Seven years ago there was no such animal as the gangland race-and-chase-em-up. In 1999, when UK developer Reflections brought Driver to the PlayStation, the game broke new ground offering convincing approximations of four major US cities; Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City. Sightseeing while weaving through traffic, running red lights and scaring pedestrians out of your path had never been so much fun - it had never been
. A year later, Driver was back, this time introducing us to the streets of Chicago, Havana, Las Vegas and Rio De Janeiro. Now featuring out-of-car, on foot action, you could leap out of one car and hijack other stationary vehicles. Some missions required you to leg it up stairs or into alleys inaccessible to cars, but that was about your lot. Overall the footwork was clumsy and felt like something of an afterthough, tacked on in the last weeks of development.
Things went quiet on the Driver scene for a few years, but as with any success story, a barrage of pretenders to the throne filled the gap; The Getaway, True Crime and, most notably, the 3D incarnations of Grand Theft Auto. Sadly for Driver, GTA nicked its crown thanks to its hugely interactive playground cities and large array of weapons.
In the darkness, Reflections was working on Driver 3, offering only a glimpse of what we might expect in the form of Stuntman. If we forget Stuntman's paper-thin gameplay for the moment, it was graphically superior to GTA and demonstrated impressive handling and collision physics. Things looked to be back on track as publisher Atari committed vast quantities of cash to marketing the game, even commissioning Ridley Scott's production company to create a short series of teaser movies. With all this hype and little to be seen beyond a drip-feed of well staged screen shots and heavily edited movies, alarm bells started to ring. But what's that? Hurrah! Some magazines and online publications had advanced reviews, and they were handing out exceptional scores saying "all is good". People bought the game like it was the last batch of hot cross buns on Easter Saturday, but found themselves to be victims of hyperbole and questionable
review policies. The game was buggy, had very poor on-foot controls and combat targeting, was way too difficult and generally felt unfinished. GTA remained king - rightfully.
As avid fans of Driver, we were utterly disappointed by Driver 3 (Driv3r, whatever). Everything was there to make a great game - visually it was fine and the mechanics were in place - but the cities seemed desolate and were little fun to take a ride around, which meant the missions were all you had. With the bugs and poor difficulty balancing, it ultimately lead to frustration and boredom. It was painfully obvious Driv3r was just so
close to being a great game. Not willing to see Rockstar rule the roost with its tried and very much tested formula, we were delighted to hear that the fourth Driver title was to return to the series' roots of lots of driving and less of the legging it around, shooting wildly.
Your roots are showing
What defines "back to roots" for Driver? For those who don't remember or haven't played the original game, in spite of running on the lowly PS1 the handling of bouncy American cars felt completely natural. The gas guzzlers wallowed and over steered just like their Hollywood counterparts. Indeed, the game was inspired by legendary car chases such as those featured in French Connection, The Driver and Bullit. You took on the role of Tanner, a cop going undercover to snare gangland boss Castaldi. After proving your worth by performing a set of driving skill tests, you were delivered new jobs via your answering machine; transporting people without getting caught or wrecking your car, ramming target cars to destruction and generally evading Police pursuit. All pretty repetitive stuff, but very, very compelling. The cities were pretty rough simulacra of their real-world counterparts, with only key roads and land marks making grade, but it was enough to make you feel like you were "there".
Out with the old
Firstly, forget Tanner ever existed. He was characterless and wasn't even important to the Driver series - it was you
who were the driver. In a bold move, Reflections sets Driver: Parallel Lines (DPL) in just one city; New York. Actually, it's a little more than the city, as the map extends from Manhattan island at its heart, out to the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and over to New Jersey. The story, conveyed through some incredibly realistic and well directed CG cut-scenes, takes place during two years, 1978 and 2006, between which the environs change subtly; in with Pier 17, out with the WTC towers. This time around, you assume the
role of The Kid, or "TK", a streetwise, up-and-coming wheelman who's new to the city. Shacking up with TK's old buddy Ray, a chop shop mechanic, Ray's garages serve as your base of operations. Here you select the cars you've nicked and stored, repair them, paint them, pimp them, tune them up and give 'em a test drive. The car modding is, on the whole, pointless; take the cost of a new engine and body kit versus the benefits of a slightly faster, chavved up ride, and you'll opt to just get on with the next job with a more appropriate car stolen a hundred metres from the rendezvous point.