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Flatout 2

Bugbear's sequel goes well... flat out to deliver superior automotive carnage

Ask any motor racing fan what their absolute, stand-out favourite moment of a race is and they'll say the approach to the first corner, because that's when there's the greatest risk of a pile-up. Actually, serious motor racing fans probably wouldn't say that, even though it's true. They'd probably highlight the strategic pitstops, or if they're really in denial, they'll say it's all about the battles that happen further down the field, where drivers with lesser cars duke it out for 13th place. Lies. All lies.

Taking that into account, it stands to reason that FlatOut was so popular. It was a great racer, yes, but it was also brilliant at smashing speeding cars into thousands of little oily pieces. The guilty pleasure gleaned from forcibly transforming a shiny new automobile into a ramshackle mess of bent wings and wobbly wheels was undoubtedly the game's highlight.

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So the developer of FlatOut 2, Bugbear, has been very careful not to meddle too much with its winning formula. The second game gives a spit and a polish to the features of the first, and stuffs a whole load of extras into the mix for good measure. The result is a game that's bigger and swankier in every respect.

PEDAL TO THE METAL
No doubt you'll have noticed how it bears an uncanny resemblance to the Burnout games. It's almost as though FlatOut 2 is a long lost relative; the cider-swilling country cousin to EA's city slicker. But apart from the spectacular crashes (admittedly a big common gameplay feature) and some familiar glowing visuals, the two series really don't have that much in common at all. Burnout Revenge, great as it was, often felt like nothing more than directing a brightly coloured rocket into a series of other vehicles - again and again and again. FlatOut 2 on the other hand has gone (sorry) 'flat out' in its attempts to bring you a more rounded racer, and that's thanks in part to its predecessor.

We reckon Bugbear sat down and scribbled down 'What was FlatOut?' in its design process for FlatOut 2. After a bit of chin-scratching, it probably came to the conclusion that it was a cool party game. FlatOut's slightly disturbing rag doll minigames and addictive demolition derby events were the perfect way to vent a bit of road rage. But was it an absorbing single player jaunt? Mmm, not really, no. Once smashing into rivals stopped being fun and started to pose a serious migraine threat, there wasn't really anything of any substance to dive into.

This time, the single player mode is much more exciting, and has a lot more character about it. Each rival has its own distinct personality: on the surface it amounts to not much more than a cheeky face and a name popping up on screen whenever you shunt another car, but after a while it becomes apparent that each driver has a particular fondness for a certain type of destruction, and they'll rack up points every time they take out one of their rivals in a certain way. It's similar to each driver having a signature attack, and really helps to keep your wits honed in a race.

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TAKE REGULAR BREAKS
Not that there's the slightest danger of you nodding off at wheel. Apparently, FlatOut 2 was going to be more arcadey in its driving style, but if anything there's even more depth to be plumbed. It's certainly a damn sight easier to keep your car facing forwards than in the first game though, thanks to more forgiving vehicle physics. The 34 vehicles ultimately available each have very different handling attributes. Even though the list of vehicles has doubled, the variation between each is no less distinct, and driving them effectively will still require you to put the hours in. Even if you replaced FlatOut 2's gleeful destruction with something like Gran Turismo 4's religious regard for its vehicles' well-being, it'd still be a top racer. It's proper tricky and no mistake. If you take the game at face value (that is, that it's blatantly a dipstick short of a full engine and can't offer too much sophistication), you'll be shafted. Add to that the fact you start out your campaign with a car that resembles a four-wheeled skip, bereft of any upgrades or tuning, and FlatOut 2 is a game which demands as much respect as recklessness. Bet you weren't expecting that now, were you?

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