It's a miracle that FlatOut 4: Total Insanity exists at all really. The previous instalment in this smashtastic series – 2011's irreparably awful FlatOut 3: Chaos & Destruction – is widely regarded as one of the worst racing games of all time, sitting just a position ahead of the notoriously appalling Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing on the starting grid. French developer Kylotonn's done a decent job salvaging something of worth from a series that up until recently was a wreckage, though: this fourth instalment sure plays things safe, but it's a decent enough arcade racer under the hood.
The game bets big on its aggressive underpinnings, meaning that you'll spend most of your time hooking bangers around corrosive canisters, smashing scenery and other vehicles in order to earn nitro. There's a bit of a risk/reward system at play: the more dangerously you drive, the more boost you'll earn, which in turn will increase your lap times. Of course, that's assuming that your strategy pays off – it may just as easily find you face-first in front of a wall.
And in that comes some frustration. The artificial intelligence is incredibly aggressive as you'd expect, but it has an infuriating habit of clipping you on corners, which begins to grate when it occurs race after race. There's an inconsistency there, too: get your nose in front and you may end up winning with a ten second lead but spin-out at the starting line and you sometimes have little to no chance of catching up – even if you perform a series of perfect laps.
By far the greater frustration, though, is that the campaign is too tired and straight-forward to truly hold your attention. The tracks – ranging from soggy jungles to urban industrial parks – are well executed with multiple pathways, but they start to repeat far too regularly and the game is far too frugal with its unlocks and currency to make you feel like you're ever making any meaningful progress. There are a different game modes – like a destruction derby, for example – but you'll feel your interest waning long before you reach the final campaign class.
The more arcade FlatOut mode is less tedious, then, offering a series of almost minigame-esque events that change up the rules with reckless abandon. From beer pong to mini-golf, many of the more outlandish events rely upon the tiring rag physics silliness of yesteryear, but they're relatively entertaining and can all be enjoyed in a pass-the-controller style multiplayer scenario. There's also online competitive multiplayer for the core racing, though we were unable to test the component for review due to the servers being deader than a SMART car following a collision with an 18-wheeler.
Perhaps the main takeaway here is that FlatOut 4: Total Insanity is safer than its name suggests. There's not a lot to criticise in terms of its execution, but its ambition feels firmly rooted in the PlayStation 2 era. There's nothing particularly wrong with that, and if you're looking for a distraction to occupy between juggernaut releases, then the PS4 isn't host to many destructive racers that are better. But while there's fun to be had while you're playing, don't expect this above average car crash to live long in the memory at all.