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FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage

Preview: Hands-on with the most destruction-packed racer currently on the circuit

An LA canal. Pedals are being crushed against metal and the roar of 12 engines fill your ears as your palms start to sweat in anticipation. 3... 2... 1... GO! Cars fly off the grid, jockeying for position while the scenery falls apart around you.

Crates, cardboard boxes, metal support girders and all manner of debris that's found its way into the canal is smashed around the track as the cars pile through. The debris can also throw your motor off course and even flip it through the air in more extreme cases. Metal scrapes agonisingly against metal causing fiery-orange sparks to gush out as the vehicles jostle and collide from the relentless collisions.

Having just played Bugbear's Xbox 360-exclusive FlatOut game, we can understand why it's been subtitled Ultimate Carnage. Making good use of the power under the console's hood, the developer has introduced a crazy amount of persistent physics-enabled objects to the game's race circuits, turning the speeding competitions through forest, city, desert and other environments into complete chaos.

Boosting the number of on-track vehicles from FlatOut 2's eight to 12 amplifies the madness - but somehow, it all manages to hang together. We should also mention that it looks gorgeous on an HD telly too, but still not quite as good as MotorStorm on PS3.

FlatOut Ultimate Carnage sits somewhere between arcade and simulation. Or, if you like, between the Burnouts and Gran Turismos of this world. The serious side comes from accurate physics handling and the ability to upgrade cars. The fun factor comes from the on-screen visual assault and crashes. Match made in heaven, if you ask us.

A feature that epitomises the fun factor is the ability to immediately jump back into a race after a prang at the press of the Y button, removing any need to execute fiddly manoeuvres or wait around while you're placed back on the circuit. It's a little touch that helps keep the carnage cranked right up.

However, if you do find yourself screaming at the TV in frustration after smashing your car into a wall, sit back and watch as the driver is flung right out the windscreen. You can even take this further in the Destruction Derby mode. Although we've only touched this briefly, it's all good - especially when you get car ramming power-ups that make mincemeat of the opposition. Destruction Derby on Xbox Live, and indeed the general racing, should be a riot.

Oh, and the stunts. Yes, FlatOut's stunts have returned for Ultimate Carnage and they're as ridiculous as ever. If you're not familiar with the FlatOut stunt scene, then it generally involves flinging the driver through the windscreen through hoops on fire and goal posts.

Drive a car at high speed down a ramp, hold down a button to throw the driver out through the windscreen and attempt to steer him into a giant goal guarded by a giant goalkeeper sliding left and right. Or, drive car at high speed down a short roadway, hold down a button to throw the driver through the windscreen and shoot him through rings of fire into a swimming pool. This is not just fun, this is FlatOut.

It's all very silly (and bound to upset a few victims of extreme car crashes) but it provides a range of mini-games that'll keep you going after the single player game. You'll be able to mix the stunts in with the racing and derby stuff on Xbox Live to create your own FlatOut Ultimate Carnage tournaments.

Even though the code we saw was lacking optimisation and fine-tuning of the final game, the graphical techniques being employed still made the game look impressive at this preview stage. All in all, it's definitely one to keep an eye on if you like your racing on the fun side of the track. Keep an eye out for our exclusive in-depth tech feature soon on CVG. It'll make your head spin, but you'll be a better driver for it.

Hit this link for over 30 'screams' of utter carnage.