Driver: Parallel Lines Hands-On: Trouble in the Big Apple

We get an exclusive hands-on look at the latest entry in Reflections' madcap driving series.

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In our previous coverage of Driver: Parallel Lines, we've examined various aspects of Reflections' fourth entry in the long-running series characterized chiefly by behind-the-wheel mayhem. There's the back-to-basics focus on the driving that made these games popular in the first place. Then there's the period feel, with a setting in a heavily stylized 1978 New York City that gives way in the middle of the game to the same Big Apple almost 30 years later. Lastly, we've seen how open-ended the design is, with scores of optional driving missions that grant you cash, which you can then use to trick out any of the cars you manage to steal.

Now we've finally gotten our hands on a nearly complete version of Parallel Lines to put the early part of the game through its paces. As we've reported previously, the game puts you in the role of an up-and-coming hoodlum known only as "the kid" (or TK, for short). The kid doesn't have any sort of backstory at the opening of the game. He's just out to make a living--and a name for himself--in New York's seedy underworld, and he'll start out on the bottom rung of the ladder, performing simple wheelman duty for a number of shady individuals.

After a brief prelude elaborating on the unfettered debauchery of the '70s, Parallel Lines starts out by throwing you literally straight into the action, as you immediately have to provide the getaway for a stickup man who's more than a little antsy to put some distance between him and the scene of his crime, and escape the police in the process. One of Reflections' stated goals with Parallel Lines is to put the focus back on the "driver" part, and so far that's definitely been the case, since after this first mission we've spent the majority of our time behind the wheel, and relatively little on foot. The core driving action in the game has felt very arcadelike and accessible so far, as it's quite easy to get up some speed, weave between slow-moving traffic, kick into a powerslide around corners, and so on.

You'll spend most of your time behind the wheel as you work your way up the criminal ladder.

Then again, you'll need all the help you can get, since the game's traffic density is quite high. Getting through a packed highway with no collisions while the fuzz is on your tail is no easy task with so many other cars blocking your path. At least the car-damage model is forgiving. We never actually had a car explode on us after taking too much punishment--it merely stopped running. But then, if you're trying to get the hell away from trouble and you have to get out of your ride and find a new one, you've got a problem on your hands, explosions or not.

The cops in Parallel Lines' Big Apple are pretty darn testy, too. Of course they'll tail you for doing really bad stuff, like running down sidewalk pedestrians, but it seems like they'll even come after you for relatively minor infractions like driving against traffic (or at least you'll hear them call out all your offenses over the radio when they're after you). And once the popo is on your tail, they'll use every tactic to take you down--they aggressively rammed us and blocked our way just about every time we were in trouble with the law. Fortunately, you can see police cars on your minimap, along with their cone of vision, so you've got some chance of getting away and escaping their ire.

All this isn't to say you won't be running the kid around and shooting at stuff; there seems to be plenty of that, too, and luckily, the shooting controls are quite easy to get a handle on. You've got your standard target lock-on function, and you can switch to other available targets with a flick of the analog stick. You've also got a free-aim mode that comes in handy, given that the cars in the game sport a full location-based damage model. You can shoot out a car's tires or windows individually, and even reduce it to a pile of flaming debris with a few well-placed shots at the engine.

As we've reported before, the game's mission structure has been pretty open-ended. Though you'll have to seek out specific characters and take on their jobs to move the plot along, you'll always have the option of just driving around New York, looking for ways to make some cash. In fact, it looks like at some points in the game, that's all you'll be doing; we came upon one section where our goal was simply to make enough money to help our mechanic pay off his debts. How we obtained that money was entirely for us to decide.

'70s New York was a shady place, and you sure won't be doing anything to help clean it up.

Once you've got the cash, you'll want to hit the garage to tweak your car, and we've found plenty of options for doing so. You can of course change the color of your car and repair any damage you've done to it, but you'll also have a ton of ways to accessorize, like bulletproof glass or tires, that actually affect the in-game behavior of the ride. Of course, engine upgrades, nitros, and the like are also available to enhance performance, and while this isn't quite Gran Turismo, it looks like you'll be able to get pretty in-depth with the car customizing.

So far, we've appreciated Parallel Lines' simplified focus on pure driving action--this seems like a good pick-up-and-play sort of game, if you just want to drive around the city and complete a few missions to earn some cash without actually progressing the storyline. How will that story end up? We'll find out when Driver: Parallel Lines ships on March 14. Look for a full review of the game then.

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