There have been many great mistakes throughout history that have benefited mankind in ways that were not immediately obvious at the time.
Christopher Columbus, for example, upon sighting the New World was certain he'd found a western route to India. Unfortunately it was only America, but eventually we came to appreciate many wonderful American contributions to the world, such as Coca Cola, and The Simpsons. There are probably others. In any case, not all mistakes are detrimental, and on occasion a sparkling gem can be found amidst the debris of a complete cock-up.
Sadly, nobody seems to have told Finnish developers Bugbear this, because FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage appears as if someone has simply taken FlatOut 2, added a bit of texture depth and a bloody annoying Windows Live requirement, stuck it in a new box, said a quick prayer and shipped it out. I can understand this, mistakes happen. Just the other night on TV there were a bunch of women being driven down Queen Street - imagine their embarrassment when they discovered they left their tops at home. Mistakes occur everywhere, but ever since I abandoned AMD for Intel, I draw the line at them happening on my PC.
If anyone from Bugbear is reading this, and I sincerely hope someone forces them to, I'd like to know exactly why in the hell you managed to change the splash screen and opening credits to include plenty of references to Windows, yet you can't be bothered to change any damn menu to incorporate the "enter" key instead of the Xbox 360's "A" button? One would assume that any PC gamer willing to drop the same kind of money on a video card as the average console gamer spends on, well.. their console, would be worth treating with just a modicum of respect? Congratulations Bugbear, because of your laziness I've subtracted an entire point off my final score for your game. If you'd like to complain, I encourage you to pick up your controller and email me.
At this point in a review I'd normally be well into explaining what you can expect from the title, what kind of new feature sets it apart from either its prequel, or a rival product, and in all honesty it's the part I enjoy most about playing games. The comparative analysis of any in-depth game will often yield a fantastic insight into the minds of the developers, who I often envisage in a reverent, affectionate, and almost hamster-like way as they madly run around their offices talking gibberish and bashing away at keyboards. Such is my understanding of the game development scene. Unfortunately, it's a little difficult to do that with FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage because there is virtually nothing that sets it apart from its prequel, and it doesn't really have anything in the way of a rival product on the Windows platform.
Essentially you have the same tracks, same stunts, same vehicles, same scenery and the same upgrade path as FlatOut 2. As FlatOut 2 was a very good game, it'd be fair to describe Flatout Ultimate Carnage as a very good game as well, and for the most part if you've never played the earlier FlatOut series then it'll probably appeal to you. Both FlatOut 2 and FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage share the same upbeat soundtrack, they both have amazingly detailed terrain with thousands of collapsible and/or breakable objects scattered around each track, they even share an identical career mode in which you race to unlock new tracks and vehicles, leapfrogging from class to class as you attempt to outpace your surprisingly good AI rivals.
Stunts are back as well - the same ones as before, that is. You'll still be able to laugh at the rag-doll effect as your hapless driver is slung though the front screen and impaled on wire mesh in the high-jump, or thrown through burning hoops in a subtle nod to the late Johnny Cash. If you forked out for FlatOut 2 your laugh may be somewhat lacking in enthusiasm however, as you realise that this is a shamelessly ripped version of a game that was ported from the PC to the Xbox 360 and back to the PC again. You may indeed wonder why you've spent money for a developer to play musical chairs with gaming platforms, and you'd be right to do so, especially considering the music has just stopped and FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage is the one left standing.
Speaking of unpopular children's games, Windows Live has been included in FlatOut: Ultimate Carnage, just in case you thought it needed something buggy, bloated and redundant to distract you from developer laziness. To top this off, they've removed the LAN play mode, which was one of the best parts of FlatOut 2.
I'm going to have to say something positive about this game, despite grave reservations. The graphics have progressed somewhat from FlatOut 2, the water effects in particular are a joy to behold, but considering FlatOut 2 didn't exactly ever push the graphics envelope in the first place it's somewhat of a phyrric victory.
Now, where's that grave I reserved?
If you've never played FlatOut 2, you don't own an Xbox 360 and you don't ever intend to experience this sort of game at a LAN event, you might just be able to get away with buying this and feeling comfortable about your decision. Everyone else should stick to FlatOut 2 and hope that Bugbear have the common decency to provide us with a worthy successor to this legendary title with the next iteration. It'd be nice if they continue to include Opshop songs in the soundtrack as well.