Back in the late 90s, I got my first taste of hardware-accelerated gaming with an underrated racing game: POD. This was resurrected by GOG a few years ago with proper support for the latest Windows. How did it hold up?
Really damn well. It’s not perfect, mind. The port itself is flawed - sound quality is spotty. But that, funnily enough, closely resembles some of the issues I remember having on my Pentium II. One bug I remember clearly was when the soundtrack finished, it wouldn’t loop. Thus, if you played for long enough, you drove in silence. Which perhaps better reflected the post-apocalyptic setting.
Like any racing game, plot is extremely unimportant. But in this case, it offers an excellent foundation to the atmosphere the developers were trying to evoke. Basically, there’s a bunch of people on a planet being consumed by some unstoppable, goopy force and they’re racing to determine who takes the last escape pod. This setting gives the excuse for creating tracks that are huge and empty, with weird thingies growing randomly.
The graphics have aged really well. Most stuff from this period in the 90s look awful by modern standards. Not so with POD. The angular edges work with the futuristic, alien backdrop and the low-resolution textures are bright, colourful and varied so you’re not too bothered they look like smeared jam up-close. It’s clear the designers worked within the limitations to make something with a clear vision.
Gameplay is rock-solid also. A straight-up arcade game, controls are basic but, at the higher levels of difficulty, the physics engine gets less forgiving and it’s quite easy to lose control. AI gets harder going through the difficulty levels and is quite random so you never know who your challenger will be in any level. Unfortunately, it also uses really unfair rubber-banding (boo!). Still, on hard the game will punish you for any mistakes which is what’s needed for good replay value.
Playing it back again, I think the biggest differentiator between it and more modern games is the simplicity. There are no tutorials, no fancy-dan plot videos, just racing with a few clicks. No pretension to being more than it is either: a fun, arcade game with superb atmosphere and some great tracks.