“ Next generation racing game is back with a vengeance. New tracks and cars make this game a must for all POD fanatics and Newcomers. „
One day, when planetary space travel has reached its peak, civilisation will reach out to the stars. People will take to vast ships, finding their way to new worlds, bringing with them new hope, ready to make a brave new start. Planetary colonisation will give introduce millions to a world of opportunity. The opportunity to get killed in a number of hideous and quite painful way. 'New frontiers' ? What a load of cobblers. Everyone knows that colonists always end up getting it in the neck. If they're not being cocooned by aliens, they're being mutilated by killer robots, or being systematically killed by a gang of knife wielding maniacs. It's in the job description.. 'Gullible hopelessly optimistic people wanted to travel to barren planetoid, work a big atmosphere processing plant, and get systematically killed off in a variety of horrific ways.' So it should come as no surprise that the colonists in Pod, the new racing game from Ubisoft, are in a predictably similar situation.
As is explained in the intro, voiced over by what sounds like a smurf, things on the colony of Io have turned distinctly pear-shaped. Everything was fine, until one day a mining machine broke through a rock layer and released a particularly nasty virus type organism lurking below. This organism, known as Pod, proceeded to grow at a geometric rate, devouring everything in its path, growing to slowly engulf the whole planet. Understandably, the colonists didn't want to stick around, and so most of them made their way off planet pretty quickly. Except that is, for a few folks who are still hanging around. Presumably their spaceships are in for repair or something. And now, there's only one remaining ship, and all but one seat has been filled. So the stranded colonists are holding a number of races around the abandoned city, in souped up cars , to decide who gets the remaining seat. And this is where you come in. Playing one such desperate colonist, you have to belt around sixteen tracks trying to win your place on the last ship out of Hades. Better get moving.
But to make things a little easier, there are a total of eight different cars to can choose from. Each handles in a different way, each having a different acceleration rate, acceleration factor, maximum speed, and so on. You can also adjust the settings of your car, perhaps sacrificing manoeuvrability for speed. And in Pod speed is everything. There are no power-ups, or weapons, so you have to rely entirely on your racing skill. If you're losing, you can't just toss a missile down your opponent's throat. And while you can pick a single track and race around it, it's your overall performance that counts. In championship mode, you're ranked according to your performance in each race; race well, and you'll be moved up the leaderboard. And at the end of the day, only the winner will get to make it off the planet alive.
The tracks themselves are pretty challenging, especially when you've got seven other drivers to cope with. Each track has a distinct feel; you can find yourself racing round an abandoned nuclear power plant, an abandoned industrial complex, an abandoned galleria, an abandoned sewer system (see a pattern developing here?), and a weird cocoon type track with giant bugs towering over it. I'm not sure how the last track is explained.. maybe some sort of weird drug induced hallucination. Still, I'm not complaining. They're all exceptionally well written; aside from the twists and turns , there are also hidden short-cuts, which can be used to get ahead of the other drivers. But some of them require skill to pull off. On one track, if you're quick enough , you can nip into a side street, dodge through a few pillars and emerge further down the track. Providing that is you don't total your car in the process; and some of the computer drivers use the short-cuts too. You'll have a real fight on your hands.
You'll also have a flipping brilliant game on your hands, because Pod is easily the best driving games I've played for ages. It's a hell of a lot of fun to play, and surprisingly my usual tactic, stamping on the accelerator and not letting up till the end of the race, doesn't work. You actually have to put a degree of thought into the game, although it's far easier to pick up and put down than the likes of more realistic racers. Which is a good thing, as I never really liked F1GP2 anyway; I prefer Pod's more arcadey style.
And once you've beaten the game in Championship Mode, there's still plenty to do. You can play the game in Time Attack Mode, trying to beat your own record, or even race against yourself in Ghost Mode. Then there's the multiplayer game. You can have up to eight players playing on a network, or if you don't have network access, you can have two players playing via split screen mode. Which is something that more games developers ought to include in their games. Then you can replay the game with modified cars, pick your own championship tracks, play with random cars, and on random tracks. There are even going to be new tracks and new cars to download from the Ubisoft web site. Pod could well keep you going for ages. It's playable, replayable, and fun, and it's well worth a purchase.
(review by me, originally posted on GamesDomain)