get more weapon charges.
- Carnage: Compete for points by smashing environmental objects and your opponents.
- Beat the Bomb: Try to gain as much distance as you can before a bomb explodes. Single-player only.
- Time Trial: Finish one lap as fast as you can, without using nitro. Single-player only.
Career mode is mostly fun, but not without its issues. For starters, the money earned from completing cups is surprisingly negligible – even in first place. You can afford to upgrade your car's stats well enough, but new cars just cost too much relative to event payouts.
Additionally, the difficulty can be unfair at times. FlatOut 4 has a pretty good physics engine, which it uses for environmental destruction (signs, buildings, barrels, etc.) and damaging other cars. The cars even deform differently based on where and what type of damage they took. But those physics work against the player a little too often.
Should a rival tap the back or side of your car, you're bound to spin out and either lose major time or the whole race. It's also not uncommon for a car to jackknife your vehicle, dragging it along for a distance and again, ruining your chances of success. I've had to restart races numerous times because the AI racers attacked me. An option to tone their aggressiveness down would help.
The series' popular FlatOut Mode returns with a whopping 42 challenges. Some of these are regular race events, whereas others are minigames. The goal is to achieve a Bronze or better trophy in every event. They all have individual online leaderboards, too.
The minigames cleverly take advantage of FlatOut 4's ragdoll physics. You'll drive a car down a ramp and then press a button to launch your hapless driver out the windshield. From there, he can be steered (to an extent) towards the objective.
Stunt events play extremely similarly to the Demolition Expert events in the largely forgettable Xbox One exclusive ScreamRide. The goal is the same – to launch a person into an obstacle course and destroy or knock down as many objects as possible. Those events overstayed their welcome in ScreamRide because they took up almost a third of the game. Here, they're one small part of a much larger package, which works a lot better.
Offline multiplayer (Party Mode)
Although FlatOut 4 doesn't have split-screen, it at least offers a fairly robust hotseat Party Mode for local players. 2-8 players can take turns competing in wacky physics-focused events, several of which also appear in FlatOut Mode.
Party Mode boasts 12 events, which can be played individually or as part of a playlist. These include activities like Billiards, Cup Pong, Soccer, Golf, Long Jump, and more. And you play them all by launching your driver through a windshield.
That creative chaos definitely makes for a good time, but the actual options in Party mode are anemic. You can't set how many rounds an event will last, nor can you jump from one event in a playlist to the next before finishing the previous event.
For reasons that only Kylotonn can know, none of the Party/FlatOut Mode minigames are available in online multiplayer. Given their asynchronous nature, it makes very little sense to restrict them to offline play.
That said, FlatOut 4 still has a fairly robust online multiplayer mode for up to 8 players. Online Multiplayer offers two primary modes, each with several event types:
- Race: Choose from Racetrack, Assault Mode, and Carnage race types and a whopping 20 tracks.
- Arena: Battle it out in Survivor, Keep the Flag, and Deathmatch and four different arenas.
Lobby options are quite robust, allowing you to set the Ambiance (music playlist), the rate of nitro gain, damage, laps, and more. Annoyingly, lobby options don't default to restricting the car class. If you forget to set the game up this way, you're in for highly uneven competition due to mismatched vehicles.
FlatOut 4: Total Insanity Achievements
The Xbox One version of FlatOut 4 features 45 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. These involve all the usual Career completion objects like finishing every cup with a gold, buying and upgrading every car, and more. You also have to earn Gold ratings on all 42 FlatOut Mode events, which could take quite a while.
Online Multiplayer Achievements rear their head as well. You have to win 20 Assault Mode races and 25 total online races, so Assault Mode is probably what everyone will play. Factor in numerous Achievements for damaging or destroying opponents in certain ways, and you have a time-consuming, but not impossible list of objectives.
FlatOut 4 is a little rough around the edges. The frame rate could be better, the single-player difficulty can be unfair at times, and online multiplayer lacks some popular event types. Still, it's an impressive package on the whole. 20 different tracks and several race types ensure that single-player and online multiplayer won't get stale too quickly. And you won't find another racing game with such a delightful emphasis on destruction.
Curiously, FlatOut 4 is only available in Europe at this time. Publisher Bigben Interactive releases a lot of European exclusives like Handball 16, but it has also brought several games like Kylotonn's own WRC 6 to North America. FlatOut 4 even defaults to displaying distance in miles rather than kilometers, so an American launch only makes sense.
- A unique mix of racing and destruction
- A wealth of content, with 20 tracks, 4 arenas, and numerous minigames
- Playing minigames by launching your driver out of the windshield is wickedly amusing.
- Overly aggressive AI can cause unfair losses
- Party/FlatOut Mode minigames can't be played online
- Needs proper tutorials
Thankfully, a North American release (physical and likely digital) is coming in May. People outside of the UK can still grab the current digital version via region switching – but that takes a lot of effort on the whole. Amazon UK ships the physical version to North America, so that's the easiest way to get your FlatOut on if you can't wait until May.
Xbox One review code provided by Bigben Interactive.