Review: Needs a tune up.
My first car was a beat up old Datsun that was so gutless, merging onto the freeway required sacrificing a chicken on the dashboard alter and an inhuman amount of intestinal fortitude. But it was cheap, reliable and good on gas. One day the muffler rusted through and my wimpy Datsun suddenly developed this deep throaty exhaust note that would embarrass a big block Chevy V-8. It sounded cool at first but quickly grated on my senses and became so annoying I couldn't get it fixed fast enough.
Like my old beater, Driver: Parallel Lines starts off with sheer coolness but its flaws soon become annoyingly apparent and reveal a game that is generally competent, but can't hold your interest in the long run.
Having said that, Parallel Lines is a vast improvement over the buggy clunky mess that was Driver 3 ? but then again, developer Reflections Interactive could have shipped a blank disk and it still would have been an improvement. Reflections Interactive humbly acknowledges their previous effort was severely lacking, so they re-evaluated everything with the goal of bringing the franchise back to what made it great in the first place: providing insanely fun driving and spectacular Hollywood-style crashes. Rather than keep building upon previous efforts ? which obviously hasn't been successful ? they decided to wipe the slate clean and make an entirely new game. This means old Driver standards like Tanner, the undercover cop storyline and the Film Director mode have been toasted, and time spent out of the car has been dramatically reduced to the point where you'll spend only about 10% of the game on foot ? a wise decision for a game called ?Driver?.
Is this Liberty City?
The story unfolds like a classic 1970's Hollywood car action movie with impressive high-resolution pre-rendered cutscenes. The main character, TK (or simply, ?The Kid?) is an ambitious 18-year old paying his dues as a driver for a New York criminal organization. The story starts in the summer of 1978, complete with authentic clothing (bell bottoms live!), hair styles (long hair, big afros and mutton chops) and big gas guzzling cars. You perform a variety of loosely connected jobs ? from stealing cars to kidnapping ? as you move up the organization. But at the halfway point of the game, you are betrayed and end up in prison for 28 years. When you are finally released in 2006, you have only one thing on your mind: sweet bloody revenge. The story is quite predictable and unoriginal, but at least the voice acting is pretty decent.
The game starts with a strong but pleasant sense of d?j? vu because it looks and feels almost exactly like Grand Theft Auto ? ironic since the original Driver inspired the design of GTA III. The streets are full of traffic, grumbling pedestrians, destructible objects like light poles and fences, and collectible stars that unlock new attributes like increased health or ammo. You can jack any of the approximately 100 vehicles like motorcycles, taxis, 18-wheelers, buses, muscle cars, sports cars, and even a garbage truck and bulldozer. All of the vehicles are unlicensed but you can instantly recognize knockoffs of classic Mustangs, Camaros, Cougars and Corvettes (although interestingly, the clones of these models are actually from the late 60's, not the late ?70's).
The missions are set up in GTA style as well. You can choose from story missions, sidequests, or simply explore and cause as much mayhem as you want. The map streams in real time and is absolutely massive
, with the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey surrounding all of Manhattan Island. The geography is condensed for gameplay purposes but it is still incredibly huge; I'm not 100% sure if it's bigger than GTA: San Andreas, but it definitely feels that way. You can permanently store cars in your buddy Ray's garage, and they are accessible from any of the three garages he owns throughout the city. You can also teleport between garages to save the hassle of driving across town, a nice touch.
However, this is where the similarities end. At first glance, the environment seems alive and vibrant, but this is in appearance only. Unlike GTA: SA where you could simply stand on a corner and watch NPCs interact with eerie realism, the world of Parallel Lines is surprisingly dead. The traffic moves along at a snail's pace and courteously follows the rules of the road, pedestrians don't interact with one another, and when you jack a car, the driver simply runs away instead of trying to take his car back. To be fair, the game is focused on driving action rather than recreating a living breathing world but if you're going to emulate GTA, you need to add in these little extras as well.
The missions are also repetitive with little variety. The 32 story missions are mostly variants of getting from one point to another as quick as you can, or chasing down an enemy driver and taking him out. Having said that, the missions are very challenging; in fact, the later missions can be downright frustrating. The realistic driving physics are fun, but the handling is twitchy (though the 2006 cars handle much better than the 1978 versions) with no way to adjust the sensitivity. There is also way too much traffic clogging up the road, which often causes gameplay to turn into annoying collision avoidance rather than fun racing action. Cars also can't take much abuse before they start smoking and their performance deteriorates; as a result, chances are the car you started the mission in won't be the same as the one you finish it in. Several missions are also timed but the time allotment is so tight ? especially in the later levels ? one or two crashes can pretty much blow the mission (and your patience).
Even worse are the out-of-car third-person shooting sequences. TK can pick up and use any weapon ? pistols, SMGs, assault rifles, shotguns and even a small rocket launcher ? with a target lock system that is far superior to GTA's, though it sometimes takes a while to properly lock onto your desired target. He can also use a free look but the darty stick movement renders this more of a last resort option than anything. TK can strafe and shoot, but the problem is he moves so damn slow you'd swear he was wading in wet cement. As a result, combat degenerates into pop and shoot while struggling with the sometimes stubborn target lock. Enemies have dead-eye aim and will often simultaneously pop up in front and behind you; combined that with TK's sluggish movements and his low tolerance for damage, and the shooting sequences are by far the least enjoyable aspect of the game.
Sidequests consist of three types: races (both street and track, along with a hidden demolition derby), Hitman (hunt down a deadbeat who owes money) and Steal to Order, where you have to steal a specific vehicle. Races can be frustrating since the AI is very aggressive and follow near perfect driving lines. The other sidequests are very similar in nature so you feel as if you're playing the same thing over and over again, which isn't particularly fun.
However, sidequests are important because they are the only way to earn money ? inexplicably, you earn no money from story missions. With money, you can repair and upgrade the cars you store in Ray's garage with new engine, nitrous and suspension enhancements, install bulletproof tires and glass, and add a limited amount of bodywork and paint jobs. If you destroy your car, it will magically reappear in the garage, though will need to be repaired before you can take it out again. However, you don't have to earn money if you don't want to since you can steal any vehicle ? a tactic that saves you time, money and some frustration as well. One good thing about the garage is that any cars you store in 1978 will still be there in 2006.
The real tragedy is that the developers decided to drop the multiplayer component. This is a big disappointment because multiplayer would have been a blast; imagine racing head-to-head with your buddies over the Brooklyn Bridge or through Times Square. As it is, the repetitive and unoriginal missions and sidequests really hurt replayability, since once you finish the game, there isn't much incentive to pick it up again.
Not New York's finest
The overly sensitive police don't help matters much either, especially since their alert triggers are so flaky. They appear on your mini-map with ?cones of vision? so you can easily avoid them if you wish. If you haven't done anything to alert them, their cones are tiny; however, if you tick them off, their cones get huge, making them more difficult to evade. Unlike GTA, as long as they can't see you, you can commit as much carnage and destruction as you want without consequence; feel free to plow over pedestrians like a lawnmower, smash into cars, or just hop out and start shooting. But if the cops see you doing something as minor as running a red light, speeding or driving over the center line, they'll light you up and chase your heathen traffic-law-violating butt to the ends of the Earth. Realistic? Maybe. Fun? Definitely not. This is how silly things can get: I mowed down dozens of pedestrians in Central Park with no reaction from the police since they didn't see me; on the other hand, one time I stopped just over the line at a red light and the cop beside me freaked out. Another time my two driver's side wheels barely crossed the center line for only an instant, and yet a cop coming the other way lit me up.
As a result, if you don't want to alert a nearby cop, you will end up waiting at red lights and enduring frustrating bumper-to-bumper traffic. Hey, I do that crap in real life ? I sure as hell don't want to do it in a game! Forcing players to follow the rules of the road is just plain ludicrous, especially since the handling is twitchy and the tiny traffic lights are impossible to see until you're literally right in front of them. The police AI is also inconsistent; I've cruised along behaving like a good little boy and they'll suddenly start chasing me for no apparent reason, while at other times I've blown through red lights right in front of them and they didn't even bat an eye.
Of course, you can always ignore the traffic laws and let the cops chase you since they're fairly easy to evade; all you have to do is stay out of their alert zone long enough, either by speeding away or simply turning into an alley or park. For some reason, the cops can't handle anything off the streets and so a quick run into a park will almost always get them off your tail.
You can also evade them by switching cars. There are two felony levels in the game, the Vehicle Felony, which is tied to your car, and the Personal Felony, which is tied to TK himself. Commit a crime in a vehicle and the cops will be alerted to that specific vehicle, which means that if you change vehicles, they will stop looking for you. However, if they see you get out of the vehicle or commit a crime while on foot, the Personal Felony will stick to TK no matter how many times you change cars. The police will remain on active alert searching for you and while you can help mask your Personal Felony by getting into a ?clean? car, they can still find you if they get too close. The only way to clear your Personal felony is to visit your safehouse or one of Ray's garages (where you can also clean felonies off of vehicles). It's a pretty cool system that works surprisingly well; in fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see similar systems appearing in upcoming games.
See the Big Apple
Surprisingly, the most enjoyable aspect of this game was simply touring the city and seeing the sights. The developers did an excellent job of recreating the Big Apple, so much so that native New Yorkers will be able to easily recognize familiar districts and neighborhoods. Most of the buildings have generic fascias but major landmarks like the Empire State Building, Times Square, the World's Fair, the World Trade Center ? which stands proud in 1978 but is tragically nothing but a fenced-in pit in 2006 ? and more are all there for you to visit. In fact, the first time I booted up the game I spent a couple hours having an absolute blast playing tourist. Hey, that's Central Park! And there's the Statue of Liberty out in the water! And racing beneath the elevated subway tracks really does make you feel as if you're in The French Connection
. The only problem is that there is no signage or map indicators pointing out sites of interest; as a result, you might find something but have no idea what it is. For example, I found what I thought was Yankee Stadium but was instead Shea Stadium (which Gaming Target's John Scalzo calls ?the home of the greatest team in baseball, the New York Mets!? Yes, he actually said that, though I think it was just the booze talking). Some sort of signage would have been nice because I know I missed a lot
of sights, like the Apollo Theatre and the Stock Exchange.
The graphics are decent; better than GTA: SA, but not by much. The cars look great, as do the fantastic particle effects when you crash into something and debris goes flying. You also get a cool blurring effect when you go over 100mph. However, the same building fascias are repeated throughout the map and the NPCs look like crudely drawn mannequins. Character animation is also quite stiff and in some cases, comical; one of your buddies, Slink, tries to be superfly by doing a funky jig but ends up looking like he's suffering from some sort of crack withdrawal conniptions.
What does look cool are the differences between 1978 and 2006. The ?70s are depicted in warm yellow tones thanks to the summertime setting and a filter that emulates old film stock, all done to reflect the fun, happy-go-lucky nature of the missions. The cars are big Detroit iron and handle appropriately ? bouncy and tail heavy. Best of all, you can listen to a whopping 35 licensed rock songs from the era on your car radio, including artists like David Bowie, Blondie, Marvin Gaye, War (no driving game is complete without ?Low Rider?) and the quintessential ?70's hit, ?Papa Was a Rolling Stone? by the Temptations. I love classic rock and so this was a real treat, though you can't crank up the music loud enough.
In contrast, in 2006 everything is set in the cold blue of winter; even the map and HUD change to a chilly blue, reflecting TK's desire for cold-blooded revenge. The cars handle a lot better but you can see how the rounded egg-shaped styling lacks the personality of the old cars. The music changes too but even with 26 songs to choose from, they all sound rather generic and lack the spark of their ?70's counterparts.