IGN Review of FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage
Typically, last-generation games ported to current generation consoles come with very few extra features, and some are lucky to have any new inclusions at all. Short of a slightly higher framerate or touched up graphics, a port is a port, and probably not worth a purchase for those who have spent a lot of time with the original. Not so with FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage, a near re-imagining of FlatOut 2. In possession of far superior aesthetics, more cars, and more game modes, Ultimate Carnage is fantastic, but with a couple of failings that keep it from being leaps and bounds better than its Xbox original.
Immediately noticeable is the marked improvement of Ultimate Carnage's visuals. Scenery is less jaggy and more defined, cars are smoother and feature more detail, and some of the rural areas--especially farmland tracks--are simply gorgeous, featuring beautiful fall colors and sunsets that almost--almost!--made me want to screech to a halt and stare. In preparation for this review, I loaded the original FallOut 2 for a last-gen-vs-current-gen comparison, and the results were staggering. FlatOut 2's graphics were grainy, distorted, and contained startling amounts of pop-up. Everything still moved at a rapid pace, and I certainly wouldn't go back and say that playing Ultimate Carnage rendered FlatOut 2 unplayable, but aesthetically, the old version is almost painful to watch.
FlatOut Mode, in which a player starts racing with scrap cars and eventually moves up to race and street cars, is still a blast to play and features a bit more strategy than most arcade racing games. This is due to Ultimate Carnage being more of an arcade/simulation hybrid. While cars can get smashed up and perform outrageous stunts the likes of which are rarely seen in simulation games, but each car features very tight controls that require players to exercise precision and timing to win cups, which results in more money to upgrade and purchase vehicles.
Also in the vein of a simulation racer are the track lengths and types. Most arcade racers such as Burnout feature tracks that are relatively short in length, emphasizing speed and stunts rather than a back and forth battle that sees players constantly moving up and down in placement rankings. Ultimate Carnage tends to rely on longer tracks that, although typically three to four laps in duration, result in racing sessions of close to five or six minutes, which is definitely atypical of the pure arcade genre. This is a high point, because as mentioned, players will have to think more about what they want to do: Use nitro now or wait until I can hit a high jump and get even more nitro? Overtake the guy in front of me, or wait until I can ram him into the building near an upcoming turn and earn money for doing so.
Nitro, fuel given to players for performing stunts and hitting debris, is somewhat easier to gain in Ultimate Carnage than it was in FlatOut 2. Because of the Xbox 360's better graphics capabilities, more destructible objects are present on all of the game's tracks. Plow through fences; smash through a mall food court, leaving store displays and tables in utter devastation; skid through stacks of tires that spill out onto the road, tripping up competing drivers; collide with a gas pump and set off a massive explosion. There are so many ways to gain nitro, yet some track areas are intentionally left bare, leaving the player to wonder, Should I use my nitro, or see what's around the next turn?
A cautionary mention should be made to players who think they can simply plow through anything and everything to gain nitro--this is not the case. Some objects such as telephone poles and massive propane tanks can be knocked aside with deceptive ease, while other objects that seem much lighter in appearance, such as certain fences, bring the player to a crashing halt. Pondering whether or not to punt a pole does slow down the pace of the game in a bad way, but after playing a few tracks, players should have a better eye for what can and cannot be easily destroyed.
Carnage Mode is a smorgasbord of match types. Whether Beat the Bomb, Stunt, Deathmatch Derby, or something else entirely, each event holds certain score-based stipulations that must be met in order to unlock other Carnage events. Deathmatch Derby is a spin on FlatOut 2's Derby mode--which is also present in Ultimate Carnage--that gives a player three lives, one of which is lost each time their car is demolished. The goal is to earn as many "frags" as possible by destroying other cars. The more frags earned, the better the score. Beat the Bomb starts players with a low amount of time and challenges them to rush toward Checkpoints which add precious seconds to clock. If time expires, the car explodes.
Carnage Mode is great fun, but arguably the highlight of the FlatOut series--and inarguably an arcade element of the games--is the Stunt mode, events affectionately referred to as "Ragdoll Olympics" that allow players to propel their driver through their car and into building-sized bowling pins, skipping across a pool, or right by a goalie's reach. A lone player can attempt any single Stunt by choosing Single Event, but the real fun comes in the form of Ultimate Carnage's Party Mode, which allows up to eight players to pass around a single controller and choose up to 12 different events, some more than once should the group so desire. Replacing skipping stones, soccer balls, darts and more never gets old, and it is this mode that will keep players coming back for more long after FlatOut Mode has been completed.
Unfortunately, the load times of FlatOut 2, which were typically no longer than six seconds, did not make the move to the current generation version. Load times in between stunts and tracks can go upward of 40 seconds, which can quickly cause agitation in a party atmosphere. True, groups of friends can chat, eat, and talk about the black sheep's mother to pass the time, but they shouldn't have to.
Perhaps it's because Ultimate Carnage's graphics are so much nicer than its predecessor that no local multiplayer options exist in the Xbox 360 port. Playing split-screen probably would have meant a significant sacrifice to the graphical quality of the game, as mentioned, but it's still disappointing for the selection to completely disappear. A system Link option would have meant a little more work in getting a local game up and running, but sadly, this too is conspicuously absent.
Online play over Xbox Live is present, which is great news for gamers who wish to take part in races against their friends. Tournaments consisting of multiple event types or just one type can be created for up to eight players, but some events, particularly Stunt, have some odd quirks. In online Stunt matches, players all perform the required stunt simultaneously. This serves to eliminate waiting for other players to finish their rounds--though this is a benefit in Party Mode, as it's always amusing to see how buddies fare--but also renders most matches anti-climactic, as no other players can see how the others performed until the end results are displayed. It's much more exciting to watch stunts instead of waiting for onscreen statistics.
Also, Demolition Derby isn't much fun at all unless at least four players are present in a tournament. A destruction Derby with only two players is considerably less exciting than one with eight.
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