Having transformed its free-roaming motoring franchise into a Driv3r-shaped car crash of almost epic proportions, Atari attempted to put things straight with last year's Parallel Lines. Unfortunately the steering was still slightly off, and it wasn't quite enough to redeem a racing game that had become a write-off. Enter Ubisoft and $24 million dollars, and now, less than a year later, arrives the latest attempt to breathe life into the still-ailing brand: Driver 76. It's a prequel to the previous game, and as the title suggests, it dispenses with the dual-timeline structure of that game, sticking with New York in 1976 instead.
The semblance of a plot sees players take on the role of Ray, who fancies Chen-Chi, who happens to be the daughter of Triad boss Zhou. Cue a series of missions in which you try to win her affections by working your way up to impress her dad. This is the same open-ended city mission thing pioneered by the original GTA, taken into 3D by Driver, that GTA 3 took and improved by about a mile, before Parallel Lines shamelessly ripped it back off again. There's nothing new here that you've already seen a load of times in the GTA and Driver series.
Nevertheless, it's very polished (as you'd expect from a game developed by Sumo Digital), and the presentation values are superb throughout. The voice-acting is first class; the comic-strip cut-scenes work really well; and the 70s soundtrack is evocative and entertaining, featuring a range of hits encompassing the whole musical spectrum, from Debbie Harry to David Bowie, and even the song from the Marmite ads. The only blemish on this otherwise unspoiled fašade is that the script and the narrative are both a bit duff in places (and isn't the word 'Chinaman' a racist slur these days?), but that's hardly a hugely serious handicap for a game in which the real substance is to be found in the city design and car handling.