They've taken their sweet time about it, but games developers are finally waking
up to the potential of physics engines in games. All the most exciting games of the moment - Half-Life 2 on PC, Burnout 3 and Psi-Ops on console - are those that apply physics in interesting ways, creating worlds full of exaggerated kinesis and explosive cause-and-effect. FlatOut is about to join those ranks, perhaps not with the same bang as a Half-Life 2, but with a definite and satisfying crunch of twisted metal.
Based loosely on the world of amateur stock-car racing, FlatOut is a straightforward racer with the one advantage of having fantastic physics. The damage model is among the best in the business, enabling your car to twist, warp, smash and disintegrate in magnificent fashion. Bonnets crumple and fly off, wheels distort, exhaust systems drag on the ground. And in a hilarious (if slightly disturbing) twist, your driver even gets hurled through the windshield onto the road given enough encouragement.
What's more, every object in the environment is imbued with advanced physics properties, from fences and tyre barriers, right through to buildings and heavy machinery. Not only is this a great thing from the perspective of immersion, it transforms the racetrack from a strip of dirt and tarmac into a chaotic physical battlefield. By the end of an average race, the track looks like a hurricane has gone through. There are no prizes for avoiding the damage either - in fact, you're positively encouraged to cause carnage. For starters, you get a cash bonus for all the stuff you smash in a race, but the control system is also based largely around the concept of smashing. Every time you inflict damage on other cars or the environment, you earn a small amount of nitro boost, often essential to winning a race.
It makes for an interesting dynamic - rather than trying to perfect your racing skills, you have to strike a balance between keeping your car intact and crashing as much as possible (while avoiding things that really bugger you up, like trees).
Crash And Burn
Certainly, all this is great fun. The problem is there's not much else to the game. The tracks display a desperate lack of variety, and beyond the fun of smashing and crashing, the game is remarkably slight. There's no story, no cut-scenes, no voices and very little in the way of character. There are some amusing bonus games such as destruction derbies and a variety of sick events involving throwing your driver through the window at a target, but even these only have novelty appeal.
The only real reward system is based around buying upgrades for your car with race earnings, but this is largely unsatisfying. And to further encourage you
to stop playing, the races are extremely unforgiving once you get past the early stages.
It's a shame, because the action can be hugely entertaining, but without a satisfying structure to hold it all together, FlatOut is at best a fun diversion.
Smashing good fun, for a while
- Excellent physics model
- Insane carnage
- Some sick touches
- Little incentive to progress
- The novelty soon wears off