I’m gonna wreck it!
I dislike the racing genre in video games. The racing always seemed fake to me. The majority of these games follow the same formula, where the player starts off with a bare-bones car and builds up enough cash after a few wins to toss a few upgrades towards their vehicle. Starting off every race in last place also seems to be a staple in most racing games, but somehow the A.I. would let up just enough to let me slowly make my way toward the front of the pack, and then they’d somehow find a way to speed up and make things a bit difficult during the last lap.
There is a sub-genre of racing games that I do enjoy though, and that is destruction derby. Cars driving around the same sterile track can get repetitive extremely quickly, but throw a little bit of chaos and destruction into the mix, and you have an event like no other! The first demolition derby game that I absolutely fell in love with was Psygnosis’ 1995 title on the original PlayStation, simply titled “Destruction Derby”, but it was 2004’s FlatOut that propelled my love for the genre to a new level. FlatOut 2 took everything that the original game set out to do, but fine-tuned the gameplay, which resulted in what most would consider the best demolition derby game ever made. The series was brought down a few notches with the release of the mediocre FlatOut 3: Chaos & Destruction but fret not, because developer Kylotonn is here to fix past mistakes with FlatOut 4: Total Insanity.
Pedal to the metal
If you’re familiar with the FlatOut series you’ll feel right at home with the array of options you can jump into on the menu screen. If you’re new to the series I’d recommend cutting your teeth in Flatout mode. It’s here that players will be tasked with competing in a destruction derby deathmatch, destruction derby race, one of the many stunt mini-games (more on those later), and time bomb, which is a time trial that features your death by bomb if you suck. You must perform well in these events if you wish to unlock further events, but what is unlocked from the start will benefit most players before jumping into a career mode. There are 41 total events in FlatOut mode and they all have individual online leaderboards.
Once you get comfortable with your skills in FlatOut mode it’s time to purchase a rig and get to twisting some metal in the career mode. After purchasing your first car you can pay the garage a visit and decide what upgrades to your car would benefit you most. Like any other racing game, these upgrades must be purchased with monies won in races and events. Each car also features unlockable customizable paint jobs, nitro fire effects, and the all important car horn (sarcasm). The cars that can be purchased are listed in 3 categories: Derby, Classic, & All-Star, and each of these categories features a new set of events that you must use the corresponding vehicle in. You’ll have to start off in Derby since that’s what you’ll be able for afford at the start of your career, but the Classic and All-Star events didn’t add much to the game when I was finally able to afford an upgrade. It’s the same events that I completed in my derby car, just a little faster and with a prettier car. Once you complete all of the derby events, there really isn’t anything new at all.
The events in career mode are extremely fun at first. Racing through snowy mountains, old industrial complexes, and thick forests is exhilarating! The environments are fully destructible for the most part, and seeing pieces of debris go flying through the air is exciting. Taking out your opponent’s vehicles and parts of the environment will award you some nitro to use when an all-important boost of mph is needed. The first handful of events in career mode had me smiling ear to ear but that smile started to diminish after a few hours of play. The tracks repeat very often, and I couldn’t help but feel like I was traversing the same 4 tracks time and time again. Some races reverse the track, but it still felt the same due to the tracks having the same difficulty. What’s here is really good, but there needs to be more.
Nothing like a car crash to get the blood pumping
The actual races themselves are okay. You’ll start off in last place in every single race, which had me rolling my eyes, but then again, starting off at the front would be pretty boring. The cars all seem to control the same no matter what type of vehicle I was driving, and even though I thought the cars handled well, I had a few instances where my car would lose control for what seemed like no reason at all. No matter what environment I was racing in, it really never affected the control of my vehicle. Snowy mountains felt the same as dirt trail forests, and wet industrial complexes could have been dry highway for all I knew. Controlling the cars felt right, that is unless an opponent bumped me. The slightest bump would send me in a 180° turn, but if I attempted to bump my opponents, they rarely lost control at all. There seemed to be a slight bit of unbalance and unfairness in a lot of my races.
A wreck you can’t look away from
Racing through these environments would be boring if they didn’t look pretty, and FlatOut 4 has quite a bit of eye candy. The snow levels in particular popped, especially at dusk when the sun gleamed off of the snow. The cars themselves are cool looking as well, but there was nothing extraordinary about them. The derby cars are your standard fare of beat up clunkers, but the classic and all-star classes are showroom material. Either way, they’re all going to eventually look the same in the end since this is a destruction derby game.
Now the cars may look nice, but they sound like cheap lawnmowers and mopeds. I felt like I was listening to my weed whacker and not a behemoth gas-guzzling vehicle. The sound of the nitro being used is satisfying, but once that’s empty you’re back to the sound of a blender. The clunking of the gears being changed is also off-putting, sometimes sounding like a box being dropped on the floor. I’m assuming the car sounds were subdued to enhance the game’s soundtrack, which in my opinion has always been a staple in the FlatOut series. The bands that made the cut in this iteration are more of the indie variety, but still fit the mold very well. Not sure if it’s nostalgia or something else entirely, but hearing these tunes while slamming into my opponents vehicle give me a summertime vibe. If you enjoy a bit of cheesy rock, I think you’ll be pleased with FlatOut 4’s soundtrack.
I’ve dropped hours and hours into previous FlatOut stunt modes and I’ve now done the same with FlatOut 4. For those unfamiliar, Flatout’s stunt mode features several mini-games where the player must propel the driver out of their car and into crazy stadium-event like environments. These mini-games range from the basic high jump to more outlandish events like mini-golf and beer pong. This mode begs to be played during parties and always gets a good laugh. The rag doll physics alone are enough to get me chuckling, and makes this mode worth playing even if you’re not good at it. The added online leaderboards add a bit more duration to these events and that is a welcome bonus.
Does FlatOut 4: Total Insanity restore the series to it’s former glory? Well, kinda-sorta. What is here is really fun and entertaining, but there isn’t enough of it. The career mode starts to feel very samey about half way through the derby mode. FlatOut mode does offer something more, but again, these are rehashes of the career mode courses. Stunts make a triumphant return, and like always, are really fun, but they really don’t work unless you have a friend to join in the fun. If you are a fan of the series, I think you’ll be pleased with what is here, but like me, you’ll want more of it.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: Playstation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Steam; Publisher: Big Ben Interactive ; Developer: Kylotonn ; Players: 1-8; Released: May 5, 2017.
Full disclosure: this review is based on a physical copy of Flatout 4: Total Insanity provided to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.