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FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage
Platform: Xbox 360
See the seven lurking somewhere at the top of this page? It's a sad seven – a seven that could have been so much more. The fact is that, in my opinion, FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage is so close to being the best arcade racer on the planet that it hurts.
To those of you who haven't come across the franchise before, this might be a surprise. Despite awards and critical acclaim, FlatOut has sometimes been dismissed as the dumb country cousin of EA's brilliant Burnout series. Both series focus on high-speed, adrenaline fuelled arcade racing with an emphasis on vehicular destruction, but where Burnout made its name with sleek machines and glossy, predominantly urban environments, FlatOut takes its action into the boondocks, with the tracks running around – and through – hick lakeside resorts, timber yards, industrial towns and farmsteads. You might want to go on holiday to Burnout-land (though you probably wouldn't want to hire a car) but a visit to FlatOut-ville would probably be a bit like Deliverance.
Now, FlatOut hasn't got Burnout's killer feature – traffic – but it offers an alternative with arguably the most interactive and destructible environments of any racer. It copies Burnout's boost system with a similar gauge powered by damage caused to the environment and inflicted on either competitor cars or the player's own 'rag-doll' driver. And while Burnout has its Crash mode, FlatOut has its destruction derbys and stunt modes, where players compete in a series of bizarre events centred on throwing the driver through the windscreen at high speed towards a set of skittles or a series of flaming hoops. In fact, last year's FlatOut 2 aped Burnout's slick presentation and shouty music soundtrack to the extent that it was getting difficult to tell which was which.
Of course, this doesn't really do justice to either game. At its best, Burnout is all about the near-miss; about plotting your way through the traffic, taking calculated risks, chaining boosts together and avoiding collisions. FlatOut is all about destruction. Each track is festooned with rickety buildings, fences, oil tanks, carelessly abandoned furniture and scrapped vehicles, and the vast majority of it is designed to be knocked about, wrecked and destroyed. Carving your way through it isn't just a vandalistic pleasure – it's also a way of earning vital supplies of boost, and the same goes for smacking into rival cars. Think of FlatOut, then, as the sort of game that Jeremy Clarkson, Quentin Tarantino and Johnny Knoxville might come up with if they had been put in charge of the Burnout franchise.