Driver '76

The Road to Recovery

The Driver franchise is slowly bouncing back, but this stripped down PSP version isn't helping a whole lot.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: May 10, 2007
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I can still remember the feeling I had when the original PS one Driver managed to blend floaty physics with a hilly San Francisco locale and a dead-on whacka-dooing funk soundtrack for the first time. It was an absolutely magical combination when all parts clicked -- and they did quite often -- instantly justifying the hour or so it took to really understand how the driving model in the game worked while doing doughnuts and 180 degree spins in that starting tutorial garage.

Driver was a serious gem in the PS one library, which is why it was so surprising to see the series tank so damned hard not once, but twice with the games that followed. Trying to bolt on-foot elements onto the rock-solid driving and the race to get the sequel out while the series was still in the minds of gamers meant a buggy, fugly mess with horrid controls and a complete 180 from what made the series good. Driv3r, rather than returning to the roots of the series, heaped on a licensed soundtrack, more on-foot moments (that were still busted), and a visually impressive graphics and physics engine, but once again failed to focus on what made the series great in the first place: just driving around.

Luckily, it seemed like the dev team started to get it right around the time Driver: Parallel Lines hit, but by and large it still didn't have any of the charm of that slow, floaty, almost dream-like physics playground of the first game. The PSP version of the game, Driver '76 doesn't strip out the on-foot bits, but it does limit them for the most part, and in that UK-based developer Sumo Digital's handheld division has helped further the road to recovery -- albeit with some help from the original Reflections development staff (or what's left of 'em after Ubisoft bought the Driver IP and development house from the ailing Atari).

Despite claims of the game having "27 all-new missions," most of the general task structure and city will be instantly familiar to anyone who played through Parallel Lines, though for some reason the game isn't a direct prequel to the PS2 (though it does take place two years before the Parallel Lines set-up/revenge story), choosing instead to focus on two of the minor characters in the game. Maybe the idea was that by messing with the cannon they might bite off more than they can chew, but regardless, it's still a little weird to see this much attention shone on Ray the mechanic (and wheelman) and Slink the pimp, mostly because they just aren't that interesting.

So here you are, acting as the getaway guy or the thief or the bait and switch for gangs and law enforcement, running all over the city that is, at least in basic detail, a pretty faithful reproduction of what was seen in Parallel Lines, meaning Driver '76 actually manages to spit out the main boroughs of New York and a bit of Jersey onto a UMD. Ah, but it's not without an almost alarming number of technical issues along the way. Though you're welcome to pick from the two or three missions per chapter in any order (and with only six total chapters, broken up by comic book cutscenes, there's not a lot of meat to the story-driven part of the game), you'll still have to sit through a good minute of loading screen before you get to the pre-load for the level, another good 5-10 seconds -- and another few more every time you cross into the next chunk of the city that hasn't been buffered off the UMD.

If not for the horrid loading, I would have thought some of the game's more annoying little problems were just an attempt to keep the game light enough that you're never bogged down for too long; cops are lost more easily here than they've even been ditched in previous games, and by the time you get some of the hotter sports cars unlocked, you can just point your ride at and open stretch of road and gun it and you'll completely lose them, with no other cars joining the chase most of the time. Again, if this was meant to keep you driving rather than running from the cops during your little 10-15 minute play session (and the shortness of most missions seems to support this theory), why spend so much of that time waiting for a load screen?

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