2004's DRIV3R is one of the most critically reviled games of all time, but that hasn't stopped developer Reflections from making another sequel. It has, however, stopped them from making another horrible sequel, as Driver: Parallel Lines looks less like a lame knockoff and more like a serious contender for Grand Theft Auto's lunch.
The first Driver to not star an undercover cop, Parallel Lines is the story of The Kid, a gifted getaway driver working his way through New York's underworld in 1978. In his rush to prove himself, he gets mixed up with a Colombian drug cartel and is framed for murder about halfway through the game. Twenty-eight years later, he leaves prison to commit actual murders in a Kill Bill -inspired quest for revenge.
Ditching the linear structure of previous Driver games, Parallel Lines lets players tear around freely in a stylized mock-up of New York, where they'll steal cars, harass passersby and take on missions for various shady types. Some of these missions are quickie tasks like racing or shaking down deadbeats for loan sharks, but the story missions tend to be multi-stage deals. One involves finding a beat-up car and tricking it out with engine upgrades and bulletproof glass, while another will have players chasing a train in a scene straight out of The French Connection. There are also a few "hidden" jobs and a ton of minigames scattered around the city, and in general the missions look to pack in a lot more variety than DRIV3R's "chase that one guy/shoot those other guys" jobs.
We've spent some time with a limited PlayStation 2 demo of Parallel Lines, and what we've seen so far looks promising. The most irritating things about DRIV3R (unforgiving physics included) are history, and what's realistic takes a backseat to what's fun. Streetlights, random bits of scenery and even some walls can be plowed down like reeds, and getting slammed around a few times no longer sends your car into a spin (and even if it does, you can recover quickly). The driving itself feels much more natural and entertaining, especially when you smash into other cars and send them flying.