Flatout: Ultimate Carnage
For: Xbox 360
From: Bugbear Entertainment/Empire Interactive/Warner Bros.
ESRB Rating: Teen (mild lyrics, violence)
One of these days, if the world truly is a fair place, the “Flatout” brand will hang with the likes of “Burnout,” “Gran Turismo” and “Need for Speed” among the ranks of racing games with household names. You can produce a great game only so many times before the secret gets out and people start paying attention.
“Flatout: Ultimate Carnage” is Bugbear’s third stab at the franchise, and while it shares a ton in common with last year’s “Flatout 2,” it benefits so immensely from being on newer hardware that it’s an immeasurably better game without even trying.
That has something to do with the graphics, which produce gorgeously diverse tracks that fly by at a blistering pace. But it has more to do with amount of activity such horsepower allows. The object of “Carnage” is to win races, but destroying both the tracks and your fellow racers along the way is greatly encouraged (and rewarded, via precious turbo). The ensuing mayhem that erupts is a sight to see, and the way “Carnage” sends all manner of debris and twisted metal flying about without ever slowing down is extremely impressive.
It’s also wildly fun. The risk/reward system encourages dangerous driving, and “Carnage’s” driving controls are perfectly arcadey without abandoning physical reality. The vehicles are appropriately weighty, and the crashes often are sensational at high speeds. Just prepare for a level of difficulty not often seen in an arcade racer: “Carnage’s” A.I. puts up a serious fight even on the entry-level tracks, and it’s easy to let opposing racers psyche you into making a bad spill and losing position.
If that doesn’t sound like criticism, it’s because it isn’t. “Carnage” makes you work to win, but the reward is a filling career mode with three classes of cars and a ton of gold medals to win. The races are “Carnage’s” selling point, but the game features numerous side events, including destruction derbies and a collection of ridiculous, physics-based mini-games that involve crashing your car and ejecting the driver through the windshield toward targets ranging from dart boards to bowling pins.
This being a 360 racing game, all of “Carnage’s” modes make the natural transition to Xbox Live. This, particularly, is where those mini-games shine. Fun as the racing action is over Live, there’s nothing quite like an eight-player game of “launch the driver through a goalpost” to put a smile on everyone’s face.
Ultimate Mortal Kombat
For: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence)
One would need several free fingers to count the ways Midway could have fumbled “Mortal Kombat’s” maiden voyage on the Nintendo DS. The series’ messy debut on the Nintendo Wii serves as illustration of what happens when gimmicky controls invade a game that doesn’t need them. There’s also no time like the holidays to spit out a quickie bastardization of a popular brand and hope the public buys first and asks questions later.
Fortunately, “Ultimate Mortal Kombat” does what its Wii counterpart could not and resists the urge to be something it isn’t. The stylus is handy for navigating the menus, but that’s as far as those newfangled DS inputs will get you. You can scribble all manner of strange gestures on the touch screen and blow into the microphone until you’re blue, but neither will do anything. If you want to fight, you’ll need to press some buttons.
Such adherence to tradition shouldn’t be terribly remarkable. After all, “UMK” isn’t even a new game, but rather a perfectly emulated port of 1995’s “Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3.” But numerous developers have botched similar projects by jamming square-shaped touch controls into round holes, and as such, Midway’s restraint and faithfulness to the original product is to be admired.
It’s especially admirable in light of how “UMK” takes advantage of system features that actually matter. The dual screen gets put to serviceable use as a moves guide, and Midway takes full advantage of the DS’ connectivity capabilities. You can play wirelessly against a friend using only one copy of the game, and you can play online via the Wi-Fi Connection. The game offers friends list support, and it also tracks your lifetime wins and losses for bragging purposes.
All of that applies as well to the game’s bonus feature, a solid port of the “Kombat”-themed puzzle game “Puzzle Kombat.” “PK” is little more than a simplified knockoff of “Puyo Pop,” but it’s fun for what it is.
In addition to online/wireless play and stat tracking, the DS version of “PK” uses the second screen to stage a cartoony fight that reflects how well (or poorly) you’re doing at the game. The little deformed fighters look terrific, and it’s enough to wonder whether they deserve to star in their own game. Perhaps a “Smash Bros.” clone with “Kombat” characters? As long as Midway keeps staying true to the series, all things are possible.