Flatout has always been about madness and high octane destruction from inside an old stock car. There was never really a perfect game in that series, but they were always good looking, fast, crazy, and entertaining above all else. When the gasoline-soaked studio Kylotonn (WRC 5) took the franchise into the current generation, we thought we'd get the same heart-pumping action all in 1080p, and that it'd be just as fun. Unfortunately, though, this wasn't the case, as Flatout 4: Total Insanity is mediocre at best.
The game is structured in the same way as its predecessors - there are different types of regular competitions where it's all about being first to the finish; various stunt events where you have to shoot the driver out of the car (right out the front window, as usual); and a fully-fledged arena mode where the winner is the driver who can survive the longest. When you start career mode, there are two junkheaps that you can choose from, and we chose a rusty old car that looked like a Beetle, setting off on our career.
Flatout 4: Total Insanity is naturally (as the name suggests) packed full of total insanity on four wheels. It took exactly four seconds of the first race before the sparks hit the side of our car because aggressive opponents rubbed up against us as if we were their good luck charm. This isn't a game that tries to simulate any type of realistic car physics, though - not even a little. It felt like our car weighs ten tons when trying to corner, but when we got hit, it might as well have been made of cardboard. That old balance of skidding, sliding, and the weight of the car from the old games is nowhere to be seen. Now everything feels random instead. No matter how we perform, for instance, we're always depending on things that are beyond our control, and our car has a tendency to end up on its side with incredible frequency, as if the doors were made of cast iron.
When it comes to the game mechanics, these are super easy to master, as you have to accelerate, brake, turn, and use nitro-boost when it pops up, preferably not in the middle of a corner (because then you'll crash and burn). You can fill the amount of nitro by recklessly crashing into other drivers or by running into just about everything that's deployed along and on the roads. This, together with the use of shortcuts, is the key to staying in the top tier. In some modes, you also have access to weapons, and these are used by holding the L1 button (on the PlayStation 4) and then pressing one of four buttons, each with different weapons represented, ranging from missiles to mines.
The presentation is simple, playful, but not particularly pretty, and the graphics, technically, are a shaky subject. It's not likely to win any awards, but it works at least, and when you hit items like cones on the track, they do go flying as you'd expect. However, we encountered a lot of bugs, including water effects flashing, objects stuck at impossible angles, and plants that clip through the cars. The textures also load a little too late in some places, and it wouldn't have hurt if the whole thing had received a bit more polish.
In terms of audio, the music in the game certainly won't be to everyone's tastes, but elsewhere the sound is pretty good, with game engines sounding like they should, as do the clashes between cars which you'll no doubt hear a lot (who plays this without crashing into others, after all?).
Overall, the foundations are there in Flatout 4: Total Insanity, but there's no real depth, and the feel of the cars is lacking. It's okay in short, brief little bursts, and the stunt mode can certainly be appreciated during an evening with a couple of friends, but it's not much more than that. Bugbear did a much better job making this kind of wreckless stock car racing, and it's a shame this couldn't be reproduced.