A thumb of the nose to the straight-from-the-showroom showdowns of Gran Turismo and its sleek imitators, FlatOut is a determinedly unpretty racing experience. The cars begin each race looking beat-up, but they usually hit the finish line missing doors or windshields, if they finish at all. As much demolition derby as traditional racing game, FlatOut boasts of its "fully destructible environments," and it isn't kidding. Debris, construction equipment, and other easily smashed elements line its 36 tracks. And that's no accident. The game rewards players for destruction, at least up to a point. Hit an obstacle too hard, and your driver will go flying through the windshield in slow motion, screaming and flopping around like a rag doll, then landing with a thud. The effect, at least for those who've been behind the wheel of a real car, is more horrifying than hilarious, but FlatOut's Finnish design team certainly deserves some credit for audacity. (They've even spun that touch off into some bonus games involving hapless drivers hitting giant targets and bowling pins.)
FlatOut falls short of greatness, but it still makes its lowbrow idea go a long way. The gameplay is brilliantly simple, and unlike in a lot of racing games, the race is rarely determined in the first half-lap. In the chaos of colliding cars, a well-placed nitro burst can send you from last place to first in a hurry. Unfortunately, the converse is also true. But in spite of the unpredictability, the game still feels fair. Everything behaves according to the logic of the game's crazy—but thoroughly considered—physics.
FlatOut has depth, too. Even beaters can be souped up, and when you earn enough money with your first eyesore, you can buy better ones. The game also offers a variety of tracks, although some look like minor variations of others. The biggest problem is the same one that plagues a lot of racing games: It can get tiring going around in all those circles, and when the carrot at the end of the stick is the promise of yet more racing, it's easy to wander on to other games.
Beyond the gameplay: The designers deserve credit for really thinking about what a car with a door hanging off its hinges would look like when traveling at upward of 100 mph.
Worth playing for: The first time a sudden stop propels your driver over the hood, through the air, and halfway down the track.
Frustration sets in when: The same thing happens for the hundredth time.
Final judgment:A fantastically fun game when taken a little at a time, FlatOut lacks the hypnotic must-never-stop-playing quality that separates the great from the merely good.