When I ask myself what I consider to be one of the fastest falls a videogame franchise has ever seen, some of my first answers would probably consist of Tomb Raider, Syphon Filter and Driver. Now, both Tomb Raider and Syphon Filter have managed to make a comeback of sorts -- Tomb Raider with the upcoming Anniversary release, and Syphon Filter with Dark Mirror for the PSP. There's no secret that DRIV3R was a pretty lackluster game. It took too long to come and delivered very little. Where as the first Driver was groundbreaking, the later two would become far too troublesome, poorly executed, clumsy, and riddled with gameplay problems. Driver: Parallel Lines fought to fix a lot of the issues with DRIV3R, but it couldn't quite pull it off successfully; still the game was marred with issues, and the on-foot segments continued to be terrible. But, having sold the Driver franchise to Ubisoft, Reflections and Sumo Digital are hoping for a fresh start.
What was once supposed to be a PSP port of Parallel Lines, after Ubisoft acquired Driver (and developer Reflections), the game would become instead a prequel to Parallel Lines; taking place two years. It's 1976, which explains the game's title, and you're once again in New York City. Driver 76 now marks the 3rd time the series takes us into New York. Ubisoft promises that the game will remain faithful to the brand (is that a good thing or a bad thing), and that it'll also allow the gamer to explore extensively on foot. The story is broken up into six main plots that tally up to 27 main-missions. But side-jobs, and a plethora of other distractions, will be featured to eat the hours away.
Borrowing a cue from GTA, Driver 76 will allow vehicles to be modified, but behind this asset will also lie something new -- racing. Multiplayer modes will feature street racing, destruction derby, pink slip racing, and swap meet. Coincidentally, Destruction Derby was actually the PlayStation game that put Reflections on the map over 10 years ago -- it's nice to see a bit of that make a return as a mini-game. Ubisoft says downloadable content will also be available in the form of additional vehicular upgrades and possibly more. It should be noted that modifications aren't just cosmetic either; the game will have a focus on dramatic Hollywood chases which will require as much speed as possible, and this is where modifying comes in.
Moreover, Ubisoft promises an authentic New York that'll capture the architecture, cars, and clothes of the city in the 1970s. Even the scope of the map promises to be huge, spanning Coney Island to parts of New Jersey, and of course much of Manhattan. We're not quite certain if other NY boroughs like Queens, the Bronx or Staten Island will appear -- but we sure hope that they do. It'd be nice to have more than just two boroughs represented in the game.
To accommodate your New York City street-thumping will be an officially licensed soundtrack that'll feature hit songs from the 1970s. Ubisoft didn't mention any of the songs that'll be present in the game, but they will release the full list of tracks as the release of the game draws near in March. Visually, the game is looking pretty impressive. Considering the size of the world, Driver 76 still manage to render good looking vehicles, and display some pretty solid environments. As it goes with any free-roaming game, the framerate will ultimately determine the overall experience -- so let's all hope that Sumo Digital delivers on that front.
Look for Driver 76 to hit stores this March.
1/22/2007 Arnold Katayev