There are two things that are a little striking to me as I look at the similarities and differences between the hype-turned-curse that surrounded 2004's Driv3r and the upcoming sequel, Driver Parallel Lines. For starters, there's no media embargo this time around like there was for the previous title, which means that all parties involved are a little more confident about the release this time, and for good reason. The other thing that's a little remarkable is that, not only does the upcoming title seem to have a lot going for it, but it also seems fully capable of returning the Driver series to its former glory. Fans of the series rejoice – somebody, somewhere is looking out for you.
Driver Parallel Lines combines a respectable plot line with more traditional gameplay of the first titles in the series, although with a few noteworthy deviations. You play as a character enigmatically known as "The Kid," a young male with a largely unknown past who's just trying to make his bones as a wheel man in New York City during the late 1970s. As anyone would expect, both the player's career path and the plot itself wind through all parts of the seedy criminal underbelly of the time period until about halfway through, when a major event flashes the plot forward to modern day. The missions in the game are diverse, and for the most part all involve driving, as thankfully, Reflections has seen fit to remove a great deal of the on-foot action that somewhat plagued the series' previous iteration.
In some respects, DPL is much more similar to the first title in the series in that it concentrates on its namesake strength: the driving action. The cars all have their own unique handling and performance, though notably, all operate on a slightly unrealistic fashion. Even a mere station wagon going 80mph can take a hard 90-degree turn while barely hitting the brakes, but the series has always been more about capturing the feel of an old-school police chase than of simulating real-world driving conditions. DPL definitely pulls off the car chase as a gameplay mechanic.
Controlling your vehicle can be a finicky affair until you get the hang of the way it handles, at which point you'll be weaving through traffic at breakneck speeds. Not to be outdone, the enemy AI, whether it's of police or otherwise, will chase you with vicious determination and often shoot through the same narrow gap that you thought would take them down easily. If the heat gets turned up even further, you'll see police helicopters start taking shots at your vehicle. It all combines in the wonderful melting pot of car chases, wanton destruction, and slick moves that would make any chase aficionado proud.
The gameplay in DPL isn't just limited to, well, driving. The Kid packs a pistol as his default weapon with an unlimited supply of ammunition, but it's not the biggest damage dealer you can get your hands on. While driving, your character can lean out of the window at the press of a button, lock onto the nearest enemy or target, and riddle the vehicle with bullets. Tires will pop, glass will shatter, and bullets will create little holes in the once-perfect metal exterior of the enemy vehicle until either the driver expires or the vehicle goes kaboom in a satisfyingly Hollywood-styled explosion and rain of debris.
You still have the option of going on foot, although the demand for this pretty much lies within the side-missions. While on foot, you can crouch, shoot, and precisely aim at targets using whatever weaponry you have, but you can also steal whatever vehicle happens your way. Some missions do take place on foot, but for the most part, you'll only be wearing out your shoes when your ride has been disabled, or if you just want to trade that beat-up truck for the muscle car that just drove up beside you at the light.
Another new addition to the series is the ability to modify your car, in a vein more similar to Need for Speed than San Andreas. You can modify your car from its appearance – color, rims, and bodywork – to its performance – handling, acceleration, and top speed. You can also pay to repair any damage the vehicle has incurred, reduce the heat associated with the vehicle (accumulated by using the vehicle to perform crimes), and install add-ons such as nitrous systems and bulletproof windows and tires.
If you associate a car with your garage and manage to wreck it, your friend will always tow it back to the garage, so you can trick out a ride of your choice and not have to worry too much about losing all of the customizations. Granted, you'll still have to repair it, but at least a badly wrecked ride is still salvageable. For that matter, there's a fairly wide selection of vehicles to choose from: 80 vehicles span both time periods during which the game takes place and range from motorcycles and buses to muscle cars and beat-up trucks. DPL features a rather enjoyable damage system that, while not exactly cutting edge, still packs a great deal of entertainment value.
The preview build we played was still unfinished, but graphically, DPL is a marked improvement for the series. The upgraded graphics engine allows for many more objects, cars, and pedestrians to be displayed on-screen at once, which enhances the impression that the game takes place in a livable world instead of a desolate street with two parked cars and a little old lady. The cars themselves are modeled well, although the textures can look a little gritty up close, but the likelihood of actually getting this close is admittedly remote at best.
As a whole, Driver Parallel Lines runs smoothly; the preview build already looks pretty good, and we can only assume that it has since received several layers of polish. The 1970s era has a slightly sepia tone to it and really hits the mark of an older car chase movie, while the modern day time period is represented by a vibrant full range of color, which is an excellent touch. The character models could be animated a bit smoother, but given how infrequently you are actually on foot to appreciate them, you really only see them when you zoom past at some insane speed.
DPL will have a respectable amount of songs in its soundtrack upon release, ranging from classics such as "Low Rider" and some Jimi Hendrix, to name a few. The voice acting runs the gamut from likeable to bearable for the most part, and although the sound effects of the weaponry could be a bit meatier, the noises and screeches of the vehicles and damage more than make up for it.
All things considered, Driver Parallel Lines is proof that somebody was listening and taking notes about why the previous title failed so miserably. It seems like the team rethought the game and started the design process from the ground up. The shooting and on-foot aspects don't feel tacked on, but they (rightfully) take a back seat to the essence of the game, which mainly consists of you being behind the wheel of a vehicle and evading whatever dares to pursue you. Fans of the series may want to keep an eye on DPL as it nears its ship date. It's much better than its predecessor, which admittedly isn't saying much, but the fact that it is reminiscent of the first game of the series is probably enough to please long-time fans.
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