FlatOut 4: Total Insanity (PlayStation 4) Review

By Gareth F 22.03.2017

Review for FlatOut 4: Total Insanity on PlayStation 4

Ask any gamer to name their favourite no holds barred racing franchise and there's a fairly good chance that the answer would be Burnout. Predictable? Sure, though there is an often overlooked series similarly packed with high octane thrills that never really got the props it deserved at the time. Bugbear Entertainment's FlatOut series - or, to be more precise, FlatOut 2 (which also received an enhanced makeover a couple of years later, rebranded as FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage) - was an exercise in fast paced aggressive driving featuring fully destructible environments and a physics handling model that was way ahead of its time. Unfortunately, Bugbear severed all ties with the series after Ultimate Carnage, and Team6's critically panned 2011 follow up, FlatOut 3: Chaos and Destruction, stained its legacy and seemingly killed the franchise dead on the track. It comes as a bit of a surprise, then, to see a Kylotonn (WRC 6) developed FlatOut 4: Total Insanity suddenly make an appearance on the scene with the barest minimum of fanfare.

While Burnout was always about spectacular impacts at high speed and chaining together boosts, FlatOut was a series more focussed on forging a destructive path to the finish line, so much so that by the end of a typical race, the excessive debris strewn across the track could often impede on passing the finish line in one piece. Jump into practically any online racing title nowadays and trading paint as a method of moving up a position in the standings is a practice often frowned upon, yet in FlatOut, drivers were actively encouraged to ram into and batter the opposition all the way down to the chassis if possible.

Speaking as a long time fan of the series, the thought of a next gen entry is an interesting prospect, but given how diabolically bad the third title turned out, its hard not to feel slightly apprehensive. Bugbear itself is still a going concern and is currently working on Wreckfest, which in all likelihood will be the spiritual successor to the series they left behind in 2008. Back to this title, though, and developer Kylotonn has actually done a respectable job of capturing the essence of what made the original so great. It's a fairly decent arcade racer all told, but it's not without its issues.

FlatOut 4: Total Insanity is split into three distinct areas: Demolition Derby races, Arena battles and Stunts. It takes a lot of cues from Ultimate Carnage in terms of its thematic design, as a lot of the driving takes place in very familiar looking locales such as desert ghost towns, industrial oil refineries, abandoned sawmills/farmland, drained urban canal beds, and damp overgrown woodlands. Each track has multiple branching paths and shortcuts to take advantage of, as well as a ton of destructible items to plough through, but not everything will yield, meaning that speed demons will still need to keep an eye on the road ahead for potentially damaging obstacles.

Screenshot for FlatOut 4: Total Insanity on PlayStation 4

Liberal use of nitro is advisable, and this is easily accumulated by normal destructive driving, smashing into the scenery/competition and jumps where all four tyres leave the ground. Besides traditional racing, there are also Beat the Bomb events that involve hitting checkpoints to prevent the bomb attached to the car from exploding, as well as Time Trials that involve completing a lap in a specified vehicle and meeting one of the time targets with the nitro boost disabled. Tougher than it sounds.

A new addition to the fold is Assault Mode racing for the benefit of the few individuals that don't find the regular events combative enough. Taking a leaf out of Mario Kart, it equips each driver with four weapons that can be deployed at the cost of a chunk of accumulated nitro, and these range from a giant flaming bowling ball that could be fired ahead at great speed; an explosive force field perfect for displacing neighbouring drivers; a magnetic bomb that can be dropped or thrown, which will latch onto the nearest car; and probably the ultimate in traffic control, a set of automated bollards that can be left behind to hinder any tailgaters. It's a fun mode that fits into FlatOut's modus operandi perfectly; however, it's also intrinsically linked to the sharp difficulty spikes during the campaign, as whenever these events crop up, the computer AI can be pretty relentless. Last position in an Assault race can prove to be a particularly tough comeback, as more often than not it devolves into a rotating slugfest between the three drivers bringing up the rear. Last but not least is Carnage racing, which is a variation that tosses checkpoints and combo scoring into the mix.

The Arena battles take vehicular combat to its logical conclusion with the provision of numerous enclosed battlegrounds that encourage (w)reckless drivers to systematically take down the competition, while simultaneously trying to survive a similar onslaught. It's a mode that's made all the more epic when played online against seven other fellow humans. Seeing a big pile up of cars in the corner of the map is an opportunity no driver with a full tank of nitro can afford to miss, and hurtling into the throng at breakneck velocity is exactly as satisfying as it sounds. A car with a smoking engine is like a drop of blood to a tank full of hungry piranhas, as it indicates a car on its last legs and an easy kill for the driver that gets to it first. Cars taken out the running just sit there... Smouldering wrecks, a stark warning to the other drivers.

Screenshot for FlatOut 4: Total Insanity on PlayStation 4

Much like the racing aspect of FlatOut, there are a few variations to the core gameplay loop of the Arena mode. Survivor entails scrapping the competition and eliminating them one by one in a bid to become the overall champion. The winner is determined by the driver with the highest score, so in the unlikely event of a battle shy driver being the last man standing there's a fairly good chance they didn't inflict enough damage to claim that top spot. Wallflowers need not apply. The addition of a 40-second contact timer that resets every time hoods are bumped and drops any participant whose timer hits zero adds a sense of urgency to proceedings.

Deathmatch is exactly what it sounds like, and is a similarly paced ruck with the addition of power-ups to inflict further damage (Bomb, Repair, EMP, 2x Score Multiplier, Shield, Power Ram, Infinite Nitro). The main difference with this mode is that respawning is enabled, and it's played to a specified limit with no contact timer active. Finally, Keep the Flag ensures that the only person able to score during a match is the driver that currently holds the flag… Cue the Benny Hill theme.


 
The Stunts mode is a bit of a throwback to the ragdoll physics engine utilised by Bugbear when it was in charge of the franchise, so its inclusion here does make sense, but, truth be told, it wouldn't really be missed if it'd been left out. It probably doesn't help that the physics modelling in FlatOut 4: Total Insanity is demonstrably inferior to its predecessors, but that will be touched upon a bit later in the review. There's a bit of a carnival vibe in these mini-games, all of which involve speeding towards the objective then hurtling the driver through the windscreen, using him as the projectile to score points. Versions of golf, long jump, billiards, Finnish pins (skittles), beer pong (minus the beer), stone skipping, high jump, baseball, soccer, curling, rings of fire, and total destruction are all catered to in some fashion or other, and the best part is that this mode can be played in a 'pass the controller' party style for up to eight participants.

The offline career mode is fairly sizable and split into three vehicle classes: Derby (battered old bangers); Classic (a bit sportier); and Allstar (high powered with optimum performance), each of which have qualifying cups that have to beaten to progress. Starting with ten grand is enough to buy a low level derby vehicle, which can be upgraded to improve performance or customised with money earned during play, although the rewards can be pretty low to start with.

Screenshot for FlatOut 4: Total Insanity on PlayStation 4

Purchasing a new vehicle in a different class can end up being quite a grind, as the rewards for winning tend to be pretty low, and in terms of handling quite a few of the cars can feel a bit weightless and flimsy. It's worth bearing in mind that upgrading a vehicle can improve its handling considerably. There is also FlatOut mode, which sets up a string of challenges with specific criteria (score 'x' amount with 'y' car) and comprises of a real mix of events that get progressively tougher with progress. The majority of the events remain locked and will only become available once the required milestones are hit.

As touched upon earlier, both the damage and physics modelling fall short when compared to the original Bugbear titles, and it's most noticeable during a high speed crash into a solid object. Instead of flying through the windscreen in a realistic trajectory proportionate to the velocity being travelled and the position of the vehicle's impact, the driver does a relatively feeble ninety degree straight up and down flop. It just looks wrong. In Ultimate Carnage, the damage inflicted on a vehicle would have an adverse effect on its handling, so a smash on the engine would slow it down in the same way that losing a couple of wheels would make it incredibly hard (but not impossible) to control. While smacks and bumps do manifest visually on a vehicle's bodywork, its road worthiness is entirely dependent on a health bar that will basically eliminate a car from the race as soon as it hits zero. Handling remains completely unaffected irrespective of how high or low the health bar is and this is likely to be the biggest turn-off for the most hardcore fans of the series.

Visually, it's a bit of a mixed bag, and while it's far from being an ugly game by any stretch, the likelihood of it winning a beauty contest is as far-fetched as any video game winning an actual beauty contest. It can alternate between looking pretty decent to last-gen, washed out and muddy very quickly, and it relies on its sheer speed to hope it goes by unnoticed. To be fair, though, a sense of speed is one thing FlatOut 4 accomplishes very well, as it zips by at a ferocious rate, making it all too easy to crash and burn in spectacular style.

There is only one external camera angle and it seems to be unnecessarily low down and close to the car boot, limiting the immediate peripheral vision. The AI drivers have a tactic that involves repeatedly nudging the tail end of your vehicle to get past, which more often than not ends up knocking you straight into the path of an immovable object. It's as annoying as it sounds, and almost impossible to see coming, so a few more options with the camera panned back a little wouldn't go amiss.

Screenshot for FlatOut 4: Total Insanity on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

FlatOut 4: Total Insanity does a surprisingly accurate impression of its aging predecessors, but it fails to expand upon Bugbear's original blueprint in any meaningful way, and as such, misses the opportunity to forge its own identity. While it doesn't quite deliver the heady thrills and spills of Ultimate Carnage, it does come pretty darn close, and given that there's precisely zero demolition derby titles on the PS4 at this moment in time, it fills a tank in the market that's been left unleaded for far too long.

Developer

Kylotonn

Publisher

Big Ben

Genre

Driving

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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