So could Driver: Parallel Lines be a last-ditch effort by developer Reflections and publisher Atari to save the series? And if so, will it even be worth your time and money? I had a chat with Gareth Edmondson, Reflection's Studio Director for this newest Driver iteration to find out.
Gareth Edmondson: The game starts out in 1978, New York City. You play the part of 'TK', a young guy from out of town, looking to make his fortune in the big apple in the only way he knows how - driving.
TK gets in with a serious gang of criminals, and starts working on bigger and better things.
Without giving too much away, we have a major plot twist that sees TK framed and he goes down for 28 years.
The second half of the game changes completely. When TK is released from prison, he has spent that time plotting his revenge. We are still in NYC, but of course now we are on a revenge driven killing spree, taking down the guys that framed you. We change everything about the game as well, the city, cars, characters have aged, the music is brought up to date, and the gameplay takes on a different feel.
Shack: DPL is supposed to take the series back to its core focus: driving. What kind of game play has been developed for this old-school-new- school approach?
Gareth Edmondson: It's back to its roots in the sense that the focus of the game is very heavily about driving. Also, the original Driver was much more heavily influenced by the 70's than later games. Obviously we have the 2 eras, but the first half of the game is specifically set in 1978. The core game mechanics of chasing are still there of course, but all aspects of the experience have been significantly upgraded over predecessors. We have also added some new gameplay mechanics like shooting from the car. We do allow the player to leave the car, but it represents about 10% of the total gameplay. The main reason for having on foot action is to allow the player to change vehicles. For the 70's vehicles, we have stayed pretty true to the Driver 1 handling style, but with the addition of vehicle upgrades and modern day vehicles in the second half of the game, we can get some phenomenal speeds and performance out of the cars.
Shack: It seems that everyone wants a piece of the pie as far as car theft, non-linear games are concerned. How does Parallel Lines stand out? Sure, the Driver series is established, but what has the team done to make sure gamers come back from more (or perhaps experience a Driver game for the first time) instead of heading toward what they may believe to be fresher, greener pastures?
Gareth Edmondson: Well the first major thing is the heavy focus on driving. Getting players in cars, driving as fast as they can, smashing stuff up is the absolute heart of the game, and is unique to the Driver series. Whilst we have an open world and open mission structure, we have focused on making this as easy and free flowing as possible. Instant restarts, no load times and checkpointed missions all help to remove the usual frustrations that players experience in these open worlds. No driving back round to restart missions, or having to replay through long sections of gameplay to get you to where you left off.
Also, Driver PL is very story driven. We want players to feel part of the world and the story, so narrative is very important.
Shack: Just how open-ended is the gameplay? Give us some examples: are there lots of side missions, how accessible is the world, etc.
Gareth Edmondson: There are three main ways that we expect players to play the game, and to swap seamlessly from one style of play to another. Firstly, there is the story driven plot missions of the game. This mostly works by making a certain selection of missions available to the player. They can complete them in any order, but to advance the plot, they need to be completed.
Sometimes you can come back to them later in the game, as more missions are unlocked. Other times, they are key to a part of the story and need to be completed.
There are then around 100 side missions in the game, all of which are entirely optional. They are pure driving action games, such as quick chases, hit man missions, circuit races, destruction derby games etc etc. Some are marked on the map, and some are hidden. You earn cash by doing these side missions that you can then use to spend on cars, upgrading your vehicles, allowing you to try harder difficulty levels, or making the plot side of the game easier.
And then there is just cruising around the city. It's a very interactive world, with cops forming part of the environment as well as random events taking place through the city. You can spend a lot of time playing with the AI of the cops or just generally blowing things up.
Shack: Are the missions themselves very open-ended? For example, are there certain objectives I can accomplish any way I desire, or am I forced to operate within strict parameters?
Gareth Edmondson: It's a bit of a mixture here. Some missions, it's left pretty open as to what you should do, and how you should tackle the missions, especially later in the game. Earlier in the game we spell things out for the player a bit more, and lead them with tutorial text. The player can still complete them in different ways, of course. A few missions enforce some parameters, and with some, it becomes obvious that a certain strategy will work best.
Shack: How customizable are the cars of DPL?
Gareth Edmondson: Most aspects are customizable. Their performance, in terms of top speed and acceleration, ride height, spring stiffness, down force - all the main tunable characteristics are customizable. We then have custom paint jobs available, and selections of custom body work as well. Every vehicle in the game is customizable - even the school bus. We also have accessories like bulletproof tires and glass, and of course, nitrous.
Shack: Will any of my customizations impact the gameplay?
Gareth Edmondson: Yup. Faster cars that handle better is an obvious impact, but also the bulletproof tires and windows make it easier against the cops when they are shooting at you. We have tinted glass as well, which will help you evade detection by the cops.
Shack: It's inevitable that at some point, high speed chases will ensue. How do the cars handle, and how much CAN they handle?
Gareth Edmondson: As above, we have stayed true to classic Driver handling, especially in the 70's, but with over 80 vehicles in the game, all upgradeable, they all handle and feel very different. The modern era cars handle lot tighter, and are of course faster. The absolute top flat out speed of the fastest sports car, with the nitrous on full and all of the engine upgrades requires some serious skill when navigating through the busy New York traffic. Definitely one for advanced players!
Shack: It would be a bummer to spend lots of cash on a car only to wreck it later to the point of being unusable. Can garages resurrect cars, or when it's dead, is it dead?
Gareth Edmondson: If you smash up one of your modded cars, it will be towed back to your garage for you. It will still be wrecked, but you can repair it for a small cost. You never completely lose a car you have spent money on.
Driver: Parallel Lines ships for PS2 and Xbox on 3/14 and will be available in most stores on Wednesday, 3/15.