To make this worse, the mistake doesn’t actually have to be yours. I’ve lost count of the number of times where an opponent has spun out in my path or come up too aggressively from behind, leading to a race-wrecking spin or a collision. At other times a gentle nudge from you leaves them ‘glued’ to your front, slowing your progress to a crawl. To be fair, the game softens the blow with a quick track reset feature and a practically instant race restart, but it’s a bit worrying when I start thinking that one of a game’s best features is how quick it is to restart the race after I’ve had it stolen from me at the last minute. In the end, winning doesn’t seem to be as much about speed, daring or skill as it is about keeping your toes crossed that nothing messes up this time.
Still, the game still has something. Even though the game drives me to despair, I keep on coming back for more. What’s more, the formula works surprisingly well online. It might help that the action is restricted to eight competitors, but Ultimate Carnage has given me some of the smoothest, most exciting racing I’ve experienced on Xbox Live, partly because your human opponents make genuine human mistakes (always easier to forgive than AI foul-ups) and partly because they’re not so inclined towards Kamikaze cornering techniques. Online destruction derby deathmatches work surprisingly well to boot, making Live functionality a major plus point.
Overall, however, Ultimate Carnage is the arcade racer that nearly had it all. In terms of graphics, tracks, game modes, presentation and handling it’s easily up there with the best of Burnout, Ridge Racer or Need for Speed, and it’s only the music – a mostly appalling mix of bands that sound like Limp Bizkit and Nickleback – that lets the side down. But when a game annoys and depresses you so much that you feel like just tossing the controller away and reaching for the off-switch, something’s wrong. I don’t mind repeating a race until I know every curve and possible route if I feel that the fault that stops me winning is my own, but I do mind when it seems to be a matter of chance. Some of you might not be so easily put-off, but for me it leaves Burnout still sitting pretty, and still holding on to the arcade racing crown.
FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage lives up to the name, but sometimes all that aggressive attitude results in a frustrating game of chance, not skill. All that destruction looks pretty, but prepare to get very, very cross.