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This might not sound like the foundations of a great arcade racer, and neither will the fact that FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage is essentially a reworking of FlatOut 2, but for the Xbox 360. However, where other developers would be content to slap an extra layer of polish on the Xbox version and release it like that, Bugbear has taken the opportunity to make a kind of uber-FlatOut; a FlatOut with everything turned up to eleven.
Let's start with the graphics. We could compare polygon counts and dynamic lighting systems, but all you really need to know is that Ultimate Carnage takes one of the best-looking racers of the last generation and makes it one of the best-looking racers of this one. Colin McRae: DIRT trumps it for realistic detail, and the car models – all inspired by rather than based on real cars – don't match up to those in Forza 2 or Project Gotham 3, but what impresses is the sheer amount of stuff being thrown around by the engine without slowdown. At any one moment there can be eight or nine cars, rich vegetation, shattered scenery, showers of particle-based spark effects and oodles of rippling, splashing, reflective water all competing for attention on the screen, and yet the frame rate seems happy to sit at darn near 60fps. In motion, Ultimate Carnage looks utterly fabulous.
More importantly, Ultimate Carnage packs in more cars and more destructible scenery into each and every race. Upping the car count from FlatOut 2's eight to twelve has a huge impact on the gameplay. A game that always offered frantic, edge-of-the-seat racing is now even more frenetic. Trust me – you can't afford to blink for a second. Add in all those extra objects to the scene, and there isn't a moment of the race where something isn't exploding or being thrown around. Thanks to an exaggerated physics model, smacking into things doesn't just damage the car – it sends everything from tyres to fence-posts to cafe chairs flying out in your path, and causes whole structures to collapse in your wake.
The tracks are excellent too. Alternative routes reward attentive replay, and while Bugbear has cheated a little through the old Ridge Racer trick of featuring tracks in forwards and backwards variations, you can't moan too much about variety. Maybe the settings aren't as wide-ranging as those in recent Burnouts, but these forests, mountains, timber-camps, urban waterways and desert towns still give you plenty to look forward to as the game develops. Put it all together and you have a killer combination of speed, spectacle and vehicular violence that threatens to leave Burnout in the shade.