Following the critical failure of Driv3r in 2004, Reflections set out to bring the series back to its roots. The driving was always praised, but with the third entry, more emphasis was played on outside the car stuff like running down foes and then shooting them. This might not have been so poorly received had those elements been done well, but they weren’t, and the de-emphasis on driving only compounded the problem. Now they’re back two years later trying to make amends for this misdeed.
The good news is that they mostly have - the on-foot shooting, running, and carjacking feature major enhancements. The bad news is that they still need work, and in the cases of carjacking and shooting - a lot of work if Reflections wants this to be the premiere sandbox series.. Carjacking isn’t done badly per se, it’s just clumsy compared to the 3D GTAs. You have to be right next to the side of a vehicle to carjack, which is more limiting than the GTA method of allowing you to at least attempt to enter when you’re near the vehicle. It doesn’t kill the game or anything, it just makes it slightly more time consuming than it should be. It also makes me grateful for the missions where you don’t have to leave your vehicle, since they play to the series’ strengths.
Sloppy shooting controls do come close to killing the game when you’re in missions that rely on them. Aiming is a chore, and you’ll often find yourself shooting civilians instead of your intended target due to how flimsy the targeting feature is. The crowded areas are partly to blame for that, but it still hampers the game and will probably cause you to re-do a few missions. It’s this type of thing that makes me wish the series had just stuck with in-car gameplay.
Chases are one thing this series has always done well, and that tradition holds true here. They’re the most thrilling car chases I’ve ever seen, and it always give me an adrenaline rush to play them. There’s nothing quite like having two cops on your tail in a tunnel with more squad cars and a sniping helicopter waiting for you on the other side - and you have to figure a way out of the jam to not only survive this, but to then lose them.
Triggering chases can sometimes be annoying though, since the AI is so scatterbrained. Running over civilians is sometimes fine, but if you so much as ding a cop car, you’ll have the NYPD on you in a hurry. Sure, you can lose them by obeying the traffic laws and being nice, but in a game named Driver, it only seems fitting to run like Hell to lose them and then ditch the vehicle when no cops are around. If you do it when they can see you, you’re screwed, as all of the heat you’ve gotten from them will now go to you and not the vehicle.
Precise driving controls have always made the series shine, and they’re better here than ever before. The left dual shock stick allows for incredible control in any situation, and it will save you in chases while also making them more exciting. There’s no thrill quite like barreling down the streets at 100 MPH while running from the cops and having to bob and weave between cars on both sides of the road in order to evade them. The slick controls allow you to drive between cars and do anything else needed to survive a chase like that. When I have exciting chases like that, I’m reminded of just how hard it must have been to get the controls that accurate. Parallel Lines does falter in some areas, but this is one major thing it does better than any other sandbox game.
This also looks much better than anything else in the genre. After weeks of the Xbox GTA double pack, I was expecting to be a bit underwhelmed by a PS2 game. To my delight, this looks much better than I expected. Character and vehicle models look fantastic. The cars actually have a sense of weight and size to them, while the characters get their life through their smooth walking animation. The ‘78 era features a bit more personality visually, since everyone struts whenever possible.
The plethora of cinema scenes look fantastic as well. There are some parts where they look photorealistic, particularly in regards to hair, which is rarely done right with CG. Here, it flows naturally. Everything is animated well, and you can tell a great deal of care went into them. It’s a shame they feel wasted on the cast of stereotypical characters, but that doesn’t bother me much since I wasn’t expecting a great plot or rich characters. I came in expecting simple storytelling and characters, and some characters (like the pimp) are played for laughs.
Audio plays a big part in immersing you in the game. The first thing that hooked me was the soundtrack. The ‘78 soundtrack is about as close to perfect as you’re going to get. It’s full of classic fun and R&B songs, along with a few songs that aren’t classics, but very fun to listen to (like “Low Rider”). The ‘06 soundtrack falls short. It’s got a decent amount of genres and songs covered, but fails to define its time period as well as the ’78 one.
More work went into the voice acting than their writing. In spite of having little to work with, the cast did their best to give some heart to the characters. They did a great job of playing the emotion when needed, or then cutting the emotion with a joke. The high quality of the voice work fits in nicely with the usually high production values for the series.
In spite of a few missteps, Parallel Lines is a welcome entry in the Driver series. There are still some issues that need serious work, but some existing problems were remedied, and I appreciate that. Graphically, it’s the most engrossing sandbox game yet. The story isn’t much, but the game itself is always fun to play - providing a strong, but fair challenge as you progress, while delivering the most thrilling car chases in gaming. None of its flaws are things that can’t be fixed with time, and while that’s frustrating here given how long it was in development, the progress made makes me think we’ll see major improvements in later games. If you’ve enjoyed this series before, check this out. If you haven’t, but like the 3D GTAs, try this and see what it would be like to play a really good looking GTA game.