Monday, September 19, 2005


Ok, let's start this week off with two new reviews that ran in last Sunday's (Sept. 18) paper. First one's the less than amazing driving game, Flat Out.

Vivendi Universal
for PlayStation 2 and Xbox
rated T for Teen (vi­olence), $49.95.

RATING: Two stars

I swear, I just can’t figure out what "Flat Out" wants from me.

In this destruction-derby-style racing game, smashing things is paramount. By knocking over the stuff that litters the race track, you fill up your Nitro meter, which, when full, gives you the boost you need to take the lead and finish in first place.

Sounds simple, right?

Except that the problem with running into debris (and other cars) is that it slows you down. Quite considerably, in fact, to the point that you can often find yourself in last place after ramming into something.

So to win the race you need to fill up your meter, which you do by destroying stuff, which slows you down so much that you have no chance of winning the race.

Is it just me, or is there a really big Catch-22 here?

Adding to the problem is the fact that your computer- controlled opponents have no such problems. The rubber- band artificial intelligence ensures that they will be right on your tail and ready to pass you regardless of whether they planted head first into a wall five seconds ago or not. A better game would have re­warded you for getting your opponents to crash.

If it weren’t for all that, "Flat Out" would probably be a decent, if unexceptional, racing game. The tracks are nicely laid out and the cars themselves handle well.

The only other significant feature of the game worth noting is that your car’s "driv­er" will fly out of the windshield upon impact. Hit an ob­ject hard enough, and you can watch your virtual motorist smash through glass and fall upon the ground in a tumbled heap.

The game’s developers were apparently so tickled with this feature that they cre­ated a whole series of extra minigames designed to ex­ploit it. In addition to the races, you can catapult your driver in long jump, high jump and other sports-related sce­ narios. There’s even a bowl­ing minigame.

If this were a little more cartoonishly done, I could get behind it. But watching my virtual self smash through glass, skid through the dirt and then smash into the ground in a rather realistic (if bloodless) manner doesn’t make me want to keep play­ing. It makes me cringe and want to turn off my Xbox.

Honestly, I’m not quite sure what to make of this feature. Am I supposed to be amused by this? Disturbed? A little bit of both?

In the name of all that is good and holy, "Flat Out," what do you want from me?

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2005


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