Tuesday, January 06, 2009

FlatOut Ultimate Carnage Review

FlatOut Ultimate Carnage, developed by Bugbear Entertainment and published by Warner Brothers Entertainment on Gamer’s Gate.
The Good: Much improved graphics and damage model, all FlatOut 2 content intact, three new race types
The Not So Good: New modes are not available for single races, only a couple of additional tracks and cars and no new stunts, uses Games for Windows LIVE and removes LAN play
What say you? A better looking version of FlatOut 2 with a couple of additional modes: 7/8

I liked FlatOut 2 so much that I gave it a perfect score. So what did I do? I lost about half of the installation disks (five CDs total, I think) and couldn’t install it on my latest computer. Foiled! Imagine my excitement when I discovered that Gamer’s Gate was selling the latest iteration of the franchise, entitled FlatOut Ultimate Carnage. It’s like FlatOut 2, but with ultimate levels of carnage! Yes! I’m not quite sure how different FlatOut Ultimate Carnage is from its predecessor, but I bet we’re about to find out.

This is the area where FlatOut Ultimate Carnage brings the biggest changes. Unlike most semi-sequels (I suppose you could consider this to be a standalone expansion), FlatOut Ultimate Carnage significantly improves the graphics of FlatOut 2 in every facet of the game. Most obvious are the tracks: while the scenery is generally the same, the textures (especially the road surface) have been considerably upgraded for high-resolution displays. The car models exhibit more detailed damage and the explosions (and anything else on fire) are much more impressive. Finally, the water reflections are quite nice and round out the satisfying graphical package of FlatOut Ultimate Carnage. While the sound effects are the same, the soundtrack has undergone an overhaul, replacing music I recognized with lesser-known artists. Whether this is a good upgrade is purely a matter of opinion, but I’d like to have the option to use the “old” songs instead of them being outright removed.

The other features of FlatOut Ultimate Carnage have received much more minor improvements. The game thankfully retains all of the grand destructive splendor of the past title with the career mode (“flatout”) and the stunts, which range from high jump to (my personal favorite) royal flush. New is the carnage mode, a series of events that showcase the three new game modes in Ultimate Carnage. First, the carnage race: instead of simply finishing in first, your objective here is to accumulate a specified quantity of points by crashing into people and things, catching big air, and reaching checkpoints. You do receive a multiplier for being at the front of the pack when you do these things, but the adjustment here makes for a different, more aggressive approach to the races, a change that I approve. More conventional is the “beat the bomb” mode: it’s a very difficult timed checkpoint race, although it adds a FlatOut wrinkle of blowing your car up when you fail. Finally, we get “deathmatch derby,” similar to the original destruction derby mode except with more fragile cars and power-ups like score doubler and shield. You will also get score bonuses for frags and being the longest surviving car. These new carnage modes are designed for experienced players who played FlatOut 2 and I like them all, although the “beat the bomb” mode is less original than I would expect. Curious is the inability to play any of these modes as single events against the AI, although you can play the competitive modes online. As for the other modifications, FlatOut Ultimate Carnage uses Games for Windows LIVE instead of Gamespy and eliminates the ability to play over a LAN (boo!). Speaking of, it seems the publisher forgot to send Gamer’s Gate CD keys for GfWL, so I can't play online at all until the problem has been fixed. Nothing like preventing legitimite users from playing your game: thanks, copy protection! I am surprised that FlatOut Ultimate Carnage doesn’t have any new stunts, as these were what I felt separates FlatOut from other destruction-filled arcade racers. FlatOut Ultimate Carnage also does not support the use of a racing wheel (not that it’s needed) and constantly refers to the XBOX controller scheme during gameplay, even if you are using the keyboard.

So here is the dilemma: by itself, FlatOut Ultimate Carnage is an awesome game deserving of an 8, but that’s because FlatOut 2 was an awesome game deserving of an 8. As a stand-alone expansion, FlatOut Ultimate Carnage earns about a 6 for providing some new game modes and much-improved visuals, but not adding any additional stunts and removing LAN play. Normally, my reviewing policy for games that are stand-alone expansions (which I consider FlatOut Ultimate Carnage to be) is to evaluate them on their merits alone if I had reviewed the original title. This is certainly the case for FlatOut 2 and FlatOut Ultimate Carnage, but FlatOut 2 came out two-and-a-half years ago, so I think the greediness usually associated with expansions has subsided. Of course, one could argue that this large amount of time should have resulted in more dramatic improvements, but I am willing to split the difference and award FlatOut Ultimate Carnage with a score in the middle. You can play essentially the same game for less, but the FlatOut series still brings a smile across my face and FlatOut Ultimate Carnage does bring the goods and the carnage modes are fun. If you’ve never experienced the series before, then by all means invest in a good time with FlatOut Ultiamte Carnage. Veteran players will have a tougher time justifying a full price for a lot of the same content, but you can never go wrong with the joyous amount of vehicular destruction and variety contained herein.