FlatOut Updated Hands-On

We check out the latest Xbox build of Bugbear's destructive racing game.

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Released in Europe toward the end of last year, FlatOut is a demolition-derby-style racing game in which you're rewarded rather than punished for colliding with opponents and trackside objects. FlatOut is currently scheduled for release in North America in June, and we recently had an opportunity to test-drive the latest Xbox build of the game when Empire Interactive paid us a visit.

Now, you're probably wondering why North American players are getting FlatOut more than six months later than their European counterparts, and while we don't really have an answer for you, we can reveal that Bugbear and Empire Interactive are using the extra time to make some enhancements to the North American version of the game. Information on exactly what those enhancements might be is sketchy at the moment, but the most significant addition to the game's feature list will almost certainly be the Xbox Live support for up to eight players in the destruction bowl events, which didn't support online play in Europe. Empire also hopes to implement online leaderboards for the six unlockable bonus events, which include bone-breaking variations of bowling, darts, the high jump, and the long jump.

FlatOut's unlockable bonus events can be painful to watch at times.
FlatOut's unlockable bonus events can be painful to watch at times.

The game's more conventional racing events will also be supported online, of course, although given the quality of the artificial intelligence that we've found ourselves up against in the game, it doesn't appear that aggressive contests will be reserved for players with Xbox Live gamertags. We've seen CPU drivers actively battling with each other for position, we've become embroiled in battles with one or two of them ourselves, and we've seen a number of race-ending collisions between multiple CPU-controlled cars that occurred without any help from us. It's also very cool that CPU drivers can be ejected from their cars in exactly the same way that you can as a result of a particularly bad accident--especially since the rag dolls from the last version of the game that we saw have now been replaced with driver models that actually look like people.

As we mentioned earlier, FlatOut is a game that actually rewards you for colliding with other cars and trackside objects. Collisions will invariably slow you down a little, but they'll also slowly fill up your "mayhemeter," which translates into nitro boosts during the race and cash prizes once the checkered flag brings an end to the carnage. Each of the 36 tracks in FlatOut, we're told, boasts a minimum of 3,000 physics-enabled trackside objects to interact with. Based on what we've seen of the game to date, that roughly translates into just about every single object that you have any business ever colliding with during a race, including tire walls, piles of logs, billboards, water towers, barrels, and more.

One for the next Buckle Up America commercial, perhaps.
One for the next Buckle Up America commercial, perhaps.

The last time we played FlatOut, we suggested that the nitro boost you get for crashing into things wasn't effective enough to make deliberately filling your mayhemeter worthwhile. The fact that you'll also get cash prizes for destroying trackside objects is obviously another incentive for you to play around with one of the game's most distinctive features, but since the damage your vehicle sustains will adversely affect its performance, you might want to limit the amount of time you spend using it as a battering ram. Each of FlatOut's 16 cars boasts no less than 40 morph points, and each of those boasts three distinct levels of damage that will affect the vehicle's appearance and handling. The car models in FlatOut look great at the start of a race, and invariably look even better as they cross the finish line, looking like they lost a fight with a sledgehammer, twice.

Despite the fact that we've not yet had the opportunity to check out FlatOut's career mode or online play, we've already had a lot of fun with the game and are eager to get our hands on a more complete version. We'll bring you more information on FlatOut as its June release date approaches.

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