Ladies and gentlemen, Tanner has left the building. The grizzled undercover cop who starred in the three previous Driver games won't be making an appearance in Reflections Interactive's newest entry in the series, Driver: Parallel Lines, and that's not nearly the only change the studio is making with this latest iteration of its car-heavy action series. We got to check out an early build of Parallel Lines at a recent Atari press event to find out just how the studio plans to revamp the fledgling series after the lackluster showing turned in by its third game last year.
Parallel Lines represents a sort of restart for the Driver franchise. It's set in New York City, 1978, with no connections at all to the stories of the previous three games. You'll take control of a driver-for-hire known only as "the kid" as he takes on jobs from the Big Apple's criminal underworld, increasingly building his notoriety and respect as he climbs up the ladder to become a boss himself. Yeah, no more cops--the kid is an out-and-out bad guy. Similar to Grand Theft Auto, you'll roam around the city, looking for missions to pick up and carry out to earn you money, open up new missions, and advance the game's storyline. The mission structure sounds pretty open-ended, since there will always be missions available for you to pick up, many of which are optional.
Driver 3 was the first game in the series to emphasize on-foot shooting action, but Parallel Lines will purportedly put the focus back on the fast-action driving that the series was built on in the first place. That means lots of car chases, smashing through things at high speed, and that sort of thing. You'll even be able to shoot from a moving car, drive-by style, and it sounds like you'll complete many of the game's missions purely using your skills behind the wheel. As in Driver 3, cars won't be the only available vehicles; less conventional rides like motorcycles and trucks will be offered too. And of course, you'll still be able to get out of your vehicle and hoof it when you feel the need, with a lock-on targeting system aiding your ability to cause mayhem throughout New York.
There will apparently be some other components to Parallel Lines' gameplay besides the core missions. For one thing, you'll be able to jump into a number of minigames whenever the mood strikes you, which will change up the action significantly. The minigame we saw was a destruction derby that the player could enter simply by heading into the appropriate arena and jumping in the derby car. Once the event began, the goal was simply to smash into all the other drivers and be the last car standing at the end of the event. The best part was that you could drive your car right out of the arena midevent and just tear around town instead.
Winning the minigames will earn you money, which you can put toward the game's car-upgrade system. We didn't get a lot of specifics on how these upgrades will work, though presumably you'll be able to purchase a variety of new parts with which to beef up the speed and performance of your current ride. We were told that you'll be able to hit speeds of at least 140 miles per hour with a fully tricked-out car; in fact, it'll be useful for you to take a break from the main storyline and earn money to enhance your car, since this will help you get through missions that you might otherwise have trouble passing.
In terms of presentation, Parallel Lines is looking like the most polished and appealing Driver yet. The graphics are more heavily stylized than in past games, with cars, scenery, and characters that effectively evoke the '70s setting (from the little bit we got to see). The game features impressive lighting and shadowing effects and is already running at a smooth frame rate, despite being months away from its March 2006 release date. We'll bring you more information on Driver: Parallel Lines, including its promised eight-player online mode, before that time.