After taking a critical and financial beating due to the over-hyped and unpopular DRIV3R, the team at Atari and Reflections knew they had to make a few improvements for the game's follow-up if they wanted to keep the Driver franchise viable. In Driver Parallel Lines the missions are set in an open map format of New York City, and they're much more driving oriented, which is what the series has always done best. Driver: PL is very much improved over its predecessor and makes for an enjoyable but sometimes frustrating experience. It presents some excellent ideas but it still seems to need some extra polish if it wants to compete with the likes of Grand Theft Auto.
In this latest edition of Driver you follow the life of T.K., an 18-year-old driver who decides to terrorize the streets of New York City. Over the game's 35 missions, the story unfolds like a movie, and is surprisingly entertaining. Some of the cut-scenes are very well done – almost like a Scorsese film mixed with the movie Blow. The story begins in 1978, which is pretty cool, and one of the more interesting aspects of the game since most games have eschewed the time period. You start from the bottom working small jobs for your scheming future teammates, working your way up in preparation for the big job. These small jobs include stealing cars, scaring guards for info, and breaking into a prison.
After taking down the one of the biggest names in the Colombian cocaine-empire you're double-crossed by your team and are sentenced to 28 years in prison for your role as the driver. When you get out of prison it's 2006 and you are hell-bent on revenge. Your character's appearance changes from a cocky teenager to a 36-year-old guy with a little less spring in his step, and a lot more anger. ‘06 NYC looks pretty similar to 70's NYC but with a few minor changes, like now the cars are current models with the exception of a few cars you saw in the 70's. Working in present NYC you will call on some friends and exact your revenge on each of your former teammates until everyone has paid a price for their betrayal. I won't go into any more detail on the plot, but there are some pretty cool and original missions after you get out of prison, especially the last one.
There are 80 unlicensed vehicles in Driver: PL, including: busses, tractors, muscle cars, sedans, sports cars, and even an armored vehicle. One new aspect of the game is that you can now customize your vehicles by driving into your garage and equipping performance upgrades, paint jobs, and bullet- proof accessories. This is extremely helpful in longer missions that require a fast and durable vehicle. Side missions such as stealing cars, carrying out hits, and collecting money from borrowers allow you to earn extra money for vehicle upgrades.
Gameplay has improved some but it's still not what you'd call polished. Some small adjustments were made to the driving sections, but these were never one of the series' weak points. The driving engine is still very solid and has en excellent feel as you weave in and out of the crowded streets of NYC. A new feature gives T.K. the ability to stand out of the diver side window and fire at will. Though this might be a little unrealistic, it compliments the popular car chases very well by allowing you to completely tear apart the vehicle you're pursuing – it's fun.
The team at Reflections also added a heat meter to T.K. while on foot and in vehicles. If you keep getting spotted pulling off jobs in the same car, your heat gets too high, and you'll have to find a new vehicle to lose the police. If you have a high "on foot" heat level in a felony-free vehicle and a cop looks at you for a second or two he will recognize your mug and the chase begins again. This is one of the better additions to the game and one of my favorite aspects of the game. Unfortunately, cop A.I. has not improved very much as all it takes is a turn down an ally or a cut a cross a grass field to lose them.
Let's be frank – the on-foot sections in Driv3r sucked. They're still pretty bad this time around, but you'll spend far less time out of your vehicle. The biggest problem here is that the targeting system is incredibly frustrating. You have to position the camera angle in the direction of the enemy you want to lock-on to, but you never know if it's going to lock-on to who you want to shoot. Each time you encounter an enemy you seem to get shot at least once before you can even get a lock-on. To counter this problem they put a health pack after almost every enemy. It begins to get annoying after a while, and I hope they can improve on this in the future.
In the audio department the award goes to the retro 70's soundtrack. As you cruise around NYC in ‘78 you'll get to groove to artists from the time such as: David Bowie, Blondie, Iggy Pop, WAR, Funkadelic, Marvin Gaye, and more. When you come out of the joint in 2006, the music on the radio changed with the times – not something I was particularly fond of. Maybe I don't stay very up-to-date in current music (for a reason), so I didn't recognize a single song – none of them were very good anyway. I prefer sticking to the classics, but that's just me. The in-game voice acting is nothing to write home about. You'll hear the same clips over and over again, and they're not done very well to boot.
Driv3r wasn't a bad looking game, so it's no surprised that Driver: PL looks pretty sharp – especially when compared to GTA: San Andreas. The game doesn't have a whole lot of flash, but the slow-motion panning camera when you hit down on the d-pad in a vehicle is pretty cool. It gives off a cool 70's cop movie vibe, but isn't very practical from a gameplay standpoint. Car explosions are particularly weak but seem to get the job done. If you have the choice, the Xbox version looks the best, but the PlayStation 2 version doesn't look bad.
Some people will find the format and mission variety strikingly similar to Grand Theft Auto, but personally I don't mind – if that's what people want then give it to them. There are definitely some things I feel GTA does better, but Driver: Parallel Lines has a unique feel and some good ideas to go along with it. It's an overall solid effort, but there are some aspects of the game that should have gotten a bit more work. Maybe next time.