IGN Review of Driver: Parallel Lines
If the reception to Driver 3 was a revelation for the good folks at Reflections, then the result produced a major shift for Driver: Parallel Lines. This fourth game in the series is less like the previous iteration and similar to Grand Theft Auto now more than ever. Instead of a story mode and a half-dozen exterior mini-games, or a "Director's option, or even the great Survival mode, Parallel Lines delivers a single story with everything packed inside it. The result is good, even if somehow it feels like a white flag was waved somewhere along the way.
Perhaps the press just likes a good fight between similar games and we're just imagining all this stuff about how Driver does "this' well and GTA does 'that" well. Certainly, the GTA / Driver rivalry has given us much to talk about over the years. Did Reflections wave a white flag? Or did Reflections simply follow the natural evolution of the Driver series and this is the latest stage in that development? Maybe Driver 3 didn't sell all that well, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas sold like gangbusters, and Atari and Reflections made business and creative decisions to improve Driver along avenues that previously had been rejected or dismissed. Who knows? One thing we do know is that this latest effort is a healthy, respectable rebound from the third outing and it puts Driver back into the saddle again.
Parallel Lines follows the story of a young New York driver, TK, who makes his living driving gangsters, pimps, criminals, and lowlifes in and out of trouble (using driving skills and street smarts to make money and live the good live of sex, fast cars and perhaps even drugs). The year is 1979. The story and lead character are all new, and the setting is all-new too. Presented with a distinct cinematic flair and a fantastic soundtrack comprised of songs from artists of the time (David Bowie, Blondie, Parliament, Marvin Gaye, War, etc.), the game's pre-rendered cutscenes show an uncanny resemblance to Martin Scorsese's mafia film, Goodfellas -- with TK's life starting off pure, decadent and sweet, but taking a twist for the worst. As beginnings go, Driver: Parallel Lines offers one of the best intros any videogame has ever had. The English development team recreates the rich, fast-paced city life of New York in 1979 and puts players back in time to relive that orgy of excessiveness without a hitch.
Once you get into the game proper, things look a little different. Or rather, they look very familiar. The pre-rendered cutscenes are a blast to watch, and what they do, they do well, but once they end and the game begins, you'll recognize that same old Driver resting underneath the pretty package. It's still the same game, replete with its distinct handling, physics, trial-and-error missions, and the uncanny ability to create great car chases in the bat of an eye. But Reflections has learned a lot from its third outing and it's taken some hard knocks to come back with a better game.
Parallel Lines presents players with an in-game training mode that you won't even notice, starting you out right away in the midst of a cop chase. It gives you a safe house with guns and health packages in it, a set of garages in which to customize, repair, upgrade, stylize and store your car, and it's improved the out-of-vehicles experience, while adding some new tricks to the cockpit.
While every developer handles third-person perspective action games their own way (I have yet to see the perfect third-person camera), Reflections does a reasonable job with the POV behind TK's head and more importantly, his combat mechanics. To get in and out of a car, players press Triangle and using the shoulder buttons/triggers, they can pull out a gun to shoot. Reflections goes two steps deeper, though, as you're able to lock-on to an enemy and strafe, and by pressing another button you can free yourself of the lock-on mechanic and use a pin-point aim button. It's not by any means the be-all, end-all solution, but it's less clumsy than before. Players can pull off head shots with this mechanic or they can shoot out car tires. Or, with enough bullets, they can blow a car into a fiery ball of flaming metal shards. Adding a Starsky and Hutch-style move into the repertoire, Reflections enables players to drive and shoot simultaneously. TK just leans out the window and fires. Never mind if it's not realistic. It's great fun, and it smartly enhances the best part of Driver, the car chases.
Speaking of controls, I re-realized something while playing through Parallel Lines -- This game was designed to control with the twitch of the thumb. It's strangely precise. You can punch it and drive straight into traffic, and if you're good, dodging the oncoming cars is a challenge, but not impossibility. The controls are a touch sensitive, and if you master the e-brake and slide turns, Driver's car chases are that much more exciting. Of course, the heavy sliding cars and the physics on which they're based haven't changed much over the years. They're essentially the same, with minor tuning done here and there.
Still, It's great fun to zip through the streets in a Driver game. I also noticed something else, which I never really put into perspective before. Driver is a terrible racer. Since all of the mini-games are part of the overall story, you get a better, more direct sense of how they compare while on the streets and in traffic versus on a racetrack with competitors. You'll no doubt have a frustrating time out-racing hard-level cars in the La Guardia race tracks.
In any case, the whole "Parallel Lines" phrase title actually means something that affects both the storyline and the way in which the game is played. This information has been revealed already, so it's not a big spoiler. TK is set up, betrayed and thrown in jail in 1979. When he comes out, it's 2006, and he looks and acts different. The game switches from being like Goodfellas to Kill Bill, as it literally becomes a story of revenge. TK wants to hunt down and kill every last man who helped set him up. The general design still enables players to pick from cash-based races and story-based levels strewn across the giant New York map, but it's infused with strong sense of focus and anger, a direction that shows a little creativity and change for what could be considered a simple racing game.
You'll get to play through 35 missions and drive as many as 80 vehicles. Vehicles range from limos, busses, tractors, motorcycles, choppers, and a slew of unlicensed cars, which all change drastically when you get out of jail. There is a healthy diversity of missions too, even if the obvious trial-and-error design is still very much in effect. You'll curse these in the later levels, when things in Driver always become insanely difficult. When you're out of prison, the most distinct things about city are the cars and the clothes people wear. The environments and the color palette are almost entirely the same, which is a bummer.
Driver: Parallel Lines isn't without fault by a long shot. Reflections' game feels unpolished and somehow grubby, in the same way that GTA's simple graphics and lack of refined texture work made that game look grubby. The huge environments and simple texturing are definitely culprits here, but Parallel Lines at least does a better job than before in the attempt to banish pop-in. The character animations are ridiculous, though humorous, in a back-handed way. To wit, look at the way Slink does a hyper-shimmy while standing and talking. Are those the cocaine shakes? If so, he's got them bad. Or watch TK's mullet flap exactly the same way for the 15 hours it will take you to beat this game. It's nicely presented in widescreen.
Along the lines of no improvements, the cop AI is generally the same as it always was. You can outrun and ditch it by means of alleyways and the notorious parks -- the cops eternally suck when it comes to grass. And the cops will, for some strange reason, return to their beats as if they had no idea where you went -- even if that means you're just two blocks straight ahead. Also, as you wield heavier weapons and drive faster cars, the cops upgrade along with you.
The new criminal meters are a great touch, differentiating between your crimes on foot or in a car. This enables you to ditch cars while no cop is in sight and get away free. If you do get caught and your on-foot meter goes up, a little cash to Ray the mechanic will wipe that stain away. Also, Parallel Lines' implementation of the mini-games was a smart move, though the variety isn't great. Finally, the major element players lost with Parallel Lines is the Director Mode, which I guess I can live without, though I know some long-time fans will grumble about it.
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