E3 06: FlatOut 2 Preshow Hands-On

We take a work-in-progress version of Bugbear's upcoming racer for a smashing test-drive.

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Released in July of last year, FlatOut was an enjoyable demolition derby-style racer best known for its destructible cars and environments, and for the fact that its accident-prone ragdoll drivers were averse to seatbelts. Developer Bugbear Entertainment is currently working on a sequel titled FlatOut 2, and, after spending a little time with a work-in-progress version of the game earlier this week, we're pleased to report that the words "bigger" and "better" are among the first that spring to mind.

The locales have changed, the carnage hasn't.
The locales have changed, the carnage hasn't.

If you're familiar with FlatOut, you'll know that all 16 of the game's highly destructible vehicles looked pretty beaten up before you got anywhere near them. FlatOut 2 will feature more than 35 different vehicles (including some great bonus rides to unlock), and although the game's "derby class" wheels will look every bit as trashed as those in the original game, your progression into the new "race class" and "street class" events will unlock a number of much shinier and more roadworthy cars. Those of you who played FlatOut might also remember that almost all of the game's 36 tracks were set in rural environments and boasted very few alternate routes or shortcuts. FlatOut 2's 60 circuits will be far less linear in nature, and their multiple routes will weave through a number of rural and urban environments loosely based on Los Angeles, the Nevada desert, and other North American locales. Every circuit in the game will feature around 5,000 destructible objects, as opposed to 3,000 in the first game.

Another major improvement promised for FlatOut 2 is that the CPU opponents will race more realistically, and each will have his or her own driving style. In the unfinished version of the game that we played, the other racers were uniformly aggressive, which made the game overly challenging at times but afforded us plenty of opportunities to check out the new vehicle damage models, as well as the extent to which the environments themselves can be destroyed. FlatOut 2 didn't disappoint on either count, although the fact that some of the destructible objects looked far more resilient than the indestructible ones made us less inclined to take a chance by attempting to drive through them.

As in the first game, you'll accumulate nitrous by driving aggressively and causing damage to other racers and your surroundings. Nitrous boosts promise to be even more important in FlatOut 2 than they were in the original game because your opponents will be able to use them as well this time around. If you need any further convincing that driving like an idiot is the only way to go, you'll earn money that can be used to purchase and upgrade cars by smashing into opponents, and the dollars will really start to add up if you manage to total one of them or cause a rival driver to be ejected from their car.

Each of the cars in FlatOut 2 will perform according to its ratings for six different attributes: top speed, acceleration, handling, durability, weight, and nitrous. We didn't get to take the controls of enough cars during our time with the game to comment on just how noticeable the differences between the vehicles are, but we can tell you that the street car we drove was a lot quicker than the derby class vehicles, and that none of the rides we tried out were difficult to handle. If anything, FlatOut 2's controls veer even further away from realism and toward arcade-style handling than the first game's, which is no bad thing given the challenging nature of some of the circuits' shortcuts. The large pieces of debris that invariably end up littering each circuit after the first lap or two can also make the game more challenging, and would almost certainly bring your race to an abrupt end if this were a game that put realism before gameplay.

Online card games will never be the same again.
Online card games will never be the same again.

Even less realistic than (but just as enjoyable as) the destruction-filled races that make up the majority of what FlatOut 2 has to offer are the "Ragdoll Olympics" minigames that task you with ejecting your driver through the windshield and toward some kind of target. Darts, bowling, and high jump are the only ragdoll games from FlatOut that will reprise their roles in the sequel, and they'll be joined by no fewer than nine new games, including curling, stone-skipping, ring of fire, royal flush, ski jump, field goal, basketball, baseball, and soccer. We got to try out the stone-skipping and ring of fire events before our time with FlatOut 2 came to an end, and we were pleased to see that the gameplay mechanics have been improved so that the games are a little more skill based. When attempting to hurl our driver through a large line of increasingly small rings of fire en route to swimming pool, for example, we were able to determine the exact trajectory that he left the car at by holding down the eject button for different lengths of time while paying attention to an onscreen indicator. Once the driver was airborne, we were also able to exert a little control over his flight path using the analog stick. The stone-skipping game worked in much the same way, with the added challenge of having to tap the right shoulder button exactly as our driver hit the water to determine how good a bounce he would get.

All three versions of FlatOut 2 will support online play, and as far as we know the available features will be almost identical across all platforms, which certainly wasn't the case with the original game. The PS2 game will support six players, while the PC and Xbox versions will support eight. Online gameplay modes will include races, destruction bowls, and all 12 of the ragdoll minigames. We'll bring you more information on FlatOut 2 as soon as it becomes available.

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