FlatOut 2 is here - i'll tell you why this belongs on the top shelf of your collection of games. Read on.

User Rating: 8.2 | FlatOut 2 PC
So the sequal to my all-time favourite racing game is here - FlatOut 2. After having cleared all three racing classes (Derby, Racing and Street) in the Single Player career mode and played numerous hours of FlatOut 2 Online - i can honestly say that i love it, despite my initial impression that the game’s new roster made the sequal take a questionable step away from the charming folkracing theme of the original.

It doesn’t. It takes the formula, adds more to it and all the while offering everything that made the original such an enjoyable racer - the highly enjoyable physics, the nicely modeled and textured cars themselves, the physics properties of all that wonderfully destroyable scenery and those crazy rag doll mini-games we-ve all come to love. All that is there and more - much more.
The added content and design changes.
Besides the fact that there now are no less then 34 choosable cars spread across four categories, the sequal now offers the new addition of city racing - six tracks concentrating on downtown-esq environments, and three located in/around a central canal system. All of these tracks are very well designed and offers a great deal of variation, something i’m sure that many of you wanted to see in the original. Other environments include six tracks located in a deep pine forest, six tracks located in farmland fields during the beautiful autumn harvesting season, six arena style tracks featuring figure of eights, ovals and bowls, three tracks located in the desert amongst deserted oil fields and airplane graveyards, three tracks located in a Nascar influenced environment, six destruction derby tracks and another six spread across some old racing tracks still under repair - complete with whatever hazards non fully repaired tracks might have to offer. As previously mentioned, all these tracks are very well designed just as they are sprawling with destructable objects and scenery - complete with tractors, parked cars, shopping carts and much much more. While a very few number of scenery vehicles do show damage after being hit by the player, most of them will just either explode upon impact, not move at all, or fly away only to show no damage what-so-ever. The new added explosion effect upon wrecking a opponent, crashing into a gas station pump or hitting another special explodable object, really is a nice and
very well made addition to the games already explosive gameplay style. It really cought many by surprise that the original contained no explosions at all and although many argued that explosions upon impact would have been “unlogical” and “unrealistic” in the original, the sequal really benefits from this added effect.
This time around the developer decided to give your computer rag doll oppoents 7  different and unique personalities, complete with their own distinctive driving styles and behaviour while confronting you in a race. While i have noticed a significant difference between some of the drivers when it comes to passivity, aggressiveness and so forth, i really haven’t seen as much of a variaty as proclaimed. Not that it matters all that much, but it’s a observation none the less. What i really like though, is the way some of the drivers seem to be very nervous while facing the player head-on and bumping into some of them from behind migh very well result in them immediately steering off-course and crashing into a roadside obstacle. Like before mentioned, this only occurs with some of the drivers and always the same ones. A nice detail if you ask me. During my completion of the game, i found rag doll drivers Sofia Martinez and Jack Benton to be the toughest ones to beat. They were always breathing down my neck and after having Miss Martinez ruin a perfect finish more then once, i took up a personal vendetta against her - finding myself with the goal of knocking her out of the race the same way she did me, as my only driving force during some races. Now that is a aspect of the goofy rag doll personality-thing i really didn’t expect to get in to! I can only begin to tell you about all the photo-finishes i’ve experienced with Martinez chasing me only inches behind my rear bumper, having me wildly steering from side to side all the while trying to block her takeover manuevers. You will break a sweat and you will love the wild car chases in FlatOut 2.  
The crazy rag doll mini games have increased in numbers as well and are now if possible even crazier. The most noticeable difference compared to the mini games in the original, is that you’re now restricted to the useage of only one out of 6 cars - specially designed for the mini-games. These cars are distinguished from the others by having huge rocket thrusters mounted on the back, allowing them to hit high speeds while launching that rag doll guy or girl to it’s destination. Not being able to use your car of preference other then the ones you are restricted to (unlike the original where you could use any car in the games roster) when it comes to FlatOut 2’s mini games,  did bug me at first. It still does to be honest, but you’ll learn to enjoy the change as you go along and that due to the sheer coolness of those rocket thrusters mounted at the back of those special mini game cars. The rag doll mini games have also increased in numbers - there are now 12 of them and as usual, they’re based on games from the world of sports. The mini games are as follows - Baseball, Basketball, Bowling, Curling, Darts, Field Goal, High Jump, Ring of Fire, Royal Flush Ski Jump, Soccer and Stone Skipping. The difficulty of the mini games have been ramped up quite a bit in my opinion, and i really have had trouble to get even a 3rd position in some of them.
Other differences in the mini games this time around include night time events and a big-screen monitor mounted near your start ramp that displays a somewhat smaller view not unlike the one you have on your computer monitor yourself.
How would you like it sir - all rusted up  or shinyer then mommies china?
Let’s get back to the car roster in FlatOut 2 shall we. As i mentioned a few segments up there are now 34 choosable cars in FlatOut 2 and obviously the makes and models of the cars are all made up - most likely due to legal reasons, but that isn’t to say the developers didn’t once again want to get the chance to design some pretty cool looking cars for us to total. I’ve never quite understood why it is that car manufacturers are so reluctant to let virtual copies of their cars get mangled to pieces in games. In any case, they sure would be pissed having their cars represented in FlatOut 2 - because the cars get mangled alright, and that’s an understatement.
Well back to the matter at hand - the cars.
We have everything ranging from our typical 60’s and 70’s-looking cars from the  musclecar era represented, in both spotless factory condition and rusted to pieces ones. One of the nicest additions visually, has to be the fact that most of the cars now features white-wall tires (white striped tires). We have our 4X4’s, our Japanese-looking newer sportcars and our little European-looking smaller cars as well as the mini-car (that would be the Chili, replacing the “Pepper” from the original FlatOut). In some cases there’s several identical cars in several of the car classes in FlatOut 2 - one version all rusted up and another one of the very same car in factory condition. This is something that obviously brings the total number of perfectly unique cars down a bit, but it really doesn’t harm the game in any way. Infact, i’d go as far as to say it’s a pretty neat aspect of the game that actually helps to define and differentiate the different classes from one another.
The handling do differ in between cars but as i see it, the cars handling characteristics end up in either one out of roughly three different catagories - we have one category of really bak-heavy cars that easily spins out but are really sturdy , corners kind of slow and can take alot of damage, one category that has a nearly perfectly balanced body weight and corners really easy but is a tad bit to sensitive to hitting debris spread around the track and one last category that is ends up in the middle of the other two categories. What this all comes down to is a car roster that ends up having its cars devided into roughly three categories of handling types and with atleast 3-4 cars per category that handles in almost exactly the same way. This may sound like bad news to some, but since this isn’t a car racing simlulator we’ve got on out hands here, i’d say it all adds up just fine. My favourite car in the game when it comes to the handling? The Sunray without a doubt. It takes the corners like a charm, it has a high top speed and great acceleration - only downside is that it lands in the category that is just a tad to sensitive to hitting debris and gets thrown  of course way to easily.  
When it comes to the additions amongs the car types that i like the most - the pick-up trucks. They are definitely amongst my favourites in FlatOut 2. They just look so cool, especially the Canyon and the Lentus. The first being a more modern pick-up and the later a more late 80’s/early 90’s type of truck. They’re just gorgeous!
How is the damage model in FlatOut 2 compared to the original?
Although i wouldn’t say there has been a really obvious improvement over the already awesome damage model system in the original, there certainly have been enhancements. The first thing you’ll notice is the way the cars exterior now, for the most part show damage where actually hit. It definitely isn’t alwasy dead on the spot, but an enhancement over the original. Another thing you’ll notice is the enhanced effect that follows shortly after your car has taken a bit to much damage and flames start to comes out of the engine. The fire and smoke effects are enhanced, making it look more realistic. The biggest addition on the other hand, is the ability to loose your wheels. You can now loose (or make opponents loose theirs) your wheel and with that being forced to finish the race with only as many wheels you’ve got left. The very same goes for all the events and modes in the game as far as i know. You can loose wheels Online as well. Although i have never lost more then one wheel, i am almost certain that there is the chance of you loosing up to all four of them. Anything else wouldn’t make any sense. As for last words on the damage model system in FlatOut 2 - it looks phenomenal. There isn’t a game on the market to date, that can rival it. The replays in Flatout 2 are incredibly fun to watch in all their beautiful carnage and that largely due to FlatOut 2’s well made damage modeling. Great work Bugbear, great work indeed.
How are the graphics in FlatOut 2 compared to the original?
There’s a huge difference in lighting this time around. Truth be told, at first i really didn’t care much for the somewhat overused bloom effects and saturated colors plenty found in FlatOut 2 - it made the environments look like sprung from a fairytale in the sense of everything being quite “fuzzy”. After playing a bit though, i started to appreciate the added graphical features and it grew on me. The warm lighting from the afternoon sun in the farmlands during autumn, is really quite beautifully done and the replays look like a million bucks with all those cars dancing in the sunlight. Other then the new addition of more advanced lighting, the textures look to be about the same as in the original. A few subtle new enhancements include enhanced reflections on the cars, thicker and more realistic looking smoke appearing when braking or just generally burning tire rubber and the explosion effect whenever hitting an explodable object.  Graphics are very nice overall.
Vroom vroom vroom, crash bang! - The sounds of led feet and twisted metal.
The sounds of car engines does to me what a nice Prada bag might do to your girldfriend - it sends chlls down my spine. Frankly - it turns me on. With that out of the way, the sounds in flatOut 2 are very nicely done. Atleast the crash noises and the sounds reflecting your advancement through the tracks -  paint being scraped off the side of the car, gravel as well as small stones being launched up and hitting the cars undercarriage as you slide across that tricky corner, windshields shattering, tires shrieking, metall hitting metall, objects exploding violently and rag doll drivers screaming at the top of their lungs whilst being thrown out through the front windshields of their cars at 120mp/h. All very enjoyable sounds indeed. The engine sounds on the other hand, isn’t nearly as enjoyable. They’re alright and sometimes even great, but mostly they just don’t stand out in the way they should considering it is a racing game after all.
On to the soundtrack in FlatOut 2. I’ll begin by stating that it’s a soundtrack that you’ll love if you cared for the originals and that you’ll hate if you didn’t. It’s roughly the same type of garage punk/pop mix that we heard in the original, but with some added well recognized tunes and bands this time around. Bands range from Alkaline Trio, The Chelsea Smiles, Nine Black Alps to Audioslave, Nickelback, Rob Zombie and Megadeath. The full list of bands featured in FlatOut 2 can be found here.
What about Multi-Player?
The MP aspect of FlatOut 2 is of a rather simple structure, and that’s a good thing. You don’t want to spend half an hour on setting up your preferences and settings before being able to head out to war in a game like FlatOut 2 - you want to get in on the action right away and with FlatOut 2’s MP-system, you can. Choose between Party Mode, Online, or LAN.  (NOTE - You DON NOT need a GameSpy account to be able to play FlatOut 2 Online through the games in- game menu)
Party Mode;
Now, in Party Mode, you can take turns competing in FlatOut 2’s many mini-games (stunts) against up to 8 players via “Hot seat” on one computer.
The Online functionality will have you battling up to 7 other human oppenents in either Race, Destruction Derby or Ragdoll Game Modes (stunts).
The options available to you before taking part of a online event, are as follows - Quick Race (where no preferences are taken into account and where you will automatically join the first available game) - Find Games (allows you to search for event-specific available sessions, using the on-screen options. Can be filtered by Race, Destruction Derby or Ragdoll mini-games) - Create Game (allows you to host your own race event, complete with your own event preferences and rules).
Playing FlatOut 2 via LAN let’s you compete against 7 other local players in Race,
Destruction Derby or Rag Doll Game modes. The options available when setting up a LAN game, are the same as duing Online play, except that there is no “Quick Race” option.
I’ve played maybe 4 to 5 hours worth Online and although there isn’t all that much activity yet (due to the fact that the game was just recently released in most of Europe but has not yet been released in North America) - there’s still alot of fun to be had causing mayhem Online in FlatOut 2. For you people wanting to know whether or not to buy this game solely based on it’s Online MP capabilities - i’d say it’s a tad bit early to evaluate that part of the game at this point, but based on the MP thrills i’ve had so far - it’s definitely a solid LAN title - that’s for sure. I’m fully confident that the Online part will power up as soon as more people get a hold of the game.
The FlatOut 2 vs Burnout thing.
The new added content to FlatOut 2’s roster, is clearly something that has had most  people comparing FlatOut’s sequal to Criterion’s Burnout-series. Despite the resemblences, FlatOut 2 offers a different enough racing experience to distinguish itself from the Burnout franchise, to warrant a purchase even if you already own the latest Burnout game. FlatOut 2 offers a very different physics engine that has a really big impact on the way you drive and compete in FlatOut 2 - and that to such an extent that it puts FlatOut 2 on a whole different shelf space then the Burnout series so to speak.  On top of that there’s the destruction derby type modes and more variaty to the types of cars you have at your disposal. Well, what about the similarieties? They are both enjoyable franchises, both games have you crashing a multitude of cars, both games offer you nitrous boost as reward when driving wrecklessly and both games have you driving at high speeds. Is that enough for you to call FlatOut 2 a Burnout rip-off? Then you better prepare yourself to call a whole lot of other racing games Burnout rip-offs as well my friend.
Is FlatOut 2 a better racing game then the original?
Yes...and No. Yes in the sense that it offers more added content such as more cars, more tracks and thus a better longlivity - No in the sense that it indeed offers not just cosmetic changes and more content, it also has a slightly different feel to it - something that i do not consider to be all good. It feels more streamlined and more generic then before. But why is that when most of the content that was to be found in the charming original, is there in the sequel as well? The answer to that might lie in the new addition of bloom, making the game look significantly different. Or it may lie in the fact that the game now features sleek newly waxed Japanese-style sportcars with paint and body surfaces as smooth and reflective as nothing you’ve ever seen and those cars is something that we’ve seen one to many times in the “Race ‘N Crash” genre lately, making the sequal to FlatOut distinguish itself from the very thing that made the original FlatOut so special - a game exclusively devoted to Folkracing, totalling rusted-up muscle cars that just asked to be mangled further.
So let me ask the question again: Is FlatOut 2 a better racing game then the original?
Does it matter?
No. It doesn’t. FlatOut 2 is a great game, with enough awesome moments and thrills to warrant the change in the franchise’s roster. The fact that it’s longlivety now suceed the originals by far isn’t bad either.
Closing comments:
I’ve really enjoyed FlatOut 2 so far and though it, for some reason somewhat doesn’t have the charm of the original, it really delivers an even bigger plate of that crazy car smashing action we all love. It’s a must buy if all the new content appeal to you. If it doesn’t on the other hand and you’re for some reason hesitating - the original is still a very strong title. Furthermore, you owe it to yourself to try out a demo of FlatOut 2 when it hopefully hits later this summer/beginning of autumn just in time for the north American release. It is an addictive game and a great source of entertaintment for anyone that loves the combination of cars, high speeds and crushed metal.

FlatOut 2 mini Q&A:

Q - Does FlatOut 2 use Star-Force protection software?
A - Yes.

Q - How will it run on my computer compared to the original?
A - FlatOut 2 is even better optimized then the original and strangely enough runs even smoother despite some of the new graphical features, so do not worry. If you could run FlatOut, chances are you will be able to run it’s sequel even more smoothly.

Q - Is there a split screen option/mode in FlatOut 2?
A - Not that i can see, no. I have received notion that the console versions do include a split screen option on the other hand. Like mentioned, no option that has anything to do with split screen, is visible in the multiplayer menu of the PC version though. Despite my non existent findings, the developer states -”Offline Multiplayer modes on all formats via split screen for up to four players”. A PC version split screen mode will most likely be modded in, so check www.flatoutjoint.com for updates on mods for FlatOut 2.

Q - What online modes are there and how do they work?
A - See review.

Q - Does the static vehicles spread throughout the courses, take any damage when hit?
A - Yes and No. There are three types of “scenery vehicles” (as i call them) - One that does not budge or take damage, no matter how hard you hit it (usually big trucks) - one that will explode instantly upon impact (this is a new addition to the franchise) and one that will move when hit and show minimal damage afterwards (parked cars for instance).

Q - Will the game allow you to save your replays in any way?
A - No.

Q - Can HDR be turned OFF via an in-game menu or other?
A - There is no HDR in FlatOut 2. What you’re seeing is something called “Bloom” and it does certain things that look alot like HDR, but with minimal to no performance penalties. Bloom can supposedly be turned off by un-checking the box next to “Post processing” in the games external Set-up section.

Q - How many destroy-able objects are there in FlatOut 2 compared to the original?
A - There’s plenty to go around, i’ll tell you that! Just watch one of the videos i have created and uploaded here to Gamespot and you’ll see for yourself. The replays are awesome and Bugbear really have added alot more scenery for us to turn into debris!

By: Richard A.