FlatOut Updated Hands-On

We take a brief look at the career mode and bonus games that will feature in Bugbear's upcoming racer.

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SAN FRANCISCO--Earlier today, at a VU Games press event across the street from the Game Developer Conference, we had an opportunity to check out the latest PlayStation 2 version of FlatOut. If you've been following our previous coverage of the game you'll know that the game was released in Europe last year, and you might also remember that the Xbox version of FlatOut that is coming to North America will support online play for up to eight players in destruction bowl events--a feature that was conspicuous by its absence from the European release. Today we learned that the PlayStation 2 version of FlatOut coming to North America will support up to six players online, which is a significant improvement over the complete absence of online play that European PS2 owners currently have.

The feature of FlatOut that we were most eager to check out today, mainly because we've not had an opportunity to before, was its career mode. We didn't get to play through an entire race season or anything, but, the version of the game that we were playing already had everything unlocked, so we were able to take a good look around.

When you start a new FlatOut career you'll be given a limited amount of funds with which to purchase and (assuming that you have some money left) tune up your first car. Only a handful of the game's 16 automobiles will be unlocked for you initially, with others becoming available as you progress through the career mode's bronze, silver, and gold leagues. The tuning options that we found in the career mode garage were much more detailed than we were expecting, and included: clutches, flywheels, transmissions, exhaust manifolds, shocks, tires, brakes, and at least six different engine-tuning options--some of which will alter the appearance of your car (an engine with a turbo poking up through a hole in the hood, for example). You'll also be able to upgrade your car's body in three stages, which, although it won't change the look of your ride, will basically allow it to sustain a lot more damage before it's written off.

The bronze, silver, and gold leagues in FlatOut will comprise 9, 12, and 15 different races respectively, and these will be arranged into columns of three. Winning every race in any given column will be enough to qualify you for the next league, although you'll almost certainly want to attempt all of the races before you progress, not only because they're a lot of fun, but also because any prize money you win is sure to come in handy. Interestingly, you'll be able to take money that you earn in the various destruction bowl and rag-doll Olympic bonus events into the regular career mode, which should provide an alternate source of income for any of you who find the racing portions of the game to be particularly challenging.

You can read about most of FlatOut's bonus events in our previous coverage of the game. We did notice that the PS2 version we were playing today had two additional rag-doll Olympic games available, entitled bullseye and clown. The bullseye game, predictably, involved driving our car toward a ramp and then ejecting our driver at a trajectory that would land him on a circular target. Clown, on the other hand, required us to launch our driver toward a giant carnival-style clown face with holes cut out of it. We noticed that the cash rewards on offer for the clown game in particular were quite significant (enough to buy a new car after just a few attempts if you're good enough). However, since it appeared to be the last rag-doll event that'll be unlocked, it's unlikely that you'll be banking your first million without ever entering a race.

FlatOut is currently scheduled for release in North America on June 14. We'll bring you information on the game just as soon as we get our hands on a copy.

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