Ubisoft snags Atari’s Driver franchise and its first order of conduct, brings it to the PSP. Preceding Driver: Parallel Lines, Driver '76 attemp to be a 1970s Grand Theft Auto is a hard marker to meet, but if there has been a competitor over the years it’s been the Driver series. Get ready for the brown, the funk, and wreckless driving in Driver ’76.
Heavy in the funk, Driver '76 winds you around a groovy tale of girls, hot rides, 8-tracks, and two young punks wanting to be major players in the gang world. This franchise that started in 1999 has had a rough outing since the highly successful debut on the Playstation, but it keeps on moving forward and it’s starting to find its stride. Instantly after the opening scene of evading the police and hiding out at Elmo’s bar you will notice Driver 76 is a lot like Grand Theft Auto. This couldn’t be a more true statement, but on Sumo's defence, they have tried their hardest to pull away from the game that every sandbox game seems to get judged upon.
If you enjoy the Grand Theft Auto series and haven’t played a Driver game in a while (my scenario) you might be a little surprised. Driver '76 explodes into the heart of the New York City 1970s complete with Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, Harlem, Manhattan and Jersey representing. Similar to the portable GTA games, Driver is rich with missions, vehicles, unlockables and hidden items around the gaming world. You can travel by foot or by the extensive line-up of muscle cars, motorbikes, and other vehicles including the odd like Tow Trucks and Ambulances. It's all influenced by the down and dirty, browns and reds, 1970s jive turkey style. If you dig this classic era of funky sounds, mulletss and afros, this blaxploitation styled gangster tale will get catch you spitting out some Isaac Hayes on liners while you feel like Jack Slade kicking it to Mr. Big.
In total Driver '76 will have you running through 27 missions that are divided into six main plot lines, which isn't including the countless side missions you can take on. Driver '76 has the usual suspects to these open-world gangster styled games, although Driver '76 tries hard and comes up with a few original missions. The balance works out to be about 70% recycled ideas from other games and 30% new ideas which isn’t overly bad given the games concept. Even though the missions can be a little stale the smooth gameplay and occasional interesting mission will perk you back into the fold. The main question is are you entertained? and for the majority of Driver '76, I was.
One mission that stood out in my mind came in Chapter 3 when the obscure mission called for me to stop a police escorted ambulance, steal it and deliver a human heart before it melted. This is under the constant pestering from the fuzz and my afro headed friend spitting out one liners. With only seconds to spare I crashed through a few gates, over a hedge and slid into the marker just as the police lost interest. Perfect timing and an excellent gaming moment, and to top it off you unlock the Ecto-1 (Ghostbusters), Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulance/hearse, labelled the “Meat Wagon”.
The side jobs are small races, point-a to point-b type deals, hitman styled gun down missions, evade police deals and taxi missions. You have seen these all before, nothing too original, but they provide a nice distraction that can earn you some extra scratch. One thing I didn’t particularly like is that finishing second or lower in a race didn’t score you any bucks, its number one, or nothing at all. It would have been nice to be able to inch up your earnings if you need to do some work on your car to really compete.
If you don’t want to go solo, you can head out the swapmeet to hook up with cats online for some multiplayer action. The multiplayer Wi-Fi mode focuses on the racing letting you participate in a range of mini-games from street races to the always fun Destruction Derby. Unfortunately the countless times I connected I couldn't find anyone hanging out, so your guess is as good as mine how Driver 76 performs online. Even without Driver rated on it's multiplayer portions, it's still a strong enough game to hold its own. Like the Grand Theft Auto games on the PSP, multiplayer is something you rarely hear about compared to the main content.
The map system navigating around NYC is handled with easy with the PSP triggers bouncing from your jobs, side jobs, pad, statistics and the garage. The colours are all bring and fonts clearly printed, which actually helps allot when dealing with a lot of content screen. Off the map system you have the garage tab that allows you to buy new weapons and upgrade your vehicles. You also had your pad which gives you an overview on badges you have earned, clothing, key chains and more.
Vehicle customization in Driver 76 is a beautiful addition that gives it a slight edge over the notorious GTA, in the vehicle department. Besides having a more robust assortment of vehicles, you can upgrade their bodywork, engine, shocks, spring and breaks, paint job, and even trick them out with bullet proof glass, tires and more. Driver 76 is a lot of fun in this aspect and it gives the player extra incentive to run though the side missions and do some work to their favourite rides. Extensively upgrading, decaling, and protecting your ride will get you the most of out your wheels. For functionality the majority of Driver can be accomplished without doing work to your ride, but you will see slight benefits from customizing your ride, if not only for visual pleasing of adding your own personal touch.
Presentation is a big part of Driver '76 which cashes in on any 1970s quarks as posible. The main story is told with a stylistic dotted comic book which looks cool and works perfectly to tell the story and then the gameplay switches to clear 3D graphics. Your character even comes complete with the classic dirt ball 70s gear, bandanna, bell bottom jeans and generic stoner army green jacket. Oh yes, rock on! The graphics are fluid and only interrupted by second long load pauses once and a while. The slight pauses are the major complaint graphically in Driver '76, still for the amount of detail added it's not surprising. The size of the world and variety in the landscape seems on par with Liberty City which is a great accomplishment. I liked the classic stylings of the vehicles and all the players in the game, Shaft would be proud, Driver 76 brings the ghetto and pimps out as much as possible.
Musically, I’ve a 70s fan, I play in 70s cover band, so the soundtrack obviously appeals to my ears. Cruising down a street with Low Rider blaring is just as effective, or more then hearing the standard DMX hip-hop/thug music blaring. The soundtrack isn’t a robust as Grand Theft Auto, but Driver 76 has a good selection of tunes that range from rock to funk. To pick a few here are a few of my favourite tracks; David Bowie – “Suffocate City”, War – “Low Rider”, and Charles Brown – “Bustin’ Loose”. Continuing, the voice over work is fairly solid along the entire project, at times the actors can be typecast and stereotypical which is understandable given the low key vibes, Driver is riding on. Overall, Driver '76 does a great job keeping up with the competition and packing as much as possible onto the challenging limited disc space.
Driver '76 is good enough to pull you away from the latest and greatest PSP offering from Rockstar. Even though Driver can be referenced as Grand Theft Auto 1970s edition, I was surprised how in-depth this PSP rendition of the franchise went to feel original, and give players options and fun things to do. It’s not re-inventing the wheel, but it’s a nice new set of rims on an old faithful that needed the sparkle and shine. Definitely check out Driver 76, fans of open world gangster material will no doubt find the funk to mamba a few hours away.