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FlatOut

A good test of a driving game is generally to race at high speed straight into a telegraph pole. In really bad games you'll sail straight on through and get stuck in a nearby ditch, and in slightly better games you'll slam into the wood as if it were bark-coated titanium while your bonnet crumples a little. In really quite impressive games, like Mr FlatOut here, you'll find that your car wraps around the pole, the pole shakes, the wires attached to the pole are thrown around in physics-led abandon and your flailing body is hurled through the windscreen in slow motion - ragdolling as it flies and landing with a nasty crunch in the aforementioned nearby ditch. FlatOut, as they say, is hardcore.

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A game that's taken the car-buying, car-tweaking, car-racing, car-crashing template we've all seen before and fused it with both high-end technology and the spirit of the ace Destruction Derby games of years gone past - FlatOut oozes class as much as it does impending controversy. Traffic cones fly, tyres scatter, bodies get tangled beneath wheels - the physics take a relatively basic driving model and inject the potential for so much spectacle, chaos and carnage that each race is gloriously, and realistically, unpredictable. Track furniture, previously just there to look pretty, now actually becomes an integral part of the gameplay - or at least it does when you shunt large metal tanks onto blind corners.

Go Scrape A Farmhouse
There's still work to be done. Beneath the glossy sheen there are a few AI issues that need addressing - FlatOut really needs rival drivers that are complete bastards... at the moment they're all slightly too sensible. Then again, that doesn't stop you from ploughing into the scenery - the more things you throw into the air, the more 'nitro'-style boost you get, and the more stupidly fast you can go. With environments that vary from towns, to gravel pits, to hicks-ville farmland (and the statutory 'ice' track in a frozen fishing village - where, for once, it actually feels like you're driving on snow rather than glass) there's a lot of variety here, and a multitude of secret shortcuts and jumps for the adventurous to seek out.

It doesn't stop there though, as FlatOut has some bonus games that put Crazy Taxi firmly in its big yellow second place. Take the High Jump for example, which doesn't quite do what it says on the tin: after you've left the top of the ramp you have to time a power bar so that your driver is hurled up out of his windscreen - the higher he goes the more points you get. Elsewhere there's a long jump, a game of darts and a mode in which your flailing accident victim has to be landed in various parts of a clown's face - it all seems very slightly wrong, yet immense fun at the same time. Forget your Tufty Club, forget your Green Cross Code Man, forget your animated hedgehog children - these are the new rules of the road, and for once there's no risk of hospitalisation whatsoever.

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