"Is this Burnout Paradise?" It's the third time that the question has been fielded at us today. What's surprising is that we haven't been asked it more; you can't avoid the immediate impression that Flatout has more in common with Criterion's critically acclaimed racer than is comfortable. But before you flick the page, check the review score and dismiss the game entirely, give us the time to explain exactly why, poor imitator or not, Flatout is actually worth your hard-earned wad of cash.
Firstly, let's get the next immediately prominent fact out of the way. It'll be apparent to anyone who has had dealing with the series before that the framework of Ultimate Carnage is in the exact same mould as Flatout 2 on the original Xbox. This is because at heart, Ultimate Carnage is just a refitting of that vehicular spectacular, with the concession of new game modes, a few tweaks and lots of lovely next generation polish.
But before you start drafting a strongly worded email about lazy developers, we'd like to offer you two other facts. One; Burnout Revenge went through the exact same process, first appearing on the original Xbox, then the Xbox 360 months later. We loved it and gave it 9 out of 10, stamping our coveted 'Must Buy' award all over it - the tweaks just made the gameplay even better.
Secondly; Xbox Live Leaderboards. Their importance we'll get to later.
Get a handle on me
But first, let's talk about how the game handles - because not everyone sees perfecting lap times on the 'so-realistic-why-not-just-drive-for-real' Forza Motorsport 2 as enjoyable. Some of us want gaming that's just big, dirty and fun. The sort who still laugh uncontrollably at old Jackass clips and get a kick out of the 1969 Dodge Charger from Dukes of Hazzard flying through bails of hay.
And that's exactly what your first bite out of Flatout's career mode will taste like. It's tantalisingly split into three car classes, each offering a variety of tournaments and class-specific events. You kick off in the lowest class, Derby. The cars on offer are one smash away from the scrapheap - perfect fodder for the class's Destruction Derbies.
Bucket heaps they look and bucket heaps are how they handle. You'll struggle to get a decent drift around some of the tighter dirt tracks of Middle America. But their resistance to a 90 degree handbrake turns is made up for once you get into your first crash. With twelve juggernauts on the racecourse the first lap or two inevitably has a few huge pile ups come the corners. The crunch as you slam into competitors has a powerful, meaty feel to it.
Dish best served cold
This is the reason why you'll jump straight from your first cup win to one of the derbies. It'll be here that you come to appreciate the driver AI; the overhead map in the lower-corner of the screen colour codes each driver depending on their relationship to you. If you've shunted someone one too many times on the racecourse, expect them to be aiming their 200mph juggernaut directly at you.
It's a pretty cool edition, and seeing drivers make idiotic mistakes, like taking a wrong turning and plummeting off a Cliffside during a race really sets Flatout apart from the current racing crowd. It means the character bios that dominate the loading screens aren't just filler, but give you an idea on how to interact with other drivers (follow for a perfect racing line, avoid, or just smash off the course as soon as possible.)
Boning up on your competitors is something you'll have time to do; the loading times are one of the biggest problems with the game. You're talking in excess of ten seconds to load up race courses and stunts. This is really grating during a multiplayer session, as the game loads events and subsequent stats screens separately. Use it as a chance to grab a drink or take a toilet break, or discuss alternate racing routes with friends. Specifically, how they really don't live up to their potential.