Publisher: Strategy First
With BugBear safely ensconced in the Namco Bandai skunkworks, we assumed that we'd seen the last of the FlatOut series. Yet here stands FlatOut 3, a new iteration that sneaked onto the PC with little in the way of fanfare. Franchise fans will be forgiven for loosing yelps of unexpected delight... and will soon succumb to howls of bitter disappointment.
Interestingly, that was always the plan. Team6, the developer behind the hopeless FlatOut Wii version, decided to take a different tack and a new approach: delivering a wealth of simple arcade-style content that continually updates with new cars, tracks and features after launch. It's an intriguing idea, and one that ought to have resonated with the new value-savvy gaming audience.
But despite all that, even after several major updates, FlatOut 3 just isn't fit for task. And certainly isn't fit to bear the name.
First of all, it's important that we identify where FlatOut 3 succeeds: content. There's a wealth of different game modes on offer including straight races, destruction derbies, one-on-one night cruises and even an insane minigolf-style stunt minigame. There's an event for every palette and a car to suit your mood, with good times unlocking new arenas and tracks as you progress. None of the courses manage to match the thoughtful design and technical intricacy of the original games, but hey, arcade racing doesn't have to be complex to be good honest fun. Streamlined controls, handbrake, boost and a chargeable supermove are all you'll need to master before the sparks start flying.
The framework is solid. The idea is sound. FlatOut 3 should have worked... but everything goes to hell as soon as you turn the ignition key.
The mechanics just don't hold up. Team6 has made everything much faster, so fast that the driving bears a greater resemblance to WipEout than FlatOut. But speed requires control, and FlatOut 3 refuses to give you anywhere near enough. Using a gamepad or racing wheel is an excercise in frustration as your car lurches insanely around the road, with no sense of real weight and power behind your sluggish yet crazy corrections. Resorting to keyboard controls proves to be far less aggravating, although it's still one of the loosest racers I've ever tested. What's more, the sheer clunkiness makes the demandingly-precise Stuntman mode nigh-on unplayable.
At least the AI drivers won't rub it in your face. Quite the opposite, in fact, since they seem to be stricken with the same control issues. Most races begin with an ruinous pileup on the very first corner that can permanently put you out of the race if you don't laboriously steer around the blithering dolts... unless you decide to reset your car. At which point, one of two things will happen. Either you'll be pointing in a totally random direction (often staring directly at a barrier or bottomless cliff) or the entire pack will also decide to respawn on your car's exact position in 3D space, resulting in yet another pileup when the ghostly temporary invulnerability wears off.
Bizarre clipping issues, outrageously inconsistent collision detection and weak physics stop the racing from ever feeling authentic, which would be bad enough in any racing game, but doubly tragic considering that FlatOut 3 uses destruction as a main gameplay mechanic. Smashing into cars is actually the objective of several gametypes, yet cars never interact the way you'd expect. You'll sometimes become locked onto opponents in seemingly weak collisions and unable to reverse out of the tug-of-war. Or impossibly piggyback on their roof. To FlatOut 3's credit, it's worth noting that clouds of sparks do make these moments satisfyingly visceral, yet the lack of realism makes cars feel like plastic toys rather than hulking modified cruisers.
To add insult to injury, destruction comes down to numbers - and inexplicable ones at that. Damage percentages seem to have little correlation with the force of your impact and the size of your vehicle, in effect, dealing out pitiful 1% scratches or ruinous 99% brutality comes down to the random machinations of an arcane algorithm rather than player skill. Slowly scraping alongside a fellow racer tends to be more damaging than massive aerial T-bone assaults, making the destruction-heavy events all about trial and error as opposed to picking the right car for the job.
The multiplayer netcode has been somewhat improved since launch, but it's still rather glitchy to say the least. Cars still pop in an out of existence at the most inopportune times, and the fear of inescapably falling through the scenery becomes a constant nail-biting worry.
Taken as a whole, FlatOut 3 feels cheap and rushed in every aspect of its implementation and presentation. BugBear's trademark solidity and thoughtful design has been replaced by slipshod cut corners at every turn, from the poorly signposted tracks to the overly blurry, pop-in riddled visuals. Aiming for quantity over quality was a risky move that still could have resulted in a fun and frantic arcade racer, but the atrocious fundamental gameplay puts this latest iteration beyond even the most tentative recommendation.
- Plenty of content
- Lots of variety between different events
- Ocassionally thrilling thanks to visceral crash effects
- Weak handling and poor controls
- Horrendous clipping issues, collision detection and damage mechanics
- Commits a multitude of gaming sins
The Short Version: FlatOut 3 is a disaster. Great in theory yet torrid in the execution, Turn 6's effort proves to be one of the worst racing games in recent memory. It's time to let the series rest in peace.