I have fond memories of the Destruction Derby series for the PS One. I loved nothing more than racing around dirt tracks smashing up other cars, or testing my driving skills in the Destruction Derby arenas. One series I never seemed to catch onto however was FlatOut. But with the release of Flatout 4: Total Insanity I wanted to rekindle that love of DD, but has it lit that burning fire in my heart, or did it burn out quicker than a candle at the end of an exhaust?
While Bugbear Entertainment were largely responsible for the FlatOut series with FlatOut and FlatOut 2, but FlatOut 3: Chaos and Destruction, probably one of the worst rated games in the series, was not. Much like FlatOut 3, FlatOut 4: Total Insanity was taken on by another developer, Kylotonn, responsible for the pretty top-notch WRC series. So there’s definitely a lot of hope being pinned on FlatOut 4 being faithful to the original two games.
Downloading the game onto PlayStation 4 gave me an interesting insight into what to expect. Allowing me to play before it’d fully downloaded I was given a series of Stunts to take part in which are staple to the series. However they felt a little over the top and somewhat cheap.
Fans of the series will recall the game’s signature ragdoll stunts in which you’re tasked with firing the driver out of your vehicle in order to knock down pins. Well in FlatOut 4: Total Insanity, you can do more than that. You can destroy castles made from wooden blocks, try to score a hole-in-one on a giant golf course, or fire your driver through various rings of fire in order to achieve a high score. It’s truly ridiculous, you could almost say it’s totally insane. However, it was an enjoyable fifteen minutes while I waited for the rest of the game downloaded, but it got tiresome very, very quickly.
Fortunately once the game had fully downloaded I was able to get into the thick of it, however I might have had a little too much faith in Kylotonn.
Beginning your career you start off right at the bottom, as you’d expect, with a bit of cash to purchase a clap-trap vehicle. In my case I chose the VW Beetle, because why not. If Herbie can go ballistic, I can too. You’re then thrown into what feels like a more grassroots destruction derby race through a series of different environments. There are no stock car tracks made of dirt and tires here, and that my friends is the source of a number of problems.
In an effort to make races feel like absolute carnage, you’ll find yourself racing around industrial estates, forest scenes, and desert environments full to the brim with destructible and “interactive” buildings, fences, and wooden boxes littered around the track. Sure, you can smash through almost everything in FlatOut 4: Total Insanity, and it is pretty insane to see a gaggle of six cars smashing through what could be someone’s home. However, once all of these have been destroyed levels become empty canvases filled with smashed chunks of wood and debris.
Not only that, the tracks themselves are often difficult to navigate with various corners offering multiple routes for your to take. Sure, there are plenty of arrow signs, but those too are destructible, and once they’re gone, you have no hope.
One thing the early games in the FlatOut series was known for were their physics, and that’s no different in FlatOut 4: Total Insanity. However, in this game they feel way off, and ultimately leave you with a really bitter driving experience, something I certainly didn’t expect from Kylotonn. The handling in the WRC series’ is ten-to-none, you can really pull off some impressive drifts and manoeuvres in those games. In FlatOut 4, there’s little to no handling here, no matter how much you upgrade your vehicle. More often than not, if you take a corner too sharp, even when using the handbrake, you’ll spin out.
Level design is also a huge factor when handling your vehicle because touching even the slightest bit of uneven ground will usually send you either spinning off or grabbing some unnecessary air causing you to smash into the corners and ultimately totalling your car. In some cases races in FlatOut 4 became totally unwinnable due to the poor level design and handling making the game as a whole an unlikable experience.
I’d like to at least say that FlatOut 4 is visually impressive, but it’s not. It feels very much like a game you’d find within the depths of Steam, or one released for last-gen consoles. There’s really nothing too spectacular about the destruction physics both of the scenery or your vehicle. More often than not, your car will end up as a crumpled pile of metal on wheels that resembles squished Play-Doh than a car that’s just come out of an intense contact race.
If competing in the same race over and over again isn’t your cup of tea, there is the addition of a “FlatOut Mode” where you’ll find a series of whacky races, challenges, and stunts. Each of these races have a bronze, silver, or gold medal to be won by achieving the set score. It’s definitely a welcome break from being run off the road repeatedly, however there are only 42 of these to complete once you’ve achieved a total score to unlock them all.
One of the more enjoyable game modes is of course the destruction derby arenas where 12 cars get pit against each other in a cage match of wrecking proportions. However it’s never really been a huge part of the FlatOut series unlike the Destruction Derby games and unfortunately it’s still as disappointing. There’s really no skill involved in the Arena. All you have to do is smash into other cars and hope you do enough damage to their car while trying to do minimal damage to your own. While FlatOut 4’s Arena mode offers a few new features to mix it up, you will still often find yourself with the tiniest bit of health left, and that a simple sneeze is enough to “wreck” you.
The FlatOut series’ only real evolution is that each time around they’re more and more ridiculous, and that’s something Kylotonn has certainly achieved with FlatOut 4: Total Insanity. Not only are their your standard races, there’s also Deathmatch Arena modes where you can fire bombs at your enemies, or races where you can shoot C4 at opponents or unleash a ground explosion which removes any vehicle in your vicinity.
It unfortunately feels to me that Big Ben and Kylotonn were cashing in on nostalgia here as there’s nothing that resembles a good FlatOut game. Sure, the original two had its flaws, but where it all went to shit was with FlatOut 3 with sloppy handling, poor track design, terrible physics, and bad damage modelling – something that has ultimately found its way into this “current-gen” release.
If you’re looking for a bit of dumb fun, then this game is for you. But if you’re looking for a decent destruction derby racer, then you’d be better off firing up the old PS One and grabbing a copy of Destruction Derby 2.