Flat Out Head On brings a customised version of Flat Out 2 and its third generation successor to the PSP, filling the void left by Burnout Revenge. Games of this calibre are quite rare, and as such the question must be asked: is Flat Out Head On a true successor and/or replacement for Burnout Revenge? Or is it just another pretender to the title of most destructive car game on the PSP?
For those who haven’t played a game in the series, Flat Out is essentially all about car crashes, the more brutal the better. In a fashion similar to that of Burnout Revenge, the basic game play is racing to the end of a track, gaining points by ‘eliminating’ your opponents, the more spectacular fashion the better, while avoiding being destroyed yourself. To complement these basic objectives, Flat Out incorporates an excellent physics engine to faithfully recreate realistic and direction based damage to vehicles, as well as a nice ragdoll system to artfully show drivers being hurled from their cars on impact. If this sounds appealing to you then a). you’ve never been in a serious car crash, and b). Flat Out will definitely suit you. Winning these races is both a combination of your position and the points you have accumulated from the destruction of your competitors.
On top of this traditional circuit game play, there is a derby like Arena mode where destroying the other cars while remaining intact is your only objective, as well as a time trial where the penalty for missing a checkpoint is explosive, hence the title “Beat the Bomb”. Both of these modes are pretty fun, and the derby arena is something that hasn’t been done well on any platform for some time, even though it perhaps personifies the ultimate attractions of games like Flat Out and Burnout Revenge. On top of these core game modes, Head On incorporates further mini games that take advantage of the basic mechanic, the so-called “Stunt Modes”. Driver bowling for example is a take on traditional bowling except that instead of a bowling ball, as would be traditionally used, a beaten and battered driver hurled from his vehicle is used instead as the principal instrument for knocking over pins. Other games to this effect are added in, such as driver pond skipping and darts.
Flat Out represents perhaps the limit of the PSP’s hardware. The engine is fairly crisp, and the physics implementation seems capable of matching that presented on its third generation big brothers. A good crash will see glass and tortured metal fly everywhere in a truly satisfying maelstrom of destruction, so there is no need to fear that the PSP’s limited capabilities are lacking in this regard. Apart from the engine, the controls are a little finicky, but with a little practice they can be mastered, and as the game goes on and you unlock more cars, the increased quality of the unlocks means that the game becomes easier to play. Still, the learning curve is steep so be prepared not to be awesome on the first try.
Utilising the PSP’s major strength, Wireless multiplayer, the game plays well with up to four people, as long as each player owns a copy. A splash version that could be downloaded would have been nice, as Burnout Revenge days, but no matter. One thing that Flat Out does that is pretty nifty is that it allows up to eight people to compete in stunts and time challenges using the same PSP, each trying to achieve the best score. Of course, simply re-running the same trial and merely remembering what each player gets has much the same effect, but being able to record it in game works too.
Ultimately, Flat Out is a good crash/car game. It’s probably not quite as polished as the older Burnout Revenge as far as game play and controls go, but has a better graphics engine and better physics which you may find depending on your tastes, adequately compensates.