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FlatOut preview
(hx) 02:21 AM CEST - Jul,18 2004

A couple weeks ago, Empire Interactive sent us the E3 demo of FlatOut, their upcoming PS2-Xbox-PC action-packed racing game that is using physics not just as a neat little feature but as an important part of the gameplay. The game will boast 45 tracks (15 tracks with three variations of each), 5 different environments including the challenge of snow-covered terrain,16 different cars, an extra fun enhancing mini-games and up to 8 players for online multiplayer (including Xbox Live). The game is currently in development at Bugbear Entertainment (Finnish based developer - Rally Trophy makers) and will be released later this summer.

Arcade racers are a pretty well defined genre and FlatOut does not stray far from the tried and true formula. There are three main modes - quick race, single player career and multiplayer. In the Career mode you'll start off with banged-up heap of metal only barely resembling a racing car and work your way toward better cars and more challenging tracks by placing at the top. There are altogether 16 "muscle car" to choose from, all of which are fully upgradeable. The cars themselves are modeled very well and they even have a fairly realistic looking damage model. According to developers, the damage is calculated to reflect the exact point of impact for each collision. Each car can be upgraded a number of times to try and get absolute maximum performance out of them. These include multiple engines, tyre types, suspension systems, exhaust systems, bodywork panels (strength), tuning kits and more. And to top it all of, you can even change car decals. There are five types of standard tracks across Forest, Winter, Pit, Town and Racing terrains. Each has its own characteristics both visually and physically. Racing tracks are very fast so you absolutely have to have your wits about you.

During my test drive of the PC demo of the game (it's also coming out for the Xbox and PS2) I've noticed a lot of realistic interaction with the track's environment. For instance, if you make a mistake and crash through the tyre walls on the trackside, tons of tires spread out over the track. Every time you crash into something or cause debris to block the road, you actually alter your and your opponents next lap. Each track has several thousand of dynamic objects that you can crash into. There are signs, fences or walls which can be impacted and shattered or broken. One of the features in FlatOut is the ragdoll driver in the car. The spectacular crashes with drivers flying through their windshields and bouncing of walls, trees and other cars will simply leave you gasping for air. However, I must admit it's one of the wildest things I have ever seen in a racing game. At the same time it's good to point out that FlatOut clearly is not a simulation, it's rather "a realistic" arcade game, which means that the design is visually realistic, but you will be able to keep driving even after a spectacular crash at insane speeds.

Overall, FlatOut looks like it will be a pretty good game for those that like fast paced, easy to learn arcade racing. I'm looking forward to getting some more time behind the wheel as FlatOut nears completion, but I'm already pumped up from what I have seen thus far. This could easily be one of the top three arcade-racing games of 2004.

genre: arcade racing
platform: PC (PS2/Xbox)
release: September 2004
developer: Bugbear Entertainment
publisher: Empire Interactive

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