Okay, Here's The Deal: Planet Io was colonised and quickly settled down into a near-idyllic existence: everyone had a nice place to live; everyone had a job; drunken businessmen singing along to Oasis records in pubs were punished by public hanging; and so on. Then, suddenly (you knew this was coming, didn't you?) everything went horribly wrong when a terrifying virus called Pod appeared. (Its real name was actually much longer and more scientific-sounding - podpokypola virus, perhaps - but nobody who had it ever lived long enough to pronounce it in its entirety. It was.
Aiieee! I've got Pod...! just, I... Pod...!' skies going funny colours, buildings dissolving in foul-smelling pools, and people running about waving their arms and shouting, It's eating everything in its paaaa-aath! With the entire planet turning into a big blob of Pod, it was mass evacuation time.
Everyone bundled aboard great big spaceships and buggered off. The cities emptied fast. Some weirdos amused themselves by racing about in cars they'd built from junk while they awaited their turn to be evacuated. It was down to the last spaceship. The queue was round the block. And there was only one seat left. Oh dear... The people with the cars decided they'd have a series of races, and the champion would get the last seat. And you are one of those racers.
Sunglasses at the ready
There's a lot to talk about here, but let's start with the graphics. As you can see from the screenshots, the Fgame looks absolutely amazing: there are solar flares as you drive into the sun, light-sourced reflections of your car on polished surfaces, smoking tyres and even skidmarks that remain intact for the duration of the race. You get N64-style true perspective, too - there's none of this bits-of-track-popping-up-ffom-nowhere malarkey.
The graphical wonderment is because it's been designed specifically for 3Dfx cards - but there's also a version for Intel's new 3D accelerator chip, mmx. (Ubisoft had help front Intel's boffins while making the game, and it's the first title to appear that supports the new chip). And there's a straight Pentium version, or Pod Ordinaire. (See the piccies above/left/right/opposite.)
Driving in my car
The graphics could be as fancy as you like, but let's face it, if the racing's crap you've just got another Megarace on your hands. (Except Megarace doesn't look this good.) Fortunately, it really shifts, the tracks are great and the cars idle really well.
Ubisoft say they wanted something with the car-handling parameters calculated to the accuracy of F1GP2, but with the ease of use of Sega Rally. So there are 20 technical parameters, controlled by just five ratings: speed, I acceleration, grip, handling and brakes. All cars have default settings, but you can customise them by distributing your allocation of 300 points among the five ratings until you get a set-up you like. There's even a handy test-track with banked sides and jumps to try the car on as you work. There go all your excuses for sliding sideways into the game's version of Mothercare at isomph...
The other car's drivers have different personalities, and drive accordingly -some are incredibly aggressive, whereas others are so mild-mannered you have to reverse over their throat before they're even slightly tetchy. The 16 tracks are excellent, spanning relatively simple affairs through to tortuous courses with alternative routes, short-cuts, secret areas and car-repair areas, and even some bits you can't access until you're at a certain level of difficulty. You can save time in some bits, and helplessly lose precious minutes if you get it wrong. The cars can also be damaged by your appalling driving -either overall, or by sectors, so that the bits that get whacked affect how the car performs. Nothing flies off though, Destruction Derby-style.
Get yourself connected
A bonus is that Pod will work with any form of connectivity for multiplayer games in any combination. You can have up to eight people racing, with people playing in split-screen view on one machine, linked by lan to others, with yet more people on a modem link - the first time this has ever been possible in a game. I suppose I should say there are all the usual options for one-off games, customised championships and the official championship that will get you the seat on the spaceship (assuming someone hasn't offered a simple bribe to the air hostess while you've been messing about in your car).
But the multi-player options (see The futures market' panel above) are the icing on the cake - if they do everything they say they will, Pod will be amazing. As it is, it's one of the best arcade racers on the pc.
The futures market
The designers want to set up a cultural thing similar to that surrounding Quake in order to maintain people's long-term interest. The idea is that just buying the game is a starting point: every month on Ubisoft's Pod site there'll be four new custom cars, plus extra tracks to download. You'll be able to post your best times for each course, and download other people's ghost cars to race against. And you might be able to win extra points by competing against other people, which you can add to the 300 maximum for your car set-up.
To minimise Net-lag, they're creating free corporate servers in each of their territories - France, Germany, UK etc -which you'll be able to use for the cost of a local call. For the future there's even talk of adding all sorts of new features via Internet-only patches - including weapons, which will enable them to produce a kind of 'Quake in cars' (they could call it Old Kent Road). Like iD did with Quake, they'll also be releasing the source code, so you'll be able to go mental, adding whatever you want to it. Blimey.
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode