Technology - 65%
Presentation - 84%
Design Theory - 40%
Gameplay - 57%
Story - 17%
Value - 87%
What is POD? It’s a 90s post-apocalyptic futuristic racing PC game. Remember when there was loads of these futuristic racing games back in the day? You’ve got your wipEouts, your F-Zeroes and among them all you’ve got this classic from Ubisoft, POD. The reason I remember POD so well is that we got this game free with our first family PC.
POD PC Review
When the Pentium 2 PC processor came out, a big deal was being made over its MMX technology. My parents bought a Pentium 2 PC 1997 and it came with a bunch of bundled PC games, optimised for these MMX processors. Among them was this futuristic PC racing game by Ubisoft, POD. Mate, this game. It blew my mind. I remember thinking it was the coolest thing. Crisp 3D graphics, CD quality sound and music; it had it all. I played that game for hours and hours with a Logitech Wingman joystick of all things. The worst part about POD though, is that because it was so optimised for MMX processors it basically didn’t work on anything else. Since my parents scrapped that Pentium 2 PC years ago, I never managed to play POD again. One of the reasons I built my MMX Pentium 3 retro gaming PC was because I wanted to run POD. I’ve kept the original CD-ROM all these long years, waiting for this opportunity.
If like me you have a physical version of the game, there’s a minefield of PC patches. There is a 3DFX patch for your 3D accelerators (In fact, POD is one of the first PC games to support 3DFX). POD 1997 can run in 800×600 with a regisrty fix, but it’s otherwise locked to 640×480 as seen in the screenshots. The GOG.com PC version of POD Gold is also locked to 640×480 but is all patched up ready to play.
The story is pretty bonk, but then again driving games don’t need a story. POD is set on the planet Io. Some miners dug down into the deep and OH MY GOD they unleashed an ancient evil. It’s – I dunno – a big all-consuming virus that’s taking over the entire planet and killing everything. So everybody gets on ships to leave the planet behind. But there’s eight people left, and there’s only one seat left on the last ship leaving. So they do the only sensible thing imaginable in that situation and they have a death race by modifying and adapting mining equipment into SUPER AWESOME RACE CARS. Seven people will be left to their doom while one lives to race another day I guess.
The cars themselves are excellent. All weird shapes and grungey textures. Each car’s specs can be modified and customised by the player which I like. So essentially you choose the car you think looks the coolest, you don’t have to trade off. Set the speed / acceleration to your preference then get racing! You choose one of your eight cars (12 iirc in POD Gold), you go through all the fifteen courses. The courses are all absolutely bananas. They’re brilliant. These post apocalyptic, almost Mad Max-esque tracks are all built around the themes of abandoned cities or ruined mines etc. Fitting to the silly backstory, and a detail that’s probably better-realised than it really needed to be. The courses are pretty detailed for a 1997 PC game and they’re all tied together with this great 90s grungey aesthetic that 12-year old me just loved. Oh, there is also a giant spiders nest though, which I have no idea about.
The game plays out in a very typical racing game fashion. First place gets 8 points, second place gets 7 points; all the way down to 8th place who gets one point. After 15 races whoever’s got the highest score is the one who gets on the shuttle. Quality. Physics was a bit of a novel concept in 1997 and so Ubisoft are clearly trying to show off here. Heavier cars stick to the road like glue but lighter cars skate around corners as if they’re driving on glass. The cars lose LOADS of momentum going uphill, but they don’t half put some mustard on it when they’re going downdale. Hitting two cars together causes them to rattle off one another like snooker balls which can be pain in the arse or a massive bonus depending on which car benefits from that inertia. On the higher difficulty levels the cars will even take damage, with a damage model dividing up sections of the car. The physics calculations even go toward how much damage is dealt out. Not a big deal now, but for 1997 it’s worth mentioning. But in a way, by adding in the damage model I feel that Ubisoft needn’t have bothered with all the physics stuff if they didn’t want you to be banging into each other.
One thing of note is the game had online multiplayer. In 1997. Don’t think servers are still up but you can do local split screen too which is really rare for PC games.
POD is still a really fun PC racing game. For me there’s a lot of nostalgia attached, but objectively it’s up there with the best arcade racers on a retro PC. Arcade racing PC games are always fun and it’s a genre we don’t see too much of. I love a bit of Killer Loop, I love a bit of Rollcage and it’s nice to have some extra variety on that racing retro PC game front. I’ve got quite a lot of these 90s futuristic racing PC games so I’ll be doing a bit of a rundown or a best of at some point because this is a wicked genre, man. The reason I started Second Wind reviews is to talk about old PC games that you can play on both new and old machines, to give them a Second Wind yourself. POD is available on GOG for less than a fiver so for the price of a pint in a London pub you’re getting something that will last longer and almost certainly be more fun. Cheers!