Trail Out (2022)
Flatout is one of my favorite racing games, and after I completed the first game in the series, I tried going to the second game, Flatout 2. But I had such a hard time getting into it since it felt so different than the original game, and I somehow came across a new game called Trail Out, which showcased a very similar Bonus stage of human darts, and after reading some reviews, it seemed like this game was a spiritual successor of sorts to that series that I loved so much. I ended up getting the game for 11 bucks instead of the $20 asking price, and I’m glad I got it on sale.
Trail Out is trying very hard to be Flat Out in a much more modern setting. With an actual story, cutscenes and voice acting. It’s a really ambitious game for this development team of 4 people. But it’s overly ambitious, and it shows in almost every aspect of the game. Various bugs throughout the game and just the overall “jank” the game displays throughout is just too much to recommend it.
Trail Out follows the story of a racer called Michlych as he races in a festival tournament. Years ago he was injured and is working his way back up the ranks. Taking out others who are out to get him as well. The story isn’t that hard to follow, but because of the way it’s told, and because of how the game is made, it’s very unprofessionally put together. Part of that is because this game is a Russian game and it has a lot of stilted line delivery and voice acting lines that don’t line up with either the subtitles or just how normal people speak in general. It definitely suffers from a “lost in translation” issue, and the voice acting is clearly done by the devs who speak very little english. I very rarely find humor in bad dialogue, but there is something about this game’s writing that really just is so bad you can only laugh sometimes.
The writing is both poorly translated, but there are various parts that just incorporate memes and other popular tropes and cameos that are only there to be a meme or trope or cameo. It has no weight or reason behind it other than “we can’t write well, so let’s put a meme in instead”. I have no love for this kind of writing and I hate it with a passion. Seeing two characters poorly animate a GTA 5 meme, or have a character yell “My body is ready” with zero context of why that would be said in a moment is just eye rolling. Having an end credit stinger with a barely recognizable Vin Diesel knock off model talk about “Family” in broken English just comes across as a bizarre and ultimately unnecessary inclusion.
While I have a massive issue with the game’s writing and story, its gameplay isn’t all that bad at all. Like I stated earlier, this is a game developed by a team of 4 people over the course of 3.5 years, and it shows. It has huge technical issues, and looks and plays like a game made with learning on the fly thanks to YouTube tutorials. That doesn’t put me off entirely, and I’m glad they set out and made something. If no one else is going to make a new Flatout game, these people did and they did a bang up job for their first time.
Gaming has transformed and morphed into something entirely different over the last several years. Games are now made by normal people in their off time because they like games and want to make their own now. They self publish on Steam or an indie store on a console for like a hundred bucks and have a LLC. It’s not like it was in the early days, where devs were professionals employed by large companies anymore. Anyone and everyone can make a video game given the time and drive to complete it. Learning and troubleshooting as one goes along.
So seeing this game with its multitude of issues is now much more forgivable, along with the difference in region, I have tried to develop a different type of judging style and criteria on which to criticize and review games now. Different scopes of games require different types of standards, so when I look at something like Trail Out, I’m more lenient on it.
The game itself is a standard racing game, with several different types of races, just like the Flatout series. A standard race where you either complete laps or get from point A to point B and be the first. Getting either first, second or third will complete the race and gain a medal to advance through the story and get to the next racer on the list. Some events that can be participated in are a demolition derby, or a bonus silly event (Like human darts or bowling, stealing whole from the Flatout series, empty stadium with rocket car and all). I really enjoyed the investment into the character’s involvement in the social media of the festival. A menu in the game will allow for viewing challenges to gain more fans, get donations from fans directly or stream a broadcast for a few moments to gain even more fans. It’s more extra fluff around the edges of the game that doesn't do much besides give a little bit more money to buy new things or to get more fans to unlock more events.
Each car that is unlocked and bought needs to be built up, so purchasing a body, engine, shocks and tires are all required and not just automatically installed in the car to begin with. Ultimately it’s not really necessary to do something like this, since it’s required and most would only be able to afford/have unlocked the first and only tier of parts. So it’s more of a waste of time since the game requires those to be purchased anyways before the car can be used. I liked the idea of the paint scheme to be chosen to do different things. One paint job can gain more fans, or another can gain more money. And the special paint jobs also let the car be repaired for free after every race, which is also a bit unnecessary. While it’s a good idea in theory, the car gets damaged pretty badly after every race and it’s a continual money dump to repair the car after every race and even if it is just a couple hundred bucks each time, it’s more of a hassle and just gets in the way of getting back into the racing.
The racing itself was very fun, if a bit unpolished. It’s an unreal engine 4 game and it plays like it. The textures and draw distance is enough that sometimes things will pop in right as you hit them, and the physics, while fun and entertaining, don’t feel quite right. Flatout has incredible physics that let the cars drift and slide around dirt paths unlike anything before. But in Trail Out, if you hit an orange plastic cone wrong, it will send the car flipping end over end, and tapping the corner wall while drifting can send the car barrel rolling in the air. It feels “off” in a very bad way, but I did learn to deal with it in a way that didn't become obnoxious.
For all its faults, I still have a really fun time with the game, and I admire this small Russian team that learned how to make a game that feels very similar to the classic Flatout series. Some inclusions like the extra events and courses were a delight. I loved the crash course, that sets up swinging wrecking balls in a corridor, or the jet sleds to slam cars into walls. Or the unbelievable amount of destructible environments and objects throughout every course. Each track feels like the developers poured in as many different moments as they could. It reminded me of games like San Francisco Rush 2049 or Speed Devils, or Motostorm, where the environments would change as you raced through it. The amount of destruction is unmatched in this title.
If Trail Out was given maybe another year of development, I’m sure it would have been a much more polished game, but it does seem like the devs are still updating the game with holiday events and even Multiplayer will be coming out in the spring of 2023. For an indie spiritual successor/knock off of Flat Out, I think Trail Out is great, but only if someone is a fan of the original series and wants a new take on it. It’s hard to recommend to someone who doesn’t know about it, but for those who do, I think it’s a worthwhile investment, as long as it’s under $20.