Coming out for the PlayStation Portable in May 2007, Driver ‘76 is a prequel to the game Driver: Parallel Lines and the only series entry to ever be released on the PSP. Developed by Sumo Digital and published by Ubisoft, Driver ‘76 was a stumbling block for the series with the critics but is beloved by fans of the Driver series who praise its high-quality story as well as its excellent graphics and sound.
Taking place in 1976 New York City, Driver ‘76 is, at its core, a bit of a love story with typical Driver pseudo-mob action thrown in for good measure. It definitely has that black-and-white detective movie feel down right even utilizing a soundtrack and story cadence that would fit right in with the best of Hollywood noir film.
Similar to Driver: Parallel Lines in structure, Driver ‘76 centers mainly on driving but also features some run-and-gun shooting gameplay. This probably does not come as much of a shock since the name Driver implies this very gameplay, but it is nice to break it up with some variety here and there.
The vast majority of the missions put you in the driver’s seat but a few detours see the main character Ray picking off baddies from the backseat of another vehicle. These are not only fun but they can also be extremely frustrating, especially as the game gets more difficult. Pulling all of this off on the PSP can be a challenge sometimes and it is one area where the developer forgot this was a portable game and not a home console experience.
One graphical choice that might be a little jarring for players is Driver ‘76’s use of comic book-style cinematics rather than the rendered visuals people are accustomed to viewing.
Overall there’s a ton of content here for those looking for something fun to do. There are 6 chapters with 26 mainline missions that get increasingly difficult as the player progresses through the game. Successful completion of a mission rewards the player with money, cars, and better weaponry.
Unlike most entries before it, Driver ‘76 did not fare well with critics upon initial release and that was a bit of a disappointment.
Now, in hindsight, we can see that Driver ‘76 might have suffered from being first to market. 2009’s Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars for the Nintendo DS would correct many of the shortcomings of Driver ‘76 and offer an even better, more compelling gaming experience in the process.
The graphics are bright and reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto, which is a good thing, but the settings do seem lifeless and dead. There isn’t much going on in Driver: ‘76’s version of Manhattan and that can be jarring at times. That said, the soundtrack is really cool if you like jazz and film noir soundscapes.
In the end the sum of this game’s parts overwhelm its flaws. Keeping in mind that it is a portable video game on the Sony PSP, Driver: ‘76 is not only fun but it is a good game and that’s more than you can say about a lot of the stuff currently on vend.