A respectable franchise rescue mission but it still needs some fine tuning.
FlatOut 4: Total Insanity didn’t have to do much to be better than its irredeemably dire predecessor. To be frank, that’s only because FlatOut 3 – released way back in 2011 after a franchise ownership and developer change – is one of the worst racing games ever released.
Still, new studio Kylotonn has done a decent job here salvaging the comatose series, turning it back into a serviceable but repetitive smash ’em up-slash-stunt racer.
It’s a Madhouse
Kylotonn has stuck to the FlatOut style guide here, crafting a game that’s very much in-step with the likes of the first two; you know, the good ones. The presentation remains inspired in almost every way by Bugbear’s cult-favourites, from the style of the menu screens to the colourful and busy stunt arena.
It’s definitely the stunt arena where FlatOut 4 sticks closest to the series’ earlier spirit.
It’s definitely the stunt arena where FlatOut 4 sticks closest to the series’ earlier spirit. These ragdoll physics games are dating a bit but they’re still good fun here, and the stadium is filled with 12 ridiculous, driver-tossing minigames like curling, beer pong, billiards, and more. I particularly dig ‘Finnish Pins’, which demands both skill and strategy to achieve the correct score of exactly 25. I also really like the golf minigame (scoring a hole-in-one is truly satisfying, and so is nailing your driver’s landing and subsequent slide to reach the furthest greens). I’m confused by the likes of long jump, however, which has a net at the end of the landing zone and thus a maximum distance that can be regularly reached and never beaten.
You can either tackle these stunts solo, seeking to rule the online leaderboards, or hit them up in pass-the-controller couch multiplayer. It’s good that FlatOut 4 packs a bespoke, same-screen multiplayer stunt mode because if any mode is going to claim even the temporary attention of groups of rowdy revheads and Rocket League lovers, it’ll be this one.
The racing itself is a bit less interesting overall. The tracks themselves are reasonably reminiscent of those found in the old games – debris-filled courses snaking through forests, factories, cluttered lumber yards, a dusty red desert, and frozen towns – but none are especially memorable. The big problem with the tracks is that they’re quite limited (even with reverse versions) and they don’t really do a lot to distinguish themselves from each other. It didn’t take long at all until I was getting very bored of seeing the same track, either forwards or in reverse, every few races.
These Sods Must Be Crazy
FlatOut 4’s arcade handling model is a bit light but mostly adequate, though its AI is slightly less so. It’s not so much that it’s very aggressive (it is, but this is a destruction racer). Rather, it’s inconsistent. On some occasions, after becoming embroiled in some bedlam on the start line, I’d often find myself struggling to catch the frontrunners despite putting in mistake-free laps (if you get turned around or trapped in a first corner pile-up, just restart the race). Other times I’d get out ahead and gallop away, winning by 10 seconds or more. They’re fairly easily outfoxed in things like Capture the Flag, too (driving high and fast on the near-vertical walls of the destruction bowls really messes with their minds).
They can mount a reasonable resistance in FlatOut 4’s deathmatch and destruction derby games but I’m not a huge fan of the way they play out. They’re a bit shallow; cars become virtual missiles, boosting and crunching through doomed opponents like paper. I would definitely prefer something with a better sense of weight, with collisions that feel real. Something more like previous FlatOut custodian Bugbear’s authentic, slower, and more tactical approach with its similarly destruction-centric racer Wreckfest, even if that game has been in Steam Early Access for going on 400 years now.
My biggest disappointment with FlatOut 4 is how rapidly I grew exhausted with the career mode. Career Mode is broken into three tiers, beginning in the derby class where grids consist of rusty, rolling wrecks. It didn’t take long until I was lapping the same handful of tracks in the same car, to the same music, and it just becomes a chore. There are twists on the racing, like a beat-the-bomb distance challenge and a chaotic but acceptable weapons-based race called Assault, but it all became a grind quicker than I figured it would.
It doesn’t help that the payouts are so stingy, either. In the first tier I found myself reluctant to buy a second derby car because I didn’t feel I could spare so much of my meagre winnings, even for coming first in all championships. Instead I concentrated on upgrading my initial car and saving the large sum required for a car in the next class instead, hoping for some fresh racing.
Frustratingly, once I did purchase a car in the next class I discovered the next batch of events are basically a rehash of the first tier, only in a faster car with no rust on it. After an anticlimactic end to the derby series (there’s no fanfare or reward; you’re just dumped back to your menu of completed championships) my enthusiasm for basically doing it all again in a different car was minimal.
Outside of Career Mode is FlatOut Mode, a chain of individual stunt and racing events. It’s basically a second career mode, but it does do a better job of putting us in different cars more often. Annoyingly FlatOut 4 locks a lot of its vehicles and is slow to unlock them. It also doesn’t effectively communicate the circumstances that will see them made available for purchase in Career Mode, or use in Quick Play. They just sit there, unobtainable until you meet some mystery criteria. This actually doesn’t apply to the online race modes (all the cars are selectable) but this only makes the crippling of Quick Play all the more odd.
There are times FlatOut 4 is quite handsome – some of the lighting effects are fantastic, particularly when the sun is low – but overall it’s a few car lengths behind current visual kingpins of the racing sector.
Engine notes vary across vehicles, though they could’ve been more aggressive (and there’s an abruptness to the transition from being on and off boost that sounds quite unfinished).
Its overall performance seems reliable, besides the occasion flutter around one particular shortcut that has the ability to catch and temporarily trap a big portion of the pack simultaneously. The online racing held up during testing also, though I can’t see it going gangbusters for a long period with such a repetitive selection of tracks on offer.