Take a good look at the screenshots scattered about the page and you'll notice one important thing about Driver: Parallel Lines: this time it's all about the cars. This time we're putting the painful memories of the abysmal, practically uncontrollable on-foot sections that turned Driv3r from potential auto-erotica smash to bitterly flawed and utterly humourless GTA wannabe behind us to concentrate on unparalleled driving magnificence.
Atari might have sounded like a stuck and suspiciously untrustworthy record when it announced that its new Driver game really would be the one to take the series back to its roots, but in this case - and having actually played the game for ourselves helps a bit too - it looks like that's exactly what Parallel Lines will do.
Driv3r's biggest and stupidest mistake was trying to pretend it was some kind of awful Steve McQueen movie, an often frustrating experience that ranked laborious cut-scenes above actual bugfree gameplay. Thankfully, you should find no such fault with Parallel Lines. Not only does it boast its own distinctive style (largely thanks to the ultra-cool 1970s setting, bump-'n-grind soul-funk soundtrack, and the fact that all the characters have massive trousers and even massiver hair), but virtually the entire game is now spent behind the wheel of a car. Chases, races and outlandish three-point turns in busy streets are the primary order of the day here, which is exactly what the Driver series is supposed to be about.
Given that the actual driving physics were Driv3r's biggest strength, it's no surprise Parallel Lines uses the same driving engine as its much maligned predecessor, albeit a massively tweaked, faster and notably smoother version. The handling is spot-on, the attention to detail on the cars is quite staggering, and Reflection's penchant for panel-shredding, axle grinding crash spectaculars is all present and correct. So far so good.
Better still, Parallel Lines offers a new, nonlinear approach to its mission structure. As you'd expect playing a young getaway driver in 1978 New York, opportunity is everywhere, and you're free to pursue jobs and missions in any order as they appear across the map. Bonus mini-games are dotted about the place as well, and by completing these you can gain cash that in turn can be used to upgrade and customise your own garage of motors, something of a first for the Driver series.
Another first is full online play, Parallel Lines allowing you to take your mates on in a series of custom race events. It's more akin to a throwaway party mode than proper online racing, perhaps, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.
The only real downer is that Reflections has dropped the much-loved Director mode. On the plus side, it has meant the amount of screen traffic has now virtually doubled, although we can see the Play:More section of our Game Disc being a much sadder place without it. More details and a full hands-on report soon.