Reviewed: April 12, 2006
Released: March 14, 2006
I think it’s safe to say that Driver 3 is one of those games that we all want to forget, especially Atari and Reflections. I guess the one good thing to come from that title is that once you hit rock bottom the only direction you can go is up.
Thankfully, Driver: Parallel Lines is more than just a token effort to rekindle your desire to return to the franchise. It is, in fact, a very good game with loads of action, great driving, gorgeous cutscenes, and all the 70’s flair you can possibly stand without putting on a leisure suit and going to a disco.
Picking up on some flavor from movies like “The Transporter”, Parallel Lines tells the tale of TK, a professional driver who chauffeurs all sorts of unsavory types around town as they “do business”. He ultimately is betrayed and gets tossed in the slammer for nearly 30 years, but now it’s 2006 and he’s back on the street looking for revenge.
The story is easily one of the strongest elements in this latest Driver game, starting off strong and actually maintaining your interest throughout with some truly stunning cutscenes that often rival near-video quality.
While Parallel Lines offers a very distinct new look and feel, the underlying game hasn’t changed all that much. You’ll be doing a lot of driving in more than 35 creative missions, and with more than 80 vehicles at your disposal and a massively complex map of New York the possibilities are endless.
The missions are varied, starting you off with an exciting cop chase as part of a cleverly integrated tutorial that will teach you the lay of the land as well as how to use your various resources like safe houses and garages. For those who complained about the “out of car” experience in Driver 3 (I was one of them) you probably won’t be happy that they are back, but you can rest assured they have greatly improved the experience with better camera, movement, and weapon and combat interface.
The best new feature to on-foot combat is the weapon lock that allows you to strafe your target while unloading your clip, but at any time you can also opt for the manual aim, which allows for headshots and targeting tires or even gas tanks for more immediate results. There is also a great system in place for targeting and firing while driving, making the car chases infinitely more fun.
Also making the driving more fun are some highly tuned and extremely precise controls that allow you to steer, accelerate, brake, and power slide with the slightest flick of a stick or push of a button. The driving physics are slightly exaggerated making the game much more action oriented and not that fun for actual “racing”. I found myself merely tolerating the actual racing events in the game.
The game exhibits some moments of scarily realistic AI, both in random traffic and those famously aggressive cops. Civilians will obey traffic laws and stop lights to the point of creating massive traffic jams at some intersections. The cops will overlook minor offenses, but when they get on your tail (and they will) it can take some serious driving to escape their grasp.
Another nice element is the dual criminal meter that tracks your criminal status in cars and on foot separately. I’ve been waiting for the day this would be implemented. It only makes sense that if you are “known” by your car and you ditch it and run away on foot you should blend right into the rest of the population, and now you do.
Parallel Lines is deceptively beautiful starting off with an amazing opening movie and carrying the story across all 35 missions with exciting and realistic cutscenes. Sadly, when the movies are over you are left to a game world that might not live up to expectations the movies hint at.
Nonetheless, the graphics are quite good, especially given the scale of this massive city, and there is a surprising absence of pop-up you would expect in a game of this size. Textures can be a bit plain and low on detail, especially on the buildings, but the cars all look fantastic and that’s pretty much what counts in a game called Driver.
The character animation is a bit awkward. It’s obvious this game was built around cars and driving, so when you do find yourself on foot you’ll probably see something that will put a smile on your face. It’s a shame they couldn’t use the same motion-capture for the walking and running that they used for the strippers in the nightclub.
The camera works really well, both in and out of the car and you will love the slow-motion Director mode that allows you to view extended moments of your driving excellence from an external camera view giving you a great angle on the action. There is also full support for HDTV 480p giving this game an extra level of crispness, and the widescreen presentation adds to the movie-like feel of the story.
You know you have a large soundtrack when it takes half of the game manual to list the music credits. You know you have a good soundtrack when you find yourself loving every song in the game no matter how many times you hear it. This is one of the few games where I can honestly say there wasn’t a single song I didn’t enjoy. There are all sorts of authentic tunes to take you back to the late 70’s and plenty of contemporary hits for 2006. And if you want to spin your own tunes there is full support for custom soundtracks.
Oddly enough, while the voice acting is of the highest caliber the actual quality of the recording is surprisingly poor, which ultimately takes away from the overall experience. The Dolby Digital mix does a fantastic job of blending all of the city sounds along with the engine noises, squealing tires, and endless gunfire you will be hearing over the course of the game. It’s quite immersive and very good quality.
The 35-mission story plus all of the mini-games and races will easily take most gamers 20+ hours to complete. Even without any support for multiplayer, this is a fun ride that will last long beyond a rental period. It’s definitely worth a purchase if you like to drive fast and shoot guns.
Driver: Parallel Lines is a significant step in the right direction and almost enough to make me forget about the wasted hours I spend on Driver 3. You can tell that the designers are trying to mimic the gameplay (and success) of the GTA franchise and in some ways they have captured that essence, but they still have a long way to go.
Strong in story with fantastic cutscenes and great period music, Parallel Lines definitely delivers on presentation while managing to blend driving and on-foot combat with a structured story mode. It’s definitely worth taking for a spin around the block.