In New York 1976, the story starts with Ray, a wheelman. He falls in love with Chen Chi, but she's already got someone, Jimmy. After gaining respect from her father, Ray is betrayed and has to earn money in the mean time. He eventually meets back with Zhou, Chen Chi's father, he tells him of how Jimmy is a traitor and for the remainder of the game you must take down Jimmy's empire. After Jimmy is presumably killed in an explosion, Zhou gives Ray his blessing to go out with Chen Chi, but finds out that she has been kidnapped by a scarred Jimmy, however Ray manages to save Chen Chi and shoot down Jimmy's helicopter with a car.
Mission structure is similar to Driver: Parallel Lines, where driving is an important aspect in gameplay, shooting still remains in the game. Most missions are driving based while some are shootouts or when Ray sits in the back of a car and shoots incoming enemies.
One difference that sets Driver '76 from the rest of the Driver series is that it uses comic-styled illustrations rather than cinematic cutscenes, making the game behave more like a comic book.
There are 26 main missions, grouped into 6 chapters. The missions get harder as the player progresses through the chapters. Money, cars and weapons are rewarded if missions are successfully completed.
The simulation of New York City is similar to the previous installment, but since it is set two years before as a prequel, there are some differences. Mostly it is all the same, with a few differences in cars, buildings, landscape, and GPS's.
The Pazant Brothers & The Beafourt Express - Loose And Juicy
Iggy Pop - Neighbourhood Threat
Blondie - One Way Or Another
Billy Preston - Outa-Space
The Temptations - Papa Was a Rolling Stone
The Stranglers - Peaches
Roy Ayers - Running Away
Johnny 'Hammond' Smith - Shifting Gears
Donald Byrd - Street Lady
David Bowie - Suffragette City
Labi Siffre - The Vulture
War - Low Rider
Marvin Gaye - Trouble Man
Blondie - Denis
Sam & Dave - Hold On I'm Comin'
The songs One Way or Another by Blondie and "Neighbourhood Threat" by Iggy Pop are used in the game that takes place in 1976, regardless of the fact that song first came out in 1978 and 1977, respectively.