Since its very first instalment, FlatOut has always been perceived as the "other" destructive racer. There's no denying Burnout's dominance in the world of car crash gaming, but after a weekend with FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage we can't help wondering if that's justified. After all, not only is this the best game in the FlatOut series, it's also toe-to-toe a superior game than any of EA's recent rivals.
CRASH CRASH, BANG BANG
Browsing through the feature list, it's easy to be cynical over whether Ultimate Carnage drifts that far from what the last one (we'll get to the new stuff in a bit). And looking at the FlatOut mode set-up it's all very familiar; events are split in to Derby, Street and Race modes, each offering a healthy mix of racing, time trials and mental last man standing Destruction Derbys.
Derby events are basically Burnout with hillbillies; dirty tracks, dirtier motors and a crap-load of rubbish to smash around the track. Race focuses less on smashing through petrol stations and more on effortless, fast tests of speed. Street as you can probably guess features shiny tracks and shiny cars that go really, really fast - though you're much more likely to wrap your frame around a traffic pole.
Cars get naturally nippier as you progress and there's also an upgrade shop where you can tinker with engines, tyres and other stuff under the bonnet. At first this is a bit intimidating (we weren't expecting to go anywhere near spark plugs in a FlatOut game), but as you poke around you'll see it's actually very simple, with menu bars clearly displaying the effect each component has on your car.
Stray outside the main game and the oldschool mini-games, including ski-lift, bowling and the excellent field goal are happy to kill some time.
That's basically how it all works. There's a plethora of variety to safeguard even the smallest of attention span-wielders, but racing is naturally center stage; and funnily enough that's also where you'll find most of the new stuff.
Courses are set in just a few basic environments (city, desert, forest etc) but there's still a pleasing amount of variety between each track - and my, my do they look bloody gorgeous. Ultimate Carnage is easily one of the best looking racers we've ever seen; somehow managing to pull off both fantastic-looking cars and stunning environments all at once.
Trails of dirt and bits of what used to be someone's fence fly all over the starting grid, as if a team of violent wood chippers has just discovered Ikea's summer stock. Water streams beautifully spray from a dozen rival tyres, an entire set of plastic chairs bounce across your bonnet and the screen shakes as some poor sod has an unpleasant encounter with a parked petrol tanker.
Lighting and textures are significantly improved over previous games, there's now over 8,000 dynamic objects per track and most impressively it's all running at a rock-solid framerate.
The number of drivers has been boosted as well, to twelve (that's four over FlatOut 2's eight). "Fair enough", you might say but those few extra rednecks really do make a difference; that's four more bodies ramming rivals off the track (the AI isn't shy) and leaving a trail of destruction through every lap.
CLEAN UP ON TRACK SIX
You won't be disappointed by the variety of vehicles, but it's the tracks that are undoubtedly the star of the show. Even though each is based on only a few different environments, from the moment the countdown begins thanks you'll instantly know which course you're on, which dodgy bends to slow down for and which petrol stations you can smash through for a cheeky shortcut.