Driver: Parallel Lines Preview

Driver's back... much better than before.

We'll be blunt, because a surprise of this size deserves some time to sink in:

Driver: Parallel Lines is looking good.

Very good.

It's true. And yes, we know the potential dangers of such overt optimism. This is, after all, the sequel to Driv3r, from the team that delivered more hype last time round than actual good gaming experience. We know fan faith has been shaken. We realize there's a whole car park full of current-gen gamers that never owned a PSone, and probably don't remember the seminal 32bit Driver titles. We're fully aware of the damage done to the brand by its rushed third instalment - and that some severe damage limitation is in order.

Atari, it would appear, knows this too.

"We made a mistake with Driv3r", admits Atari Head of PR Lee Kirton, "And we want to put that right. Driver has always been well supported. The original Playstation games are classics - we're looking to return to that with Parallel Lines".

Back to basics

This latest Driver then, is going very much back to basics. To Kirton, that's a "Hollywood car chase sim" with the outlying objective of "Looking as cool as you possibly can". To that end, Parallel Lines is looking to step out from under its older brother's shadow and restore the series to its former glory.

In the spirit of a fresh start, Parallel Lines wipes the Driv3r slate clean and introduces its own setting and story. "Tanner from Driv3r is out" says Kirton in a reassuring tone. "We've gone with a new character, called TK". As the game begins, TK (short for 'The Kid') is a young, daring 18 year-old looking to make a name for himself in the criminal underworld of Parallel Lines' 1978 New York.

A 'Hollywood car chase sim' with the outlying objective of 'Looking as cool as you possibly can'.

"Driver's always been level based," says Kirton. "This one isn't. This time we've gone for a living, breathing city we couldn't have achieved in past games". With a faithful seventies aesthetic encompassing the visual themes and aural ambience of the era, it looks to be a wise choice that should further distance the title from its estranged elder sibling. "We haven't spent silly money on big name actors", he hastens to point out. "Instead we've put a lot of it into developing the game world and soundtrack. We want to make the most immersive game possible."

If our experience of old seventies Starsky & Hutch re-runs is anything to go by (Thank you, UK Gold!) the Driver team's depiction of the decade looks just about spot-on. Some "Compacting" has happened, with smaller streets and neighbourhoods removed, but the larger areas like Manhattan's Time Square are all present and correct, with enough side streets and dodgy dwellings throughout the old-style Big Apple to be convincing. Moreover, cars, fashion and colours seem startlingly apt; a brown hue subtly covering some already impressive visuals.

Adding to the authenticity are some famous licensed tunes by big name seventies icons, which Kirton is only too happy to mention: "David Bowie, Blondie and Stevie Wonder, to name a few". We also know there will be no GTA-style radio shows in the car's radios here, with Kirton confirming "Players can choose to play the songs at any time".

Despite the lack of radio, the influence of Grand Theft Auto on Parallel Lines is still very obvious. Like Rockstar's free-roaming crime-'em-up, this latest Driver features a sprawling city with missions dotted across the entire map, and the ability to nab any car of your choosing in order to get jobs done.

Grand theft concept?

But there the comparisons end. Indeed, Kirton is quick to dispel any similarities; "Driver started the whole 3D driving mission structure", he points out. "Obviously, GTA is massive, but it's an adventure game where you can steal anything you want. Ours isn't. It wouldn't be Driver if you could steal a helicopter or a boat. In Parallel Lines, the car's the star".

This is encouraging - even more so with Kirton adamant at just how much of the game takes place behind the wheel. "The split is roughly 70% car-based, 30% other mission types", he says proudly. He's also confident that both elements hang together better than in Driv3r, with each being refined over the course of development.

Himself a car enthusiast, Kirton couldn't be more confident of the Driver experience. "A lot of the cars handle like your typical American muscle cars" he says, before moving onto the modding aspect. "You'll tune your car up, but this is no Gran Turismo. It's designed to be as accessible as possible for the player. Give it a paint job, alloys and a fluffy dice. It's been made to be fun."

'It wouldn't be Driver if you could steal a helicopter or a boat. In Parallel Lines, the car's the star.'

On-foot sections share this creative attention, with Kirton calmly claiming "The best looking character animation in this type of game". Certainly, anything would be better than the awkward hobble of Driv3r's Tanner, who by Kirton's own admission "Moved like he has something stuck in a delicate place." Thankfully, Parallel Lines looks far more impressive, with smooth and lifelike motion capture in evidence - especially in what Kirton called "Mullet physics". That's right folks! Mullet Physics! Don't go throwing away those current consoles quite yet! The next-gen starts here!

What's next? David Hasselhoff Hair-Bounce Dynamics?

In all seriousness though, Parallel Lines is looking a mightily attractive prospect - and that's even before the hook becomes apparent. Somewhere in the narrative TK gets double-crossed and sent down for 28 years, only to re-emerge into a modern day New York. The story quickly become a "Kill Bill style vengeance mission" and the game's production values go into overdrive, modelling a modern, blue-toned version of America's flagship city with an aural accompaniment of current chart favourites - notably "Kasabian and the Kaiser Chiefs".

Clearly, this is a title being lavished with care, and it's full of those little touches that make a contemporary classic. Each of the game's era-specific weapons are usable with minimal fuss using a refined L1 lock-on targeting that works both in and out of vehicles. The 80 usable cars have their own distinct handling mechanics, full damage modelling, and can be flung around corners in the most cinematic of ways using the game's Thrill Cam, located on the right analogue stick.

Fixing Driv3r's problems

There's also been a concerted effort to fix those problems most evident in the most recent Driver release; pedestrians now possess their own individual A.I routines, cars blow up when shot too much, and even lampposts now display the expected real-life characteristics when collided with at speed - either bending profusely or flying off into the distance. Finally, this is what fans wanted from a Driver title - sadly delivered only at the tail-end of the console generation, but also benefiting from a planned release at the peak of popular platform's potential.

So then, a series we'd all-but written off comes screeching back into the gaming limelight in time to do itself justice. A final hurrah on current consoles, or the start of something special for Reflections' high-profile Driver titles? If you can let yourself believe it, Parallel Lines might - just might - be both.

Preview by: Mark Scott
Version Tested: PS2
Preview Published: 17.01.06

SKU: Article 5739
Release Date: 17/01/2006