Driver: Parallel Lines Review
Let's get this out of the way right from the start: Driv3r, or the third game in the Driver series, was terrible. It only took a few minutes of play to realize that the game was completely un-redeemable. That said, Atari and Reflections Entertainment, the UK-based developers of this otherwise popular series of action games, understood just how bad this game was, and so Driver: Parallel Lines is their apology. Sadly, they're just not sorry enough.
Parallel Lines will have you taking the wheel of many nondescript muscle cars in the late 70s as a young, brash punk named TK. You'll be doing mostly bad stuff in New York City, rocking out to funk music and doing a whole lot of driving. The style? Combine the Johnny Depp movies: a little Donnie Brasco, a little Blow, and lots of cars. The story unfolds with TK making a name for himself early on, and eventually getting arrested and being put away in prison for a long, long time.
Can you guess when TK gets out of prison? Right, it's the year 2006! What I do like about Parallel Lines is the many little ways the world, and the game itself, changes when you move into today. Of course, the problem is that this is still obviously a Grand Theft Auto clone (and before anyone says that GTA was a Driver clone, well, this game so desperately tries to add GTA elements it's a little sickening), and many of the missions you get come right out of the manual for a free-roaming crime game. From stealing cars to carjacking, racing, and blowing something up with your car bomb, this game's mission design will elicit far more yawns than one might expect out of a video game.
Running from the cops isn't exactly engaging either. Sure, they're actually visible on your mini-map in this game, and you even get the little cone that shows their vision. And sure, the whole idea of your car having a "heat" rating separately from TK himself is pretty cool. It makes for some interesting sessions, where you ditch a car and steal a new one to lower your car's heat rating, then you see another cop come up beside you. Any traffic violation will get a cop coming after you if you do it in his sight, so now you're sitting at a red light next to a cop, not wanting to run through it, but also biting your nails because he's starting to recognize you. Now you have a dilemma - just gun it and try to lose him? Or risk being seen anyway?
The problem is that the right answer is always to gun it and go down an alleyway. You see, alleyways were a big deal in so many muscle-car-chase movies, and here they have been given a lot of attention - probably too much. Not only do alleys look better and have more graphical detail in many cases than the streets, but cops also will often completely lose you, even if you duck into an alley in plain sight.
You'll have some missions where you'll have to shoot at people outside of your car, but you'll quickly find that the targeting system has a long way to go before these segments are actually much fun. Sure, the driving mechanics are good (and will reward you for good driving, as there is plenty of traffic to weave through), but every time you get out of your car you'll find the on-foot shooting to be an exercise in frustration.
Parallel Lines does do a few unique things in the genre, like some interesting lighting effects as well as checkpoints for the longer missions so you don't need to start the whole thing over. There are also options where you can repair, customize, paint, and upgrade one of your favorite cars, but since cars are so disposable here, what's the point? Apparently, Reflections didn't notice that the ability to turn up the bass by customizing cars in GTA: San Andreas fell flat. Beyond that, well, that's really about it. At least the frame rate is solid, and while the PS2 version supports widescreen TVs natively, there's no 480p mode. The draw distance isn't bad, but with a good number of muddy and repeating building textures, the look of New York will not be wowing anyone.
Sadly, even the game's probably biggest selling point, the 70s theme, is pretty half-assed. The characters are animated ridiculously and with no real licensed muscle cars to show off, the fun of actually getting in a muscle car is completely minimized within a few minutes of gameplay. Cutscenes look decent and the music is a generally good 70s selection, but when it comes to gameplay it just falls flat. The switch to the 21st century does work nicely, but only for a short time - the player will realize that other than some updated cars and new animations and costumes, the city looks exactly the same. And the modern-day music? It's much weaker than the selection of 70s tunes.
The world is drab in this fourth Driver game and the missions are just plain boring, and with about 15 to 20 hours of gameplay, at least it's not excruciatingly long (nothing makes a mediocre game worse than making you trudge through it for 40+ hours to feel like you accomplished something). While the over-the-top 70s theme kind of insults the era, the music is at least halfway decent - at least, before you switch to the 21st century. With little replay value and very little sense of overall style, you're probably better off skipping on Driver: Parallel Lines unless you're just totally fiending for yet another GTA clone.