After the catastrophic failure of Driver 3 it could be considered surprising that Reflections opted to develop a 4th addition to their action series. But, I'm sure when they sat back and saw the huge success of its nearest rival (GTA) they couldn't help but feel that they were close to being onto a winner. It's a good job they did have another crack because Parallel Lines is a very enjoyable driving/free roaming action game with its own unique style.
You begin the game as a small town country boy trying to make a name for yourself in 1978 New York. As usual you start with nothing and have to develop a reputation by helping out criminals with your remarkable driving skills. Once you've won the confidence of a smooth pimp daddy by the name of Slink you are quickly sort after by an array of crims to do dirty work for them. Don't be fooled that all you'll be doing are driver-for-hire roles because there's much more to this than simply dodging traffic and evading cops. As you build up your criminal credibility becoming more involved in the underworld the story takes a twist and you find yourself betrayed and eventually incarcerated for 28 years. Your motivation changes after half a lifetime locked in a cell so when you re-emerge in 2006 all you're concerned with is revenge. The varying styles of 70's and 00's New York have been brilliantly captured by Reflections and add a worthy string to an already impressive bow.
Driving is the key element of the gameplay and has been drastically improved since number 3. It still has the realism of messing you and your car up pretty badly in a hefty collision but it doesn't bring you to a dead stop when you accidentally run into a lamppost. Infact, driving through fences, bollards and an alley packed with garbage and the obligatory empty boxes adds to the entertainment. Traffic density is also a lot higher than GTA which will aggravate some people but add a fresh challenge to others. It's not easy to slalom through a packed dual carriageway at 100 mph whilst being hotly pursued by the NYPD. But the extra vehicles on the road can be used to your advantage; there's huge satisfaction when you nudge a cop car into an oncoming vehicle and then nip down a side street to get away. There's a considerable variety of transport to hop between depending on the mission, or whether you just fancy a change, but obviously fast powerful cars are the preferred choice the majority of the time. I reckon they've pretty much nailed the driving engine as it feels realistic and even the motorbikes carry some weight to add to the driving sensation.
There's a good selection of side missions so you can earn some dollar to pay for vehicle repairs and performance enhancing parts. Street races, loan-sharking and repo missions add a bit of variety with clearly stated difficulty settings that are spot on, no bizarre learning curves here. There is a lot of ground to be covered as you make your way to the next mission but when you buy a game called Driver you should expect to spend most of your time driving! The 50 stars dotted around the city also give you an incentive for a change of game plan. Most of them are conveniently hanging mid air so you'll be rocketing off an incline and subsequently be treated to a slow mo action cut scene.
With garages and safe houses evenly spread over the city it's never too difficult to swiftly jump to another location and drive out in one of your modified vehicles. No restriction on the vehicles you store means you can get as creative as you desire and even if it gets totalled it will be picked up and returned ready for the next time. The simple function of picking up where you left off is mirrored with the missions as you can quickly restart a mission once you have failed. Nice touch.
Thankfully the shooting mechanics have been kept simple and as a result are very effective. L1 to lock on and R1 to shoot ensure that you can stay focused on dodging hazards whilst you leave a ream of bullet holes in your victim's wheels. The downside of leaning out your window to release a few rounds is that the police will chase you and not the car your driving which can make evading them more difficult. Having said that, its still not too difficult to escape and find somewhere to hide until the heat cools down. You can be hounded by the police for a minor offence such as running a red light so handily it's not too difficult to get away from them.
Funky tunes produced by Grandmaster Flash, big hair, jive talk and strutting Travolta style all help to set the atmosphere and add to the fairly skinny plot. A good balance between style and substance is always a difficult task and Reflections have definitely put more emphasis on the style, thankfully substance hasn't been totally overlooked but it could be much better. There's not a great deal of complexity so if you're looking for a 'simplified' version of GTA than this is ideal. As a devoted Rockstar fan I wasn't expecting anything special from Driver (especially after the last episode) but have to say I was pleasantly surprised. It looks sounds and feels very good but you can't help but compare it to the Grand Theft series….. and unfortunately it doesn't come close enough to hitting the benchmark. If they improved the missions by incorporating some new ideas instead of replicating what was done 5 years ago the game would be boosted to a much higher status. The different visual style and driving mechanics are enough to entice punters to give it a whirl, but you won't be changing your allegiance from Reflection to Rockstar.
7 out of 10