Driver: Parallel Lines
Inspiration. Influences. Let’s face it; we live in one of those ages where everything influences everything else, and the concept of an original idea is one that is fading fast. Every good song’s already been written, every good film’s already been made, and every good computer game’s already been played. So why are we still here? The answer is a combination of nostalgia, reinterpretation and, ultimately, reinvention. Take something that’s already good and make it better. Take what we already know is cool and make it cooler. And what’s cool? Well, car chases are cool, guns are cool and the 70s were cool too. Come to think of it, the now isn’t too bad either. Bingo; welcome to Driver: Parallel Lines.
My money’s on the red car.
The tale of Driver started back in 1999. That was a cool year 1999; it was the year when we all got excited about the new Star Wars movie while we watched The Matrix. And then there was that Driver demo on the front of the Official Playstation Magazine, the one that sat uninterrupted in my old PSone (although it was just called ‘Playstation’ at the time) for a good few months, until the actual full game was released in fact. And it was brilliant; taking it’s visual inspiration from cool 70s car chase movies like Gone In 60 Seconds, Bullitt, The French Connection and, of course, The Driver (which is my favourite and lent us the quote for the front page), the game was a revelation. Gone are the confines of a racetrack, added are the cop cars with wailing sirens intent on ramming you off the road. Hell, I can still see the dent on the wall where I threw my controller in frustration after my umpteenth attempt at that final level. Curse that president.
But that was then, and now of course things have changed significantly. Driver has come and gone, along with its okay sequel, and the third outing in the series which, quite frankly, we’d best just not talk about at all. In other words, what several years ago looked like the start of a promising franchise, is now in trouble, not helped all that much by a certain all conquering Grand Theft Auto franchise stepping up and stealing every one bit of thunder going.
This looks like the start of a good kung-fu movie, know what I mean?
Which leads me on to Driver: Parallel Lines nicely. To cut a long story short, this new iteration of Driver is a return to form for the series. Granted, it’s several years too late, and it’s come right at the end of the PS2 and Xbox’s natural lifespan, but it is here so I guess we should be thankful. This time around they’ve ditched the charisma-free Tanner in favour of a new character called ‘The Kid’. Starting in 1978, the game lets you play through a whole bunch of missions set in a grimy 70s New York City and tells the story of The Kid’s rise through the criminal underworld, until things abruptly go pear-shaped and soon jail beckons. Then it’s fast forward a couple of decades to your release and it’s back on the road again, although this time the world is back to normal it being the modern day now, which is when you release how ‘not as cool as the 70s’ today really is.
But there are many things about Driver: Parallel Lines that are cool. Thankfully, that wonky game engine from Driver 3 has been ditched and the results are sleeker, smoother and faster. The cars now handle really better, the graphics are cleaner, and the frame rate is reasonably smooth unless you have a fondness for those really big Hollywood style pile-ups. The missions are the same; it’s still a case of getting from A to B, or picking up a car from B and bringing it back to A, or taking a person from A to B to C and back again, stuff like that, but at least now it’s much easier to do, thanks to a few extra special touches that Reflections have managed to squeeze in.
If in doubt just peg it.
It’s funny actually what Driver: Parallel Lines will be remembered for, or rather what it won’t. It won’t be remembered for having a streaming engine which manages to deliver all of New York without breaking for you to load a new section; something no Grand Theft Auto game has ever managed. Similarly it won’t be remembered for having a remarkably good on-foot control and targeting system, as the whole ‘out of the car’ angle on the game has been seriously played down by the publishers after the hash they made out of the previous title. And finally, it won’t be remembered for having what is easily the most realistic and playable ‘wanted rating’ system of any game I can think of.
It works like this; when playing Parallel Lines you’re equipped with separate wanted ratings for both your current vehicle and your person. This means that if you acquire a wanted rating in your car, ditch it and try to run on foot, your rating is transferred to your person instantly. If you get back in to another car (yes, it’s all very GTA at this stage) your rating is transferred back to the car. However, if somehow you manage to evade the coppers by ditching your vehicle down a blind alley or something and can get into another vehicle unseen your rating is not transferred, meaning you can now slowly drive away unhindered. Couple this with the sweet on foot targeting system and, all of a sudden, you’ve got a real game on your hands.
You don’t have to try too hard at parking in this game.
Imagine this scenario. You’re on a job, you’re screaming down a 3-lane main road and you’ve got a few coppers on your tail. You weave in and out of the traffic constantly flicking back to your rear view, seeing how your pursuers are doing. Then comes the break; one cop car slams head on into a lorry coming the other way and is temporarily out of the running. Knowing this is your big chance and seeing in your rear view that there’s only one copper on your tail, now you brake, the tyres screech and you wheel spin into the next alleyway. The hand break is on, the car spins round, the door opens and you’re out, pistol ready. Diligently, the cop car streaks round the corner and, seeing you’ve stopped, they do the same. Both coppers jump out but because of the very playable targeting system that Parallel Lines is equipped with you’re way ahead of them. Bang, bang, the cops are dead and a ghostly voice says “We’ve lost him!” out of your TV speaker. But what of the wanted level that’s just been transferred to your person? Well, this is the best part. All you need to do now is check that the coast is clear, sneak out of the back alley onto the main street and lift yourself the first parked car. Since no copper was watching, your wanted level is not transferred to your vehicle and that’s that; back to business. And the fact that you can do all that is testament to how good a game Driver: Parallel Lines really is although here’s a hint for you; when evading a crime scene like that one described above, do it slowly. You’ll often find cop cars steam past you going the other way (i.e. to the crime scene) and the last thing you need is for one of them to spot you speeding and send you back to square one again.
This is that sweet manoeuvre I was telling you about.
And that’s enough of that. While the pseudo-sand box nature of this game does give it more than a passing resemblance to some of the best bits of the three GTA titles we all know and love, it has enough original content to save it from being accused of too much plagiarism. Whereas GTA is all about crime, Driver is all about the chase, and in that respect Driver: Parallel lines does a very good job indeed. In fact, the only real problem with Parallel Lines is quite simply that this is what Driver 3 should have been and this iteration, the swan song title on this generation of consoles, should have been something really rather special. In other words, this game is a couple of years too late to be given the praise it would have received had it been released two years ago. Still, better late than never, and finger’s crossed for whatever next-generation offering the franchise has in store.