FlatOut

What do you do after making a precise rally game with classic cars? You throw your toys out of your pram and smash everything up, obviously.

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Bugbear Interactive probably has an unhealthy relationship with cars. In all probability, the people who worked on arguably the most underrated rally game ever made, Rally Trophy, dream of cars. The chances are, rubber, pipes and "suspension" feature heavily. There's no other way to explain such ludicrous attention to physics detail. Ever seen a fetish magazine? There are underground car mags. Dirty ones. Kazanori Yamauchi subscribes to them. And after the release of Rally Trophy, it became obvious Bugbear does too.

Obviously tired of trying to be nice to cars - Rally Trophy demanded precise driving in the reams of classic autos on offer - Bugbear decided that this time out it was going to be nasty. Vicious. The team obviously started reading the stuff even Yamauchi balks at, because FlatOut is rougher than a bear fetishists derriere.

Hit me! Harder!

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FlatOut is a dirt racer featuring fully destructible, highly modelled power cars and tracks specifically designed for you to break. You and seven others - either computer-controlled or on Xbox Live in the appropriate version - slew around tight tracks on tarmac, through forests and over generally lumpy stuff in a rear-wheel drive hurricane of a machine in what appears to be a highly exacting case of, "Get it wrong and you've lost".

Real physics are on display everywhere. Tracks are strewn with water towers, tyre walls, smashable fences, barrels and log piles, all of which act individually and have ostensibly accurate weight. Objects remain right where they are for entire races, including torn wings and fenders from offending cars. FlatOut impresses on a technical level immediately. That's what you get from obsessing about the width of exhausts for too many years.

And while the demo version we've played features only a few tracks and the Quick Race mode, the final version - arriving for Xbox, PS2 and PC in October - will apparently ladle on 45 tracks and 16 "fully upgradeable cars". Hot rubber and mud. So wrong: Yet So Right.

Tech it to the bridge

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Slight concerns do arise, though, in the fact that our preview build feels distinctly, how can we put it, "tech demoey". Hopefully the game itself won't play second fiddle to some extremely polished physics modelling and wide-open environments, because at the moment, playing against computer-controlled cars, it's far too easy to become a victim of physics and lose after leading for three laps. It's all very impressive, but we're hoping there's more of a balance in the final game. We found ourselves having to reset the car on the track more times than a woman wearing a gimp mask needs to smoke.

But that aside, FlatOut looks promising. The handling's light and slick with definite differences when driving on various road-types and the openness of the physics provides for some quality moments. We jumped over a water tank and landed on another car. Laugh? The granny next to us was doing cartwheels. Seriously, it's good fun. Multiplayer should be amazing. For those without Xboxes, PS2 will have a split-screen mode, apparently.

Did we mention your rag-dolled driver flies through the car's windscreen when you crash? It feels a little like an afterthought at the moment, and Mr Censor isn't going to like it, but when you pummel into the side of an opponent's car on a track littered with barrels and wood, flipping vehicles screaming over your head as your character shatters through the glass, you can't help but be impressed.

Where would we be without car fetishists? We'll find out whether Bugbear manages to go "all the way" in the coming months.

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