When coming up with ways to describe FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage it is hard not to start with comparisons to Burnout, if for no other reason than to establish some kind of baseline. They are both arcade-style racing games, and they are both at least as much about smashing things together at high speed as they are about winning races. But if Burnout is an exotic driving machine blazing down a pristine stretch of blacktop executing surgically precise takedowns, FlatOut is a grimy beater cobbled together from junkyard parts rattling through some poor guy’s barn with Pantera blaring from the radio and a sixer of Beast Ice belted into the passenger seat. The result is a tire-squealing, bone-crunching, metal-twisting, wrecking ball that kicks a lot of asphalt and takes no prisoners…at least while it stays on track.
A wise man once said, “Rubbin’ is racin’.” Actually it was Robert Duvall in Days of Thunder, but that’s beside the point. The point is FlatOut takes “Rubbing is racing” to the absolute maximum. Where takedowns in Burnout are a binary affair, either you’re wrecked or you’re fine, FlatOut makes it a gradual process, with more slams, flips, and eventually wrecked vehicles than the entire DVD collector’s set of the A-Team. Other driving games may frown on collisions, but this one thrives on it, with tremendously spectacular impacts that shatter windows, contort chassis, and cause kilotons worth of collateral damage. Racing here isn’t just about lap times, it’s about survival.
When FlatOut is on its game, it’s really impressive in its sheer giddy destruction. Standard races are decent, but the whole dynamic truly shines in events like demolition derbies and special carnage races that don’t just encourage mayhem, they mandate it. Where FlatOut hits the skids is when it tries to act like a traditional racing game, which happens more and more as you move on through the career mode. Derbies are replaced by incredibly demanding time trials that just aren’t enjoyable, and the faster the cars get the more prone they are to flying off the course at even the slightest jostling, which is almost impossible to avoid between antagonistic rivals and the ubiquitous debris that litters every track after a few cars speed through.
The end result is a very mixed bag. When FlatOut is good, it’s very good. Crashing cars is turned into an art form, and the presentation is most stunning. Between career mode, individual challenges, and online play there’s much four-wheeled chaos to enjoy. Sadly though, when FlatOut is bad it’s a little hard to stomach. Cars handle poorly, even worse on the many dusty off-road tracks, and there are way too many events that don’t feature smashing vehicles at all. With Burnout Paradise still undergoing some fine tuning in the garage, FlatOut has a 360 moment all to itself, and that alone makes it worthy of at least a drive-by from speed demons who like a little racing with their violence. Had FlatOut stuck more to its strengths its appeal might have been more transcendent, but instead its Jekyll and Hyde nature makes it hard to recommend to the gaming popular at large.