Version tested: Wii
It has taken three long years to get over the abject misery of playing the last Driver game. Lest we forget, it was a title with so much expected of its four years of development. Yet Reflections' massively hyped game emerged in such a sorry bug-ridden and unplayable state that it should serve as the textbook example of When Game Development Goes Wrong. That the follow-up, Parallel Lines, should end up being slightly above par felt like a triumph, if you can believe that.
But, but, but. This is old news. As you know, Parallel Lines is an 18 month old PS2 and Xbox game - and one that has long since - deservedly - been relegated to the bargain bins by a largely apathetic public. Why bother, at this late stage, shovelling it lovelessly onto the Wii? Rather like the belated release of Scarface last month, it's presumably an exercise in mopping up the stragglers who fancy some GTA-style openworld driving n' shootin' shenanigans on the Wii in the absence of the real thing. Fair enough, then.
Heart of Glass
Judged on its own merits, it's not a bad game at all - but pretty far away from being a great one, either. It's a solid, albeit charmless affair, which plays things straight - both in terms of the too-cool-for-school storyline, and the way the game plays to the strengths of the Driver series by, gosh, focusing mainly on driving. Well, after the absolutely disastrous on-foot sections in the previous game, that's no great shock.
As with the original, it has 32 main story missions, 18 of which are set in 1978, and the remainder in 2006. You play TK: a budding, laid back 18 year-old "country boy made good" wheelman. For reasons best known to this floppy haired dude, he unquestioningly takes on one hare-brained assignment after another to prove he has what it takes to do the pointless dirty work of all the low-down New York criminals he comes across. What an incentive.
Eager to earn money, you start out doing fairly typical lightweight tasks, such as proving you can drive really fast, or picking up packages and bringing them back to base - the kind of tutorial-style missions that every Grand Theft Also likes to include to get people up to speed. Necessary, but also pretty mind numbing if you, like us, have played every last one of these games down the years.
Hanging on the Telephone
Most interesting about this version, of course, is the way the controls have been modified to take advantage of the Wii remote and Nunchuk. As with Scarface, it works very intuitively, with the Nunchuk used for steering/movement, handbrake turns, acceleration and brake, while the remote primarily acts as the means for aiming, camera control and firing. One of the only bright spots about Driv3r was the vehicle handling, car physics and car modelling, and there's an assured solidity that makes the game feel fun when you're hurtling around the streets. In true Reflections style, it's pretty much designed so you're always smashing into god knows what, sending litter and debris flying as you squeeze your way down narrow alleyways on the run from the law.
With the C button assigned to accelerate, Z for brake, and the analogue stick for steering, it's an initially unnatural configuration, but one which quickly becomes second nature. Once you're schooled in the art of handbrake turns, it slots together very nicely indeed. By simply turning the Nunchuk sideways (or, pulled towards you) in the appropriate direction of the turn, you can screech your way around corners with subtle, feathery (thanks Tom) precision. You won't be complaining about the core driving side of the game at all, which occupies a solid middle ground between GTA's exaggerated slide-a-thon and the more studied real-world simulation style preferred in games like TOCA Race Driver. It's a game which can implement racing missions and not make them feel like tacked-on extras - like so many other city-based openworld titles.
Better still, the ability to press the A button and shoot from within your car feels intuitively implemented, with the kind of effortless aiming precision that simply wasn't possible before the Wii remote arrived on the scene. Finally, you can loose off rounds with the B button with aplomb while still having total control of the driving side of the game. With that solid framework in place, Driver Parallel Lines ought to have been an excellent prospect on Wii. So why isn't it?
Essentially, where Driver PL falls down is the quality of the missions, and various curious design decisions that don't help endear you to the game. For a start, the first few hours of the game are just plain dull. At a point when the game should be ensuring players are hooked in, you're performing perfunctory tasks which we've all done to death. And then, even when the game gets into its stride, it just doesn't quite 'click'. The moment when you're ramming a bulldozer into a prison ought to feel like a thrilling, filmic game moment, but there's just no danger or tension to it. You get inside the jail, take out some obliging bad guys, and that's that.
Elsewhere you'll find yourself driving at high speed to scare a guard into giving you info - which is initially amusing - but, again, most missions are over and done with in no time at all, and there's little sense of achievement once you've done them. You're either racing or chasing, and after a while the over-emphasis on driving-based missions starts to wear thin. Also, as nice as it is being able to restart failed missions and relocate around specific sections of the map, there's far too much unnecessary driving required to get between missions. Often, your next mission will be on the opposite side of the city - or, at best, several minutes from the nearest garage or safe house. It's not a disaster, by any means, but when you're already struggling to maintain an interest in the game, the last thing you really want to have to do is spend ages checking the map screen to work out which bridge to cross to get there.
Additional elements, like the various side missions and the car customisation also fail to inspire much love for the game. Like many games of this type, you're crashing your ride so much, you'll be stealing someone else's in no time anyway, so it seems all a bit half baked and tacked on. Having additional racing missions and so on adds the illusion of it being a big, non-linear game, but it's the sort of stuff most people will ignore anyway.
Rip her to shreds
And let's come back to the point we made early on: the game's already a year and a half old, and was made late in the life span of already-ageing systems. Needless to say, the game engine looks hopelessly out of date next to other competing games, and it's quite jarring to have to go back to playing a game with noticeable pop-up issues, and one with none of the modern graphical effects we now take for granted. Of course, it's unfair to stab a finger in the direction of a Wii game for not sporting HD resolutions, but it's a factor that's impossible to ignore. If the game was designed from the ground up for the Wii, we dare say that it would look an order of magnitude better than it does. Instead, you're left to reflect upon a fairly run-of-the-mill PS2 port, with poorly animated characters and ugly detail levels.
Even the audio quality is poor, with voice-over samples that sound like the sort of thing you'd expect from a PSP title trying to save disk space. Yes, it sounded fine in GTA III in 2001, but if it's a stylistic choice to have low grade voice-over samples in 2007, then it's a poor one. That said, we must applaud those responsible for the relentlessly funky soundtrack. Admittedly it lacks the general DJ chatter of its rivals, but for track-to-track quality, this takes some beating. Special mention has to go choosing 'I Bet You' by Funkadelic - what an absolutely top tune! I think I was motivated to keep playing the game on the basis of the soundtrack alone, with other great tracks like Peaches and Papa Was a Rolling Stone adding to the 70s vibe. Shame the Kaiser Chiefs go and spoil the party in the second half of the game, mind you.
If you happen to own a Wii and nothing else, then maybe Driver Parallel Lines will scratch your GTA itch for a few days - maximum. The truth is that there's more than a whiff of exploitation about this wholly unnecessary release - especially as it's a game which few people rated highly in the first place. Although it does benefit from better controls, that doesn't disguise how boring the storyline is, or how mediocre the missions are. Do yourself a favour and wait until publishers can get around to making games exclusively tailored for the Wii, rather than shovelling out old ports and hoping no-one will notice.
6 / 10