The Driver series has had a pretty interesting history to date. The first two games were very impressive driving sims for the original playstation and showed a lot of potential. However, when it came to the playstation 2 and subsequent nex-gen consoles, Driver 3 (or Driv3r) took a bold step. The step to become the first real Grand Theft Auto clone. However, it was best described as a failure. Plagued by bugs, collision detection and just general bad gameplay, most feared that would be the end…of the franchise. Thankfully, Atari came back and decided to give it at least one more go. I am happy to say that the new Driver corrects most of its mistakes. But is it the GTA true alternative we have been hoping for? Hrmm, well maybe.
Driver: Parallel Lines like all the games in the series before are all set in the 1970’s, a time of rock and roll, drugs, crime, sex to nth degree. Therefore, one would expect vibrant color and some gleaming soul. To their credit, we get some of that. Cut scenes are very polished and look great. It really brings you into the cinematic feel of the game, and makes for a great environment. However, once you start playing the game; you get a series of hits and misses. The game does look a lot like GTA as one would expect, however everything seems to suffer a version of the drabs. Brown, grey, and the usual neutral colors seem to be used too much, making everything look the same. Often, it is very difficult to figure out which car to ride in because everything does look the same. This is only changed slightly in Ray’s shop where you can change colors of the various cars. The problem with this is that the colors even when different are still dull and generally uninteresting.
My music tastes primarily come from two eras; one being glam rock from mid 80’s to early 90’s and the second being mid to late 70’s hard rock. From the moment: Driver: Parallel Lines opens I am treated to Trouble Man by Marvin Gaye & Suffragette City by David Bowie; I know from then on I should be in for quite a treat. This game boasts a lot of 70’s tunes in and out of the game including Suicide, WAR, Blondie, Temptations, and more. However, one mistake they then proceed to make is putting a smattering of new music mixed in the game. Keep in mind that some of the music appears to be new tunes by the same old bands, but it just seems like an afterthought to cash in on some licensing dough. But if you like 70’s rock n roll mixed with old school juking and jiving, this will serve the bill.
Driver: Parallel Lines, for better or for worse, plays like Grand Theft Auto. You play the role of TK, an 18 year old west coast boy (who has to be one of the weirdest looking characters I have ever seen; he borders on looking the part of a serial rapist) who has come to New York to make his fortune by the only skill he knows, driving. So naturally, you spend a lot of time in various cars chewing up the streets. However, as was the case in Driv3r you spend a lot of time on foot. However, it never feels quite natural on your feet as there seems to be no run or general fighting button. From the third mission on you do get a gun that has infinite shots and doubles (up close) as a melee weapon but this seems kinda blah to be honest. Running is also a big issue as there should be something to make you go faster (cause you do seem to be quite slow). Also; when you hit water, you are never more than ankle deep and feels like just one big bug and annoyance.
Driving is much better as you can corner with the best of them and pull out awesome speeds. Provided you like driving cars that are authentic to 70’s standards. This means that corners can sometimes send your cars into headlong spins especially once you exceed 80-90 mph. But that’s the way muscle cars were back then, full of speed, just don’t make any turns. So for that, it is a mixed blessing. Damage is handled realistically. For once, when you get shot at whether it is in a car or not, you can take damage. If you crash, you take damage. No longer, is it the situation where you car is automatically some giant tank that can protect you from everything. However, damage is not consistent to others. In the same breath, the people or cops on the street never seem to die, running over them does little and they get up like zombies.
The Driver series has usually been pretty strong on challenges, however that was in the original playstation days when it was basically just a driving simulation. With the first PS2 title, Driv3r, it was hard as a result of bugs. However, since most of those have been eradicated; the challenge seems to be missing. I wouldn’t say it is easy or anything but there is certainly nothing new. If you have played GTA 3 or any game beyond that, there is nothing here new for you. The whole open ended gameplay is better than its GTA clone cousins (Getaway, True Crimes, etc); however it still seems really linear. The only real difficultly results from how easy it is to get wanted by the cops, if you even speed with a cop near by, they are on your car in a second. Also, once you are wanted, it becomes difficult to shake off, waiting for the magic words of the cop cb (how come you are able to hear that; it never makes sense, like your surroundings automatically become a cb…I never knew TK had supersonic hearing, its disturbing for pete’s sake) to go “We’ve lost him”. So then you can get out of the car (preferably in an alley) and find a new one to have fun with.
Truly open ended gameplay should enable you to pick up the title again and again. Each time, you should find a new challenge until you get to the treasured 100% that says you have done everything in this game and then some. However, the first mistake Driver seems to make is that you don’t even know what you have accomplished. The stats screen is minuscule, and barely anything is tracked. A few random jobs are tracked, and even those aren’t varied (easy, medium, hard). The missions are simplistic and become nothing more than tedious. Once you are done with the main missions, I don’t really see anybody going back and keep playing this game. There are no taxi, vigilante, or really anything else to keep you interested. There is the option of modifying cars at Ray’s Garage but when all of the cars start out basically the same; there isn’t much you can do for them.
Maybe I am biased, maybe I have been lead to believe that all open ended driving games should be compared to GTA. The problem is when you have played the best, everything else becomes second fiddle. The Driver series seems to make the argument of, oh forget about all the innovations GTA has made and play our game, it is alright. That’s correct, it is just alright like most of the contestants in the latest American Idol season according to Randy Jackson. Even judged on its own, Driver: Parallel Lines is lacking. It gets rid of the problems in Driv3r but then leaves itself with some very bland gameplay and little replay to speak of. The truly cool things here are realistic damage (to yourself) and some great music. However, this is not endearing enough to me even with the decent backstory this game has. A truly average game that never meets expectations. In summarization, it is the best GTA clone, but it could have been so much more.