Like the high speed rush of a particularly savage broadside from a flame-steeped muscle car, FlatOut 4 has come out of nowhere to demand your unwavering attention with the sort of violent vigour PS4 owners haven’t seen in quite some time. A furiously muscular offering that not only effortlessly stands as the best FlatOut ever made but also a wonderfully smashmouth racer, FlatOut 4 might be rough around the edges, but it also stakes its claim as one of the most welcome surprises of the year.
The best FlatOut ever
Looking around at the super serious driving titles on PS4; it wasn’t always like this you know. Racing games on the PlayStation home consoles of yore used to have fun and never really take themselves seriously; giving the player a sly wink and a cheeky smile as they battered them around the track at inhuman speeds with nary a concern for either themselves or the environment around them.
Blazing out of the same stylistic stable that birthed such furious racing classics as Burnout and Split Second, the FlatOut franchise has always prided itself on sticking two fingers up to the racing status quo and making sure that the player had great fun doing so. Channelling this freewheeling approach into a shiny new instalment on PS4, FlatOut 4 violently rebirths the series with the rough and tumble racing and eccentric selection of modes that the franchise has long been known for.
Every race in FlatOut 4 feels like a fight; each lap an interconnected series of skirmishes played out at breakneck speed where your car feels akin to an extension of your fists, knees, elbows and feet as you seek to pummel your foes into scrap. In addition to such palpable representations of highway violence, other familiar methods of attack also appear in the form of finite use power ups that encompass mines, missiles and more too, though disappointingly, the game does a poor job of explaining both what they are and how to properly employ them during a race.
Ultimately, despite its penchant for ragdoll death and destruction, FlatOut the Fourth remains a racing game first and foremost, and it also happens to be a pretty good one to boot. Perhaps the most significant ingredient in its success as a driving game is the handling model that sits at the heart of the experience. Ostensibly, while there are a variety of vehicles that can be upgraded and bought in the main single-player tour mode, it’s reasonable to posit that FlatOut 4’s handling model remains staunchly consistent throughout.
Fans of Split Second and earlier FlatOut games will immediately recognise the weighty and solid handling; the feeling that the four wheels under your control feel like they’re more at home attached to a Humvee rather than a sleek sports car. For newcomers especially, this will provide quite the shock, as the heft behind every turn and movement of the car invariably results in chronic oversteer in the early going; a fact that is exacerbated by the force of momentum that always follows such unintentionally wild manoeuvres and can often send you tumbling off-track.
As with most things, practice makes perfect and after a good few minutes at the wheel, the chunky and initially hostile handling of FlatOut 4 begins to make sense. Though heavy, you soon learn to control the steer and effect drifts when you need to, finding the middle ground that exists between having a car that hits other vehicles like a tank and a car that, well, feels like a car. It also doesn’t hurt that the sensation of speed in FlatOut 4 is simply wonderful. Especially when nitro comes into play, the sensation of speed reaches such a ridiculous zenith that the entire track feels like a rubber mask being stretched over your face. Not since Burnout Paradise on the PS3 has the feeling of high velocity ever been quite so pronounced, so speed demons will find plenty to enjoy here.
Though it’s obvious that FlatOut 4 relishes in its particular brand of motor-vehicle powered pugilism, forcing the player to race in what is essentially a battering ram with wheels, there is sound design rationale behind the overzealous mass that the developer has assigned each and every vehicle in the game. With nitrous proving key to getting front of the pack, keeping it topped up proves essential and this can be achieved by not only smashing into your fellow racers, but also by crashing through the scenery as well.
Ultimately, this results in a wonderfully unexpected elegance to its design, one which imposes upon the player the need to strike a fine balance between traditional racing and destruction of the environment that very few games of a similar ilk possess. Sitting atop this hybrid formula of smashing and racing are the tracks themselves. Varied in construction, look and feel, each track has multiple paths that can be taken, not to mention a variety of smaller short cuts, environmental hazards and a great deal of destructible scenery to boot. Whether you’re careening through a desert border town, or thundering through a warehouse district separated by huge storm drains, FlatOut 4 certainly has no shortage of interesting places for you to do your thing in.
More than just regular racing
When it comes to the modes, FlatOut 4 hardly finds itself lacking, as it boasts a pleasantly meaty single player tour mode, Stunt modes and Destruction game types. Of these modes, Arena should prove familiar to the old PlayStation faithful; presenting a neat take on the free for all vehicular carnage that PSOne classic Destruction Derby so deftly pioneered in those early days of PlayStation.
The Stunt mode, on the other hand, taps directly into the gleefully silly heritage of the FlatOut series, tasking the player with the nihilistic vocation of ejecting their driver through the window of their car to either land them in a particular area, or, use them as a projectile in an objective based scenario. As you can well imagine then, the applications for this sort of tomfoolery are both varied and hilarious, with Stunt mode including all sorts of mini-games such as Golf, Long Jump, Rings of Fire and much, much more besides. Honestly, you’ve not really lived until you’ve ejected someone at 150MPH into a cue ball on a massive pool table, pocketing several balls in the process.
When we get to see the multiplayer side of things, FlatOut 4 doesn’t disappoint either, not least because its rage-fuelled escapades carry over well to online competition, but also because of a surprisingly compelling hotseat local multiplayer mode. Here, players pass a single controller around and take turns trying to get the highest score possible in FlatOut 4’s various stunt scenarios, proving to not only be a great deal of blissful fun but also an effective point of entry for players who are left cold at the thought of playing a typical racing game.
Visuals are a generation behind
In the eleven year interim since the release of the original FlatOut it’s clear that French developer Kylotonn (they developed the risible Motorcycle Club, but don’t hold that against them) has been taking notes from the competition. Sadly though, one area where the developer hasn’t been keeping pace with its peers is in the visuals department.
Looking more like a later generation PS3 title than a PS4 racer that has been built from the ground up, FlatOut 4 suffers from a lack of anti-aliasing and a framerate that never climbs above the 30fps mark – a fact that will prove especially jarring to fans of Burnout’s liquid smooth 60fps. Equally, PS4 Pro folks aren’t really catered for either as there are no obvious Pro enhancements, let alone anything resembling visual detail sliders or configuration options; a disappointing show to say the least.
Clearly then, while the visuals could certainly do with a tune-up, the soundtrack is more than up to the task with industrial metal beats complementing the dizzying, on-screen automobile carnage and bringing back fond memories of how the likes of Billy Talent and Ash contributed to the pulse pounding soundtracks on the Burnout titles of old.
In a console generation that seems to have spurned the more primal racing thrills seen in previous fare such as Burnout and Split Second in favour of the pseudo realism offered by such titles as Project CARS and Assetto Corsa, FlatOut 4’s furious white knuckle manifesto couldn’t have come at a better time.
For an effort that trades on easily accessible, exaggerated delights over painstaking overtures at realism, FlatOut 4 emphatically states its case as the anti-racer; an effort that non petrolheads everywhere can leap into without any knowledge of the metal coffins they are jumping into, nor the nuances of the science that governs them.
Still, it’s not perfect. The visuals are certainly somewhat dated, while the somewhat eccentric and weighty handling might struggle to find favour with some folks. You could, of course, gravitate back to the well-meaning, straight laced thrills of other regular racers, but then after spending even just an hour with the blissful fun of FlatOut 4, the question quite quickly becomes; why would you?
The FlatOut 4 Total Insanity release date is March 17, 2017.