Created as a graphical showcase, POD was an elaborate tech demo, a grim science fiction racing game that came baked in with a lot of computers using Intel Pentium or Pentium II MMX processors, and some AMD K6 systems. Back in 1997, it was one of the best looking games you could play.
If you grew up in the ’90s and knew anyone into PC gaming, it was probably on their computer at some point. POD was one of those cultural artifacts that huge swaths of the public were involuntarily introduced to, like when They Might Be Giants’ song “Older” came packed in with RealPlayer on so many early ’00s HP prebuilt, or Chip’s Challenge in a Windows 3.1 entertainment bundle. Ubisoft later released a retail version, but POD was birthed from the same tradition as Norton Antivirus and Mcafee: OEM software, baby.
Following one of the most essential PC gaming myth arcs, my uncle had a gaming PC in his basement, nestled in one of those huge faux-mahogany desks that shouldn’t have been able to fit through the door. The CRT was too big for its available surface area and audibly hummed for about two minutes after it was powered off, the keyboard stuffed into a wide drawer not meant for keyboards resting on a soldier’s stew of thumbtacks, erasers, pencils, and pennies. A very domestic strain of cosmic horror.
But the dust illuminated by a tiny window (a fire code violation for sure) only elevated POD’s grimy, nihilistic excuse for racing. I almost felt like a two-faced booker, watching the races from some remote warehouse location. The only thing missing was a cigar and a frosty mug of sprog or grumm, or whatever future wasteland beer alternative existed in POD’s universe. The whole thing foretold my obsession with Thumper because POD was the first time I remember playing a game purely for the bad vibes.
It’s the distant future on a planet very creatively named Io. Humanity builds a bunch of weird, bulky skyscrapers as fast as possible, eventually covering what looks like the entire surface area of the planet, all in the name of job creation. A capitalist critique is incoming, but no, humanity isn’t it's own undoing. This is a story about nature getting its revenge. And yes, it’s a racing game, too, I promise.
A super fungus creeps out of the planet’s surface and feasts on all those wacky skyscrapers – and mankind too, for dessert. People dip out on ships in droves until there’s just one space taxi left. Naturally, every remaining human alive calmly agrees to conceptualize, plan, and enact an elaborate mid-apocalypse racing circuit for the final seat. The whole story is laid out in this elaborate, four-minute intro cutscene, where the music moves from a synthy sci-fito electric guitar power ballad. We go to space, see civilizations rise and fall, and cars shaped like bird feet crash into skyscrapers. At the time, it blew my head off. Today, it’s incredibly dumb, but so are my sensibilities. God, I love POD.
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